Scotland's Irish Diaspora

– in the Scottish Parliament at 6:00 pm on 12th January 2011.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 6:00 pm, 12th January 2011

The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S3M-7353, in the name of Bob Doris, on paying tribute to Scotland's Irish diaspora. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that Scotland celebrated the Year of Homecoming in 2009, welcoming the Scottish diaspora back from around the world to celebrate Scottish connections; notes that many European nations have experienced similar demographic movements, both inward and outward; celebrates the contribution from inward migration to Scotland both historical and present, such as it considers is seen in the thriving Irish music, sporting and cultural scene in the city of Glasgow; congratulates Scotland's Irish community on what it considers the dedication and commitment that it has shown in keeping Irish culture thriving and in the good work that Irish groups do in the wider community, and believes that a confident, outward-looking, modern Scotland must have at its heart the appreciation and celebration of the multiple cultures that contribute to Scotland's national life.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party 6:04 pm, 12th January 2011

I welcome to the public gallery my constituents from Glasgow's Irish community, as well as Susan Conlon, head of the Irish consulate in Edinburgh.

Scotland is rightly proud of how migration has shaped our nation, as it has shaped that of other countries, for the better. Scotland has been enriched by immigration, just as its people have enriched other countries across the globe. Indeed, homecoming Scotland in 2009 welcomed our Scottish diaspora back to our shores to celebrate that cultural heritage and identity.

It is only right that Scotland pays tribute to the many races and nationalities from across the world that have made that similar contribution to Scotland. My members' business debate pays tribute to one such group, which is Scotland's Irish community. There is no typical Irish immigrant, but it would be remiss not to mention the mass immigration from Ireland during an gorta mór or the great hunger, which is better known today as the potato famine. For instance, in just 10 days in August 1847, more than 11,000 new immigrants arrived in Scotland fleeing the great famine. However, the Irish came to Scotland's shores to settle for many years before that and they still do so in modern times for a variety of reasons.

Irish immigrants often provided blood, sweat and toil to help fuel the industrial revolution here. In Garngad in Glasgow, which has been renamed Royston, the area was transformed by Irish immigration. Whether it was digging the Monkland canal basin at Garngad Hill in 1790 or building the St Roch's to Stepps railway in 1831, the impact was massive. Indeed, the area became known as little Ireland.

Scots know something about culture and identity forged in adversity from our experiences in history. We all know about the thirst that Scots the world over have to preserve our culture and traditions. From Burns nights to St Andrew's days and from highland games to music and dance, there is a strong positive national identity that has been undiluted by passing generations and distance from the homeland. The Irish in Scotland are, rightly, no different.

As a teenager, I played Gaelic football with a club that was formed by a proud Irish immigrant. I thank all those who were involved with the club, as that experience benefited me as a child. In the city of Glasgow, Tir Conaill Harps provide similar opportunities for youngsters today to play sports such as Gaelic football, hurling and camogie. I pay tribute to the club's work and to the work of others who do good jobs with young people, sometimes in the most deprived parts of my city.

I often attend Scottish National Party meetings at St Columbkille's church hall in Rutherglen, where at the same time the David Smith School of Irish Dancing is training. I have to say that the Irish dance is often far more enjoyable than the meetings that I attend. The passion, commitment and enthusiasm of the dancers are clear. I congratulate them on their high rankings at the world championships, which were held in Glasgow last year. Such dance classes thrive across Glasgow and beyond.

The thriving music scene in Scotland is also hugely enriched by our Irish communities. Many of us will enjoy this month's Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. Irish musicians are well represented at the festival and Glasgow's Irish musicians tell me that they are keen to perform at future Celtic Connections with their distinct flavour of Irish music. I am sure that the festival organisers will want to promote that in future years. Whether it is traditional Irish sports, music, dance or important community work, Glasgow and Scotland are more vibrant, colourful and better places because of our Irish communities.

We have no idea of just how many Scots of Irish descent there are in Scotland. At the last census, just under 50,000 people living in Scotland were identified as white Irish. However, Scots with an Irish heritage had no way of expressing their ethnic identity. As Scots, we should be proud of and embrace our multiple layers of identity. I am pleased to say that, for this year's census, we will have that option for the first time. For the first time ever, people will be able to express their Scottish and Irish identity in an ethnicity section, which has an Irish category. Irish groups in Scotland will rightly campaign to raise awareness of the Irish ethnicity census question. They want to urge people to tick that box. I support that campaign and I encourage all Scots of Irish descent to tick that box with pride.

