Many people are surprised to learn that the Irish population is the fourth largest minority ethnic community in England. In terms of the age of its population, it is also the oldest.
The percentage of older people, aged 60 – 79 from the Irish community is actually more than twice as high as the next highest minorities, the Caribbean or Indian communities. The percentage of the Irish population aged 80+ is more than three times greater.
In Greenwich, the Irish community are the largest ethnic minority group of people aged 65 or over living in the borough. Overall the borough has the fourth highest number of people with limiting long term illness in London, and the fifth highest number of people who are sick or disabled.
As a non-visible ethnic group however, the very real needs of our older Irish community are all too often overlooked.
The Irish community, especially its elderly members, have specific cultural needs and barriers which easily prevent them successfully accessing support. Many are reluctant to approach statutory services, or have previously received inaccurate information.
Irish Community Services are the only voluntary sector organisation in the area who focuses on providing support to Irish Elders, who still remain a very much marginalized and neglected community in the UK. We offer culturally sensitive services to Irish people in the community who are often reluctant or unable to access the services of other larger organisations or statutory services.
Culturally, older Irish people are reluctant to ask for help or admit they are not coping. Saying that you’re ‘grand’ and that everything is ‘fine’ is a stock answer that a lot of Irish people, especially men, use because they are not comfortable discussing their private affairs.
The Irish community also has one of the highest rates of mental health issues, often linked to alcohol or drug misuse, but also linked to issues of historical sexual abuse, the traditional roles of men and women, religion and social stigma.
It is vital that we ensure members of our local Irish community are able to confidently confide in someone who already shares their culture, and understands the social, religious and political taboos which impact upon their current situation, but can actually go back generations.
We recognise and celebrate the importance of belonging to the wider Irish Community. We all share a special cultural identity, history, experiences and sense of humour! This shared Irish heritage informs everything Irish Community Services do, how we work and how we communicate and is a vital ingredient in our success.