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Sunday 29 January 2012

Ceremony for Forgotten Irish marks efforts of two 'fighters'

'How many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn't see?' asked Bobby McDonagh, Irish Ambassador to the UK, as he addressed supporters of the Forgotten Irish on Friday evening.

His Bob Dylan allusion was to that period in the Irish past when children suffered abuse in institutions, single mothers were enslaved in Magdalene laundries, and no one wanted to know. Many of the damaged young people who escaped to Britain are now among the thousands of impoverished and isolated elderly people being helped by a multi-million campaign driven by the Ireland Fund of Great Britain (IFGB).

But last Friday night, at an award ceremony at the House of Lords in London, it was an occasion to celebrate a much improved present, where recent emigrants are acknowledging and helping their predecessors who -- despite their hard lives -- sent as much as €3.57bn in today's terms to help the people struggling back home.

Since 2007, when the Forgotten Irish campaign began, €1.19m has been distributed to 50 organisations throughout the UK helping the vulnerable Irish with psychological and practical support.

As the ambassador said, the campaign reached new heights in May of last year, when the IFGB co-chair, Basil Geoghegan, whose career until recently was in merchant banking and is now in software, climbed Mount Everest and planted on top the flag of the Forgotten Irish.

So far, that climb alone has generated €132,146 for the fund.

The former victims of industrial schools, he said at the time, "have got their own Everest to climb every day and that was one that was thrust upon them".

The Forgotten Irish award was shared by two doughty fighters for the Irish vulnerable. Both brought up in Irish institutions, Phyllis Morgan had a tough time. But although Sally Mulready was decently treated, she saw other children living in fear and was inspired by the revelations of the late Mary Raftery to seek out and help emigrant victims of institutional abuse.

Both women have a distinguished record of selfless hard work for various support organisations and success in forcing those in authority to pay attention to groups they would rather ignore: they are key figures in the Irish Elderly Advice Network.

Until the mid-1990s, said Ms Mulready, she and people like her would never have had invitations to the Irish Embassy: now she is on the Council of State.

On Friday night, they were upbeat, with Ms Mulready telling the audience that the Justice ministerial team, Alan Shatter and Kathleen Lynch, were close to a decision on how to help to bring justice for the Magdalene survivors.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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