I touched earlier on the history of immigrants to Scotland. History is important, but people in Scotland's Irish community are very much looking forward, as active citizens within Scotland, proud of their commitment to our nation of Scotland, but rightly unflinchingly proud of their Irish ethnicity and their roots. They are proud of their multiple layers of identity, which is as it should be.

The Irish Government, even in the current financially challenging times, continues to invest in and support its diaspora right here in Scotland. It has four development officers who support projects in sport, music and dance. I thank Danny Boyle, Ciaran Kearney, Evin Downey and Patrick Callaghan for their hard work in serving the community. They are all based in Glasgow and paid for by the Irish Government. I pay tribute to the Irish Government for providing that support.

I support plans by Glasgow's Irish community to establish an Irish centre in the city that would act as a hub not only for the city's Irish communities but for Scotland's Irish communities. Such a hub could have facilities for Irish sports, music, dance and a variety of other cultural activities; serve the wider community; provide real educational benefit to our schoolchildren; and be at the forefront of wider efforts to integrate the various migrant groups that now call Scotland their home. It could also be a force for good in tackling bigotry and sectarianism. Plans are at an early stage but I ask the Scottish Government to provide what support it can. I assure the minister that this is not an early bid for cash in the face of United Kingdom cuts—at least not at the moment; it might be at some point in future—but it is a genuine appeal for the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council to meet representatives of the Irish community to find out what support can realistically be provided.

In welcoming the Scottish Government's plans for a diaspora strategy, I ask that it contact the Irish Government in order to create a distinct strategy for working in partnership to support Scotland's Irish diaspora. The plans for an Irish centre could be core to such a strategy and I would be keen to be involved in that work.

I could have focused in my speech on specific health needs in the Irish community, given that it has one of the highest levels of certain types of cancer of any minority ethnic group in Britain, or on the poverty that has endured over generations in some Irish communities in Scotland and, indeed, in Britain. However, those are matters for another day. Today is all about welcoming the contributions that Scotland's Irish diaspora has made not only to Glasgow, the city that I represent, but right across Scotland, and I am proud to sponsor this evening's debate.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

We move to the debate. I ask for four-minute speeches.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour 6:11 pm, 12th January 2011

First of all, I must apologise: I cannot stay for the full debate as I have another meeting to attend. Nevertheless, I thank Bob Doris for giving us this opportunity to put on record the sterling contribution that the Irish in Scotland have made in many fields and across many generations. Like Mr Doris, I welcome to the Parliament Danny Boyle and his sister Katie who with their other sister, Roisin, make a tremendous contribution to Irish traditional music and culture in Scotland. I remember them in their early days going to learn their skills at the Comhaltas at St Roch's on a Tuesday night—unfortunately, my children did not have their staying power—and they have gone on to make a very significant contribution to Irish culture in Scotland.

Like many others, not just in this Parliament but in Scotland, I come from an Irish background; all my grandparents are Irish and my mother is Irish. Unlike, I suppose, most of the Irish in Scotland, I have no Donegal connection; my mother came from Cavan and my father's parents were from Sligo. Much of the history that was talked about in Scottish education meant little to me or the generation that I grew up in. Indeed, the famine that Bob Doris mentioned was more of a historical issue for my family than many of the events from Bannockburn onwards and we often felt that our role in society was overlooked and that very little attention was paid to our history and culture. Similarly, with music, the Clancy brothers and Tommy Makem probably contributed more to my musical development as a child than many of the Scottish musicians that are familiar to others.

There have been tremendous changes even in my lifetime. When the troubles started, people of an Irish background became nervous about talking about their identity and expressing their musical tradition, but I welcome the fact that my children do not have to face the same kind of discrimination or antipathy that I or my parents' generation faced.

It is fantastic that Irish people in Scotland are asserting their proud heritage and culture through Irish music and sporting traditions. That is to be celebrated. Scotland has many fine musicians who have drawn their talents and inspiration from their Irish background. Gerry Rafferty, whose sad and untimely death was reported last week and who went to the same school as me, was from such a background and contributed not just to contemporary Scottish music and life but to British and international music and life.

