Conference Day Two: Evening Fringe

This evening I went to two events, one well attended and the other less so, but they both provided a fascinating insight and I learnt something from each. The first was on Children’s rights and the other was on the work of the federation of Irish societies.

At the UNICEF event, chaired by Rafael Behr of the New Statesman, we had on the panel two excellent MPs, Sharon Hodgson, shadow minister for children and families and the increasingly impressive Andy Slaughter, along with Anita Tiesson, described as the High Priestess of UNICEF in the UK, Jamie Burton, a lawyer who has experience in cases involved with judicial review. Also taking part was Tim Oxley-Longhurst, a youth activist.

Andy Slaughter gave a fascinating talk about his work in the youth justice system, and his attempts to prevent the coalition unravel all the good work the last Labour government had done. Massive reductions in terms of crime and offending amongst young people were achieved, mainly by a lot of hard work by youth workers whose jobs had since been cut.

Jamie Burton then talked about the importance of getting the UN Convention on Children’s rights signed into UK law, something the last Labour government failed to do. It seemed that the only place where current legislation was working was in immigration, where the welfare needs of the children are increasingly being taken into account. This was mainly though the efforts of Baroness Hale in the UK Supreme Court who has made the case that you cant punish a child for the “immigration crimes” of the mother. There have been other cases with less success, in for instance the area of planning law, where less sympathetic judges have ruled that travellers who want to have their children educated in one place, cannot keep a caravan on their own land contrary to planning law, in cases reminsicent of the recent problems at Dale Farm in Essex.

Anita Tiesson was next, and offered a compelling case for the UK to bring the UN convention into law in the same way human rights are. The US and Somalia, interestingly enough are the only two countries who haven’t ratified it. And Tim Oxley-Longhurst gave as good a critique as I’ve heard, and talking about them as infringing children’s rights was an interesting approach, and I suppose if we had enshrined the convention into UK law, maybe they wouldn’t have happened.

At my second event of the evening, ‘The importance of being Irish’, it was interesting to hear about the work of the federation of Irish Societies. With grandparents who had come to the UK from County Mayo in southern Ireland during the second world war, it was good to hear that there is an organisation dedicated to support and foster the Irish community in Britain. It was a shame the event was so poorly attended. An interesting thing to hear was the work they had been doing with the Irish travellers at Dale Farm, again from an understanding that there are different cultural needs there, and acting as a necessary bridge which could help provide a resolution. The work of the federation in getting recognition of Irish as an ethic group in the 2001 census and with promoting the 2011 census to get a better picture of the numbers of Irish folk in the UK. Certainly this 3rd generation of Irish immigrant felt they were doing a worthwhile job.

The last thing was one which really struck me. They are going to be working with the Irish community across the UK, but especially in places where the Olympic torch is going to be going through next summer. They will, of course, be encouraging the Irish community to be supporting Team Ireland, but also, interestingly enough also encouraging them to support team GB.

Somehow I doubt you would get the SNP to say such a thing, but then I think that is the contrast between the narrow Scottish nationalism which just wants to be a little better than England, and the wider, Irish nationalism of a sort that has in the past been eclipsed by the troubles.

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