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Islington Council is set to investigate how companies that avoid paying UK tax can be barred from council contracts.

The Policy and Performance Scrutiny Committee will report before Christmas after calling-in large companies that have been accused of tax avoidance to answer councillors’ questions. 

The ‘scrutiny review’ follows the pioneering work of the same committee which led to the first anti-blacklisting policy adopted by the council in 2014. 

Chair of the Committee, Cllr Troy Gallagher, commented: “Tax avoidance is a disgrace and deprives the country of billions of pounds each year. At a time of massive cuts from the Government to Islington, we need to make sure that big companies are paying their fair share of tax.”

The committee will identify companies that the council currently contracts with that are allegedly avoiding tax, and investigate how procurement processes could be updated to ensure that these companies do not win Council contracts.

The investigation will also seek to understand how companies are avoiding UK tax and what powers, such as licensing powers, the council has to influence companies’ behaviour.

Following an investigation by the Policy and Performance Scrutiny Committee in March 2014, Islington Council became the first council to take decisive action against firms that had been involved in the practice of blacklisting. Blacklisting is the illegal practice of denying employment to individuals on the basis of information, accurate or not, which is held on a database. Firms who want council contracts must now show they do not practise blacklisting, and those who have used blacklisting in the past must prove they have ceased and taken sufficient measures to remedy their past wrongs. Any council contractor caught practising blacklisting in the future will have their contract terminated.

Cllr Gallagher added: “The pioneering work the committee did on blacklisting is something we will build on as we call time on tax avoiders. We will be hearing evidence from tax experts, council managers, and will be requesting input from HMRC and others.

“People in Islington know that it is only fair to ask companies to pay their tax; it’s time we made sure the council does all it can to tackle tax avoidance.” 

Calling Time on Tax Avoiding Companies

Islington Council is set to investigate how companies that avoid paying UK tax can be barred from council contracts. The Policy and Performance Scrutiny Committee will report before Christmas after...

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Two ground-breaking policies have been announced this week by Islington Labour to help deliver more homes for local people. 

Since 2010, we have seen 2,000 genuinely affordable homes built - including council homes for social rent - and Islington Labour is committed to delivering a further 1,500 new affordable homes. Despite the largest affordable homes building programme in a generation, like the rest of London, Islington faces a housing crisis. 

Part of the problem we face in Islington is developers using unclear 'financial viability' assessments to reduce the amount of affordable housing required as part of new building projects. This is part of what happened at Mount Pleasant when the Mayor delivered only a fraction of the affordable housing we needed.

Under our policies, the council always secures the most affordable housing it can, and this week launched a new front in the battle to deliver the homes local people need. Since changes by the Tory Government in 2012 were brought in, it has become more common for developers to use excuses through 'viability assessments' to claim they cannot afford to build affordable homes. 

In ground-breaking new guidance to developers, a number of measures will help us to what is right for Islington when assessing viability. You can read more about the new guidelines here.

But Islington Labour's action to tackle the housing crisis doesn't end here. In a separate pioneering move, the council has announced new rules to tackle the scourge of 'buy-to-leave' - where homes are bought and never lived in, before being sold on - denying local people housing.

By requiring developers to ensure that evidence is produced that homes are regularly lived-in, these new policies will aim to reduce the 'wasted supply' from these homes not being used to provide homes for local people. You can read more about these policies here.

Commenting on these new policies, Cllr James Murray, Executive Member for Housing and Development, said:

"Islington, like London, is facing a housing crisis and it's vital that all new homes help meet the huge demand for places to live.

"Our new measures make it clear that "buy-to-leave" is unacceptable. They make clear that new homes have to, at the very least, be lived in - I think that's a pretty reasonable thing to ask.

“There is growing evidence some developers use ‘viability assessments’ to their advantage, such as inflating land costs to say they can’t afford to build affordable housing.

“Our new rules make sure developers can’t game the system. We want to make the system transparent, clear, and fair, to help make sure the affordable housing we badly need is built.”

 

 

Action to deliver homes for Islington

Two ground-breaking policies have been announced this week by Islington Labour to help deliver more homes for local people.  Since 2010, we have seen 2,000 genuinely affordable homes built -...

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At the Full Council Meeting on 25th June, Islington councillors came together to oppose plans by One Housing Group to evict tenants from their home in Park Street. 

Local ward councillors, Cllr Gary Poole and Cllr Angela Picknell, spoke movingly about the residents' campaign and why this battle matters to all of Islington. 

Here are Cllr Poole's and Cllr Picknell's speeches that they delivered on the night, speaking in support of a motion that was passed by the meeting, calling on One Housing to drop their plans. 