Tonight's debate should celebrate what can be achieved by an inclusive Scotland that recognises the distinct skills and traditions that many people from the Irish community in Scotland have. It allows us to say proudly in the Parliament what many of our forefathers could not say, even in their own community—that we are proud of who we are, of our Irish background and of our contribution to Scottish life. I am delighted that several people will make that positive statement tonight.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Scottish National Party 6:15 pm, 12th January 2011

As the descendant of Irish immigrants, I am delighted to speak in the debate, which I congratulate Bob Doris on securing. I was pleased to read today that my name—McLaughlin—is listed as the eighth most common Irish name in Scotland, although I prefer the term "popular" to "common". I am—obviously—Scottish, but I always think that my Donegal spelling is the correct spelling of my name.

Glasgow has been shaped by its immigrant communities from all over the globe. One of the earliest and largest migrations was by Irish men and women, who have arrived over the centuries. The horrific events of the famine, which led to an estimated 1 million Irish men and women dying of starvation, increased the numbers who came to Glasgow. Many decided to settle permanently and have left Scotland the richer for it.

I hail from Donegal on one side of my family and County Offaly on the other. Until two years ago, I had not had the pleasure of visiting Ireland, although I worked for a time in a wee Irish bar in the Gorbals called the Corner bar, which was in itself an education.

Two years ago, I was invited to stay with a friend in a tiny wee place called Gortahork in Donegal. It was tiny, but I discovered that I could get a bus practically door to door there seven days a week. Much of the Early and O'Brien clan were in Donegal when I visited, but many were visiting from far-flung parts of the world. The hallmark of the Irish family seems to be that, no matter how far they travel, they always return to Ireland and to their family.

Today, we continue to welcome Irish immigrants to Scotland and to celebrate Irish culture here, although I do not deny that problems remain with a bigoted and knuckle-dragging minority. For instance, in the past year, a Catholic church has been vandalised and a minibus that belonged to a Gaelic athletics team has been destroyed. Motions were lodged in the Parliament to condemn those incidents.

Last year, I attended the St Patrick's day concert in Glasgow. The energy was incredible and the audience—most of whom were of Irish origin—were rightly proud to say, "This is who we are and this is what we can do." As a Scot, I could only stand back and admire—rather enviously—that national confidence. We in Scotland could take a leaf out of Ireland's book.

However, not everyone in the Parliament seems to agree with that statement. It is only right for me to take the opportunity to condemn comments that I have been ashamed to hear in the Parliament about Ireland's current economic situation. For example, on 23 December, to applause from members of one party, an MSP—whom I will not name—read from the Scottish National Party's website that

"Independence has given Ireland the freedom to compete with others on a level playing field, and win."

To laughter from members of his party, he asked:

"The First Minister does not really still believe this stuff, does he?"—[Official Report, 23 December 2010; c 31978.]

I must tell the members whose behaviour that day and on other days has been shameful that independence allowed and continues to allow Ireland to choose its own destiny and gives her the opportunity to succeed. Independence aside, cheering the economic misfortune of a neighbour shows a lack of respect and of solidarity. I ask myself whether the member whom I quoted really argues for Ireland to be ruled again from Dublin castle or whether he is merely using a close neighbour's temporary economic misfortune for cheap political point scoring. If the former applies, he should be honest about it; if the latter applies, I urge the party involved to desist and to remember that we have a close relationship with Ireland, which we would like to continue.

Bob Doris mentioned the Garngad Irish, one of the most famous of whom was my fellow clansman, Mick Garngad McLaughlin, which is spelled the right way. He wrote the ballad of James Connolly, who, perhaps ironically, was born just up the road from here, in the Cowgate.

It is only right that we continue to reflect on the values of social justice and self-determination that have united many of our politicians on both sides of the Irish Sea. Let us continue to celebrate those and all other ties that bind our two nations closely together and which are embodied in Scotland's Irish diaspora, which we celebrate today.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 6:20 pm, 12th January 2011

I thank Bob Doris for securing this debate to pay tribute to Scotland's Irish diaspora. Although the motion relates to Glasgow, there is no doubt that the Irish, and Irish descendants such as me, can be found in every part of Scotland, from the mainland to all the islands.

My father was a Campbell from Morayshire and my mother an O'Donnell from Dungloe in County Donegal. They came not only from different countries but from very different religions. I am sorry that Margaret Curran is not in the chamber tonight; her mother and my mother lived very close to each other in Donegal.

I will say a quick word on the census. I looked up today the census question and found that one option lumps together English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish and British. Another option is Irish, but there is no option for Scottish Irish, which would be the most accurate in my case. It would also be the most accurate for many people in Scotland. I am not only Irish, but neither am I only English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish or British. It is a bit late to be making a point on the 2011 census, but it is worth mentioning nonetheless.

On a recent visit to Dublin for a family wedding, I was struck by just how close Scotland and, indeed, the United Kingdom, is to Ireland in social, economic, historic and cultural terms. Their news is almost as much BBC as it is Irish. They watch all our soaps and many other UK programmes. My mother was brought up speaking not Gaelic but Irish. My family still does. I have many family connections in County Donegal: in Dungloe, Ranafast and Annagry—the last the home of Aiden McGeady. In fact, my family helped to set up the summer school in Ranafast where school children from all over Ireland come to learn their own language.

While I was researching for the debate, I found information about the British-Irish Council on its website—information of which I was unaware. The council was set up only six months after the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. Its formal purpose is

"to promote the harmonious and mutually beneficial development of the totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands".

The Scottish Government is one of eight council members. It would be helpful to have more parliamentary or appropriate committee updates on what is happening in that forum, given that we have so much in common and there would be many benefits in working together. It is also surprising that we discuss so little about Ireland in the Parliament. The areas of mutual interest that were discussed at the British-Irish Council summit that was held on the Isle of Man just last month included digital inclusion, demography issues, early years policy, energy including the electricity grid, marine renewables, the environment, misuse of drugs, social inclusion and transport issues that relate to disability and concessionary travel. It would be very helpful to have more of that information in our debates; they are all areas are of mutual interest and benefit and of collaborative working and yet I have not heard many updates from successive Governments on the issues.

Ireland is respected on economic issues. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, recognised that only last month when, as he said, the Treasury team was working with the International Monetary Fund, G7, the European Union and the Irish Government

"to provide the necessary financial resources for Ireland to implement its fiscal reform plans and stabilise its banking system."

The reasons that the chancellor gave for providing the £3.25 billion loan to Ireland to implement those plans were more than economic—he said that there is no doubt that it is in our interests to have a stable Irish economy and banking system:

"Ireland accounts for 5 per cent of Britain's total exports abroad. Indeed we export more to Ireland than to Brazil, Russia, India and China put together"

And that two-fifths of Northern Ireland's exports go to the Republic.

I am proud of my mother's links with Donegal and the links between Scotland and Ireland, but more could be done to cultivate the links between and knowledge and understanding of our Parliaments.

The fact that so many members of this Parliament, from almost all sides of the chamber, can proudly state their Irish heritage is proof—if proof were needed—of the Irish-Scots influence and seamless integration in this country.

I am sure that when my mother arrived at the Broomielaw in the Derry boat in the 1930s she never dreamed that I would stand here and talk about the Scottish-Irish diaspora. I thank Bob Doris again and hope that we can look forward to improving our relations with and links between this Parliament, Stormont and the Dáil.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 6:25 pm, 12th January 2011

I thank Bob Doris for providing an opportunity for people like me to sign the motion. The subject is an excellent choice for debate and I apologise for not signing the motion sooner. In many ways, the motion speaks for itself. Many of us with Irish connections want to use the chance to celebrate Irish culture and what it has brought to Scottish society.

Anne McLaughlin's contribution was a little out of tune with the other contributions this evening. I hope that she is not suggesting that a critique of the Irish economy is in any sense anti-Irish. However, there are areas on which I agree with Anne. As she, Bob Doris and other members have said, there is hardly a person in Scotland without Irish roots or an Irish connection. There are also distinct and important issues for the Irish population living in Scotland and for the Irish Catholic population in particular. History records the tensions in that part of the world, which accounts for some of the trends that we see today. For example, Tom Devine, a well-known historian on the subject, remarks that it has only been since the census in 2001 that occupational parity for Irish Catholics has been introduced. It has taken quite a long time for such trends to come to the fore. Although, as Bob Doris said, it is still a live issue, Hugh Henry was right to say that it is less so than it was.

My family connections with Ireland are strong. My father's favourite haunt in my constituency is Paddy's market. As the name suggests, the market was set up by poor Irish immigrants who came to Glasgow looking for a way to make an income. In fact, when my father worked in the city of Glasgow, he spent many of his lunch times in Paddy's market buying up what people did not realise were quite expensive items, such as pens and antiques. My great-grandfather is a founder member of St Mungo's church in Townhead, a well-known and loved church, which is also in my constituency. It was built because of the influence of the Irish population. Bob Doris talked about the Garngad of Royston. The priest would march up from Townhead to the Garngad to conduct the children's masses.

On my visits to see my family in Ireland, I have to brace myself because I know that they have boundless energy. Their sense of family is heart-warming. Two members of my staff are from the north of Ireland, which demonstrates that the close geographical proximity of the two countries has led to a brilliant dynamic cultural mix—a mix from which I have benefited.

As every member so far has said, Glasgow would not have the same character if it were not for the influx of the Irish immigrant population. We should celebrate that fact. The motion talks about the important parallel with other ethnic groups coming to Scotland and to Glasgow. The way in which we embraced the Irish community is the way in which we should embrace every ethnic culture.

Celtic Football Club—the first British team to win the European cup—was set up by the Irish Marist, Brother Walfrid. Bob Doris may know this, but I did not know it until I read up in preparation for the debate: John Glass, who was one of the main founders of Celtic, signed up eight Hibernian players before their first match in 1880. I wonder what the Scottish Football Association would say about that. Fiona Hyslop may have something to say about it later. I mentioned that because Glasgow football would not be the same without Celtic Football Club. That is not to demonstrate my colours but to make the point that Glasgow football is the better for having two great, strong, Glasgow teams—or three if we include Partick Thistle.

Bob Doris talked about the music and the contribution of Celtic Connections. It is a world-renowned festival, which was established in 1994 and has gone beyond its traditional roots. I used to do Highland dancing. I have tried Irish dancing and I would say that it is much harder. "Riverdance" is a phenomenon throughout the world. It demonstrates how good the Irish are at all sorts of things.

This has been a great opportunity to celebrate Irish culture. I welcome the Irish ambassador for culture to the debate and I look forward to the celebration this evening.

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party 6:30 pm, 12th January 2011

I add my congratulations to Bob Doris on securing today's members' business debate. We have heard from a number of MSPs who share a similar heritage—although we often do not share the same political views. As people will guess from my surname, I am of Irish descent.

Irish immigration to the east coast is not as well known about as that to the west coast, but it was just as significant in the development of our shared culture. My great-great-grandfather, Thomas FitzPatrick, was an Irish immigrant who came to Scotland with his mother as a boy some time between the early 1860s and the early 1870s. My great-great-grandmother, Mary-Anne McKelvie, arrived in Dundee with both her parents from County Cavan. She met Thomas, and they were married in the city's St Andrew's Roman Catholic chapel in 1879.

Many families in Dundee share a similar story, as can be seen in the way that parts of the Lochee area of the city are affectionately known as Little Tipperary. My ancestors did not move to Lochee, however. After getting married, Thomas and Mary-Anne are reported in the 1881 census as living in West Henderson's Wynd, which is the location of Dundee's Verdant Works, the last working jute mill in Scotland. Jute mills such as the Verdant Works drew large numbers of Irish families to Dundee.

Irish immigrants started arriving in Dundee around 1825, with workers skilled in textiles arriving from Donegal, Monaghan, Sligo and Tyrone. By 1855, before my ancestors had arrived, there were already 14,000 Irish people residing in Dundee. About 71 per cent of Dundee's Irish-born workforce was female, and it was those skilled textile workers who helped to establish Dundee as an industrial powerhouse. Close examination of the census data for 1881 and 1891 shows that that was the case with my ancestors, with Mary-Anne described first as a jute preparer and then as a jute spinner, and Thomas described as a stone-breaker. Many men in Dundee would have been described as stone-breakers; the affectionate term that a lot of women had for them was "kettle bilers"—in Dundee, it was the women who made the money for families, in the main.

Irish immigrants in Dundee, like in Glasgow, made a significant contribution to our city and to our country over the years. William McGonagall, Scotland's second-best-known poet, was the son of Irish parents who worked in the jute mills of Dundee. James Connolly, that great proponent of self-determination, lived in the city during 1898, and became involved in the local political scene.

The city's sports have been heavily influenced by the Irish population, Dundee United having played originally as Dundee Hibernian until 1923. My ancestors followed a different team with an Irish past, however. The local paper of Saturday 21 May 1938 records that my great-great-grandfather died aged 80, perhaps overexcited at seeing his team, the Lochee Harp, take the lead in the Telegraph cup semi-final.

The number of new Irish immigrants to Dundee has perhaps declined over the years, but Dundee is experiencing a new wave of Irish visitors, as many students from all parts of Ireland choose our city to study in. Many of them decide to stay in our city after their studies are complete.

Like many cities in Scotland, Dundee enjoys a richer culture as a result of the contribution of Irish immigrants. We are rightly proud of our heritage, and I thank Bob Doris for giving us the opportunity to put that on record tonight.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour 6:34 pm, 12th January 2011

Like other members, I congratulate Bob Doris on securing the debate. His motion

"congratulates Scotland's Irish community on ... the dedication and commitment that it has shown in keeping Irish culture thriving and in the good work that Irish groups do in the wider community".

I contend that nowhere is that more evident than in my constituency, Coatbridge and Chryston. By the middle of the 19th century, more than a third of the population of Coatbridge was Irish born. People were attracted to the town by employment opportunities, as they were to Dundee, as Joe FitzPatrick said, but in Coatbridge the opportunities were in the heavy industries, for which the town became famous.

It was partly the large influx of labour that enabled the industrial revolution to continue so rapidly in my part of the world. The large coalfields in the constituency, such as Cardowan and Auchengeich, were mined by the working-class people of Coatbridge and the wider area, and the coal fuelled the masses of blast furnaces that produced the steel that gave the town the name "the iron burgh". Robert Baird described Coatbridge in 1845 and was amazed by the flames that the furnaces cast into the night sky. Coatbridge is proud of its industrial and cultural heritage, which is celebrated at the fantastic museum of Scottish industrial life at Summerlee.

Like other members, I am proud of my Irish heritage. My own name is Dornan, and I have Irish heritage on both sides of my family. My great-grandfather, Paddy McKeown, worked at the Gartsherrie steelworks in Coatbridge, and the museum of Scottish industrial life features a painting of the steelworks from the mid-1800s. I urge members to visit Summerlee, if they have not already done so.

The fruits of the workers' labour were exported via the Monkland canal, which I think that Bob Doris mentioned, into Glasgow and beyond. Coatbridge was, in effect, the workhorse of Scotland, and the nation should remember the pivotal role that working class Irish labour played in the development of modern Scotland. In his fantastic new book "Stramash: Tackling Scotland's Towns and Teams", the historian Daniel Gray describes in colourful detail the impact of Irish immigration on Coatbridge. He says:

"Irish arrivals undertook jobs often spurned by the indigenous population. They worked hard where the danger was greatest and played hard to find solace."

Coatbridge is very different today from the town of flames and industry that is depicted at the Summerlee museum, but its people are keen to celebrate the town's Irish heritage. Members might know that every year, thousands of people descend on the town centre to join in the St Patrick's day celebrations, and over the years the Coatbridge festival has grown into a major event that spans a week and culminates in the Saturday family fun day in the town centre, which is attended by thousands of people. The event is organised by a group of committed local people, to celebrate the town's Irish heritage. The hard-working organising committee deserves recognition for its dedicated efforts in making the festival bigger and better every year. The festival attracts about 15,000 people from Scotland and abroad, and provides a good boost to the local economy and small independent traders, in particular.

Coatbridge is a great town, and it is unfortunate that it has been on the receiving end of unwanted awards and criticism in the past. The reality is that it has many fantastic attractions and a heritage of which it can be proud. North Lanarkshire Council has worked for many years to regenerate the area. We have Drumpellier country park, the museum of Scottish industrial life and the newly renovated Time Capsule. The bridges in Coatbridge have just been repainted, which has made a massive difference to the environment in the town. The canal basin has been redeveloped and is now a good space for people to use. Such things must be remembered.

We must be proud of and celebrate our heritage. The debate is important, and I concur with the motion when it says:

"modern Scotland must have at its heart the appreciation and celebration of the multiple cultures that contribute to Scotland's national life."

My son has Irish heritage on both sides of the family. His father has Irish heritage and lived and went to school in Ireland. In Scotland, we still encounter racism, which must be challenged, as members have said. We cannot have intolerance. Working class Irish men and women who settled in communities such as Coatbridge played a pivotal role in the development of Scotland, and it is important that we continue to recognise and celebrate their contribution, as well as contributions that people are currently making. I commend Bob Doris for his motion.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour 6:39 pm, 12th January 2011

I had not intended to speak in the debate—Anne McLaughlin prompted me to do so this morning, during a committee meeting—although I wanted to stay and hear the speeches.

I want to reflect on some critically important themes. Joe FitzPatrick talked about the journeys of Irish people to Scotland, whether they came from the Republic of Ireland or the north of Ireland—after it was created in 1920, of course. In the constituency that I represent, in the heart of what people regard as the football-celebrating part of the east end of Glasgow, in East Campbell Street, off the Gallowgate, there is the Lodging House Mission. Up the stairs inside is a fantastic little church, where, in the late 19th century and early 20th century, 1,500 Presbyterians worshipped. They were part of the Calton community because they were the original Irish who came over through the weaving tradition in the decades before the mass immigrations of Irish people after the terrible famine.

I initially wrote down that there seemed to be a holy trinity of Hugh Henry, whose family is from Killeshandra, me—my father's family is from Killeshandra—and Professor Tom Devine.

However, if I picked him up correctly, Joe FitzPatrick's family is also from Cavan. An interesting halfback line is available, should any of us be any good at football.

I will touch on important things. I will say something that I remember saying a few years back at the prize giving for Holyrood secondary school. It is one of the largest and most successful secondary schools in Scotland and was formed in the late 1930s. I was asked to speak at the prize giving and wanted to tell the youngsters about the journey that people can make. I told the story that the year that my grandfather, John, arrived from County Cavan to settle in the Gorbals was the difficult time when there was a major report for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on the Mound, which accused the ways of the Irish community—particularly the Irish Catholic community—of being responsible for many of the ills of our society at the time. In fact, it recommended that those people be sent home.

Echoes of that are heard in some of the language that we hear today, but the reason that I tell the story is that my constituency office is right opposite the church of the minister who put that report together and placed it before the Church of Scotland for debate at the assembly. Seventy three years later, the grandson of an individual who was told to go home had the chance to become the first member of the Scottish Parliament representing the area that that individual had settled in and the area of the church minister who said those things in the early 1920s. That is a positive journey, rather than a negative one.

The second thing to stress is the contribution that we make. We have differences of opinion about the role of Ireland and its present economic situation. I have never argued that Scotland and Ireland are directly comparable. Most serious economic historians would not argue that either. The concern is that thousands of citizens in Dublin right now are very unhappy with the conduct of their politicians, political class and leadership because of what happened with the finances. However, the issue that unites us has always been there, whether in relation to James Connolly 500yd up the road or my constituency or the big fights that John Wheatley had in his community about the compatibility between socialism and faith. Those issues have never been resolved even in mainland Europe, never mind Scotland.

Tonight, we have a chance to celebrate positive messages about the contribution that we make. We cannot deny that there have been problematic periods in the past and the present—I use my words carefully in case people try to misunderstand them. They are problematic because we are not totally accepting. We are not totally accepting if a young man who happens to be of Irish descent chooses another country to be his national football team. He gets abused at every away ground in Scotland. That is unacceptable. It is no accident that he is criticised for that, but it is wrong. It is also not acceptable if, in any debate on the pernicious experience of sectarianism in Scottish society, responsibility is laid on denominational education. Sectarianism predates that, and we need to be much more mature about that.

We have a duality of identity in the debate. Other members have mentioned their family backgrounds, so I will mention mine. My mother's side is from Tharsis Street in the Garngad and originally from Donegal; my father's side is from Sandiefield Street in the Gorbals area. Each succeeding generation has made a contribution. Irrespective of what we think the constitutional arrangement should be—whether we have a devolved Scotland for the long term or an independent Scotland—we will not be a good country if we do not accept the fact that we should celebrate who we are rather than what we are not and celebrate the fact that we can each make a contribution.

To be fair to Bob Doris, his speech was about trying to celebrate that, as is the motion. I welcome that and hope that we can do that for years ahead, so that future generations can get the benefit that I and others like me have had because somebody made a sacrifice 70, 80 or 90 years ago.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 6:44 pm, 12th January 2011

I, too, thank Bob Doris for lodging the motion and highlighting the importance of the Irish community in Scotland. We have heard about the impact on Scotland of the Irish diaspora, which is part of the story of Scotland for members. The debate has been a great opportunity to reflect on that.

People have migrated between Scotland and Ireland for centuries, and our histories are entwined for ever. I recognise the Irish diaspora's contribution in shaping Scotland. Arthur Conan Doyle, Sean Connery, Brian Cox and Susan Boyle are just a few in the ranks of the Irish Scots. The connections work both ways. Many members have referred to James Connolly, who was one of the most important figures in the struggle for Irish independence. He was born to Irish parents in the Cowgate in Edinburgh.

As with most mass migrations, the Irish came to Scotland in the hope of a better life. That is a familiar tale that is echoed in the experiences of diaspora communities down the ages and across continents. Migration continues to benefit Scotland economically and culturally. The contribution of the Irish and other diaspora communities over the centuries has a direct economic value, which can be quantified for recent immigrant communities. Between 1999-2000 and 2003-04, the total revenue from immigrants increased by 22 per cent.

The Irish were one of the earliest groups to settle, and they made a strong contribution. They worked on farms and down mines, as we heard from Elaine Smith, and in Dundee's jute factories, as we heard from Joe FitzPatrick. They built industrial Scotland alongside native Scots and other immigrants—mainly English. They constructed railways and canals and brought with them their own culture, religion, language and a legacy as a living part of Scotland. Irish artists and performers participate in festivals throughout Scotland—in the Edinburgh festivals, at Celtic Connections, and in the StAnza poetry festival, the word festival and the Wigtown book festival. Celtic Connections, which begins in Glasgow tomorrow, continues the tradition with some of Ireland's biggest names in traditional music performing, including Paul Brady, Brian Kennedy, Sharon Shannon and Shane MacGowan. I wish all the performers and everyone else involved all the best for this year's festival.

The strength of the Irish cultural community in Scotland directly contributes to our economy throughout Scotland. Thousands of children learn Irish dancing. As we have heard, Glasgow has hosted the world Irish dancing championships three times in the past 10 years, including in 2010. That contributed £9.4 million to Glasgow's economy. I was pleased to write to support the visit last year.

No assessment of the contribution that the Irish have made can be complete without mentioning sport. The Gaelic Athletic Association, which promotes sports such as hurling and Gaelic football, has a number of clubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee and adds to the richness and diversity of sport in Scotland. Of course, the role of the Irish diaspora in founding Celtic and Hibs is well known. As an MSP who represents the city of Edinburgh, I am delighted to have heard Pauline McNeill acknowledging that Celtic would not be Celtic if it were not for Hibs.

Gaelic has been an important cultural and linguistic bridge between Scotland and Ireland for the past 1,500 years. Scots also has a long and important history in Scotland and gives Ireland and Scotland a shared cultural heritage. Our languages are often fragile, and speakers of them are sometimes few in number, but they are a key aspect of our history, heritage and identity, and they have the potential to enrich our current cultural life. In both Scotland and Ireland, we need to find the most effective strategies for promoting our minority and lesser-used languages. We have taken steps to raise the status and appeal of the Irish and Gaelic languages through the arts and by making them more visible. That is a key area in which we can learn from each other. I see that as a shared challenge and an opportunity to learn from each other's strategies and initiatives. Close co-operation and partnership will help to ensure that we can create a secure future for languages that have been an important part of our cultural background for many years.

Mary Scanlon mentioned the British-Irish Council. I led the Scottish delegation in the Isle of Man. I report to the European and External Relations Committee, but would be delighted to write to her or answer questions about what has been happening with the council's current role and connections.

In reflecting on the contribution that the Irish in Scotland have made to the preservation and development of Irish culture, I cannot help but draw parallels with our own diaspora. Last year, the Scottish Government published a diaspora strategy, with a view to learning from the successes of the Irish, in particular, in working with their diaspora. I was interested in the comments that Bob Doris made in that regard.

Both Ireland and Scotland have a diaspora that is measured in tens of millions. Around 20 per cent of the people who were born in Scotland or Ireland live outside their country of birth. I pay tribute to the many Scottish societies and members of Scotland's diaspora around the world who play a key part in the continuing health of Scottish culture, just as I pay tribute to the Irish community in Scotland for the additional richness and diversity that it has brought to Scotland.

It is important to be proud of and confident about one's identity. As others, including Hugh Henry and Frank McAveety have said, that often involves a journey, which is changing for each generation. Perhaps the children of the Scots-Irish people of today will have a different relationship with their roots from the one that members have spoken about in the debate but, nevertheless, that Celtic thread that connects us will be strong and will bind us together for many years. It is a thread of diversity, but it is also very much part and parcel of the fabric that makes Scotland what it is.

I am delighted to have been able to respond for the Scottish Government in what has been an important debate.

Meeting closed at 18:51.