Cllr Gary Poole - 

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Mr Mayor, I am very grateful that you have provided this opportunity to debate the urgent and distressing situation that is affecting a very special and significant community in Islington Park Street in my Ward. This situation is a true emergency in the sense of a current and pressing threat to a group of residents, many of whom are here tonight, who are facing the destruction of their way of living, and their principled existence. But it is also an emergency for the whole Borough because if we loose this Community we will be witnessing the degradation of the values of tolerance, equality and freedom for which our Borough stands. Mr Mayor the fight to save Islington Park Street Community is a battle for the very soul of our Borough.

The Islington Park Street Community was established in 1976 by Patchwork Housing and has stayed true to it’s original founding aim to provide supported living for low-income single adults. For nearly 40 years it has continued this existence and kept true to these values, for nearly 40 years its residents have thrived and lived in security, for nearly 40 years they have paid their rent and kept the property in good order. And now One Housing have decided that this Community no longer fits within their business model, and that 40 years of accumulated material and emotional investment by residents counts for nothing. Of course, One Housing claim that they merely want to empty the property in order address ‘maintenance matters requiring closer attention’.  And yet One Housing appear reluctant to speak with residents about the substantive issues offering only to speak to them about the practicalities of the ‘decanting’. Mr Mayor you can quite easily suppose what the real intentions of the landlord might be. With property prices soaring in this Borough, 38-44 Islington Park Street, is an asset that must be realised. The long standing community, living at the property for decades, have become an inconvenient reality. Their existence doesn’t fit neatly into any sales brochure, and in the ambiguity there is an attempt to diminish their status as tenants and make them easy prey to be moved on.  Residents now have 10 days to quit; 10 days  before legal proceedings will be initiated.  I ask members to imagine the situation facing older residents in this community in particular who have lived in a home that is not just bricks and mortar but which represents support and care, but who now face the destruction of that reality.  If we came into public service for anything, then surely it was to stand up for people in these situations and to fight for the values of equality, diversity and freedom.

Members should be under no illusions that other landlords will be watching this fight and watching what One Housing are up to. We know already that pressure is mounting to raise rents and sell off social housing, and if we loose the Islington Park Street Community then surely we will have taken yet another step along the road towards the decimation of the principles of social housing. This community is emblematic of everything our Borough stands for and if it disappears we will all be diminished. Yes the Community are different and yes they adhere to a way of living that sits outside the mainstream, but if there was ever a place where this type of community was valued, then surely it must be Islington

So Mr Mayor I hope tonight this Council will unite in standing up for this special community; that we will unite to fight for the values that are inherent within it., and that we will make a powerful statement that we will not tolerate social vandalism like this in our Borough. 

Cllr Angela Picknell - 

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This community is not a squat; it's not some well-meaning but inefficient commune that's run to seed and lost the plot. The original tenants of 39-44 Islington Park Street were, nearly 40 years ago, given a promise, by Patchwork Housing, of a secure home for their lifetime. The various tenants who have come and gone since then have lived under that original agreement - not just a legal or financial one, but also an agreement to share in and uphold the humane, supportive values of the man who founded patchwork housing. 

St Mary's councillors have met many of the current tenants and we've been to their home. It's clear that they have lived up to their responsibilities: kept the building clean and decent, facilitated repairs where necessary and got along with and supported each other. 

But they have been accused by OHG of being uncooperative and intransigent, giving the false impression that the threatened eviction is a landlord's last resort. 

In truth, it is OHG who failed to take part in mediation in 2010, and who have avoided coming to an agreement that could re-establish these homes as part of Islington's desperately needed pool of social housing, that could be paid for at an acceptable social rent and allocated, when vacancies arise, to Islington residents.

We invite OHG to engage in talks. To do what they were established to do -especially here in Islington in this instance, where there is so little land to build from scratch, and where every bit of social housing has to be fought for against the profit margins of private developers -  to maintain and provide homes for those who can't afford the obscene levels of private rents in their borough.

This council feels that there is a need for a wider campaign involving all of OHG's tenants in Islington and beyond, so that together they can form a defence against the possibility of more such shameful practices of this kind.

 

 

A battle for the soul of Islington

At the Full Council Meeting on 25th June, Islington councillors came together to oppose plans by One Housing Group to evict tenants from their home in Park Street.  Local ward...

Islington's Executive Member for Finance and Performance, Cllr Andy Hull, writes about the Tory Government's summer budget. 

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Well unfair 

Welfare reforms brought in by the government since 2010 have already hit our community in Islington hard. The council has sought to respond through the ground-breaking work of its IMAX social security advisers, its iWork employment coaches, its award-winning Shine energy initiative and its innovative Families First programme. The £12bn of further welfare cuts announced by the government in this week’s budget though will leave many more residents struggling to cope and cash-strapped local services less able to help them. 

Recent modelling carried out by the council shows that the Chancellor’s plans to cut the benefit cap by £3,000 from £26,000 to £23,000 will hit an additional 575 households in the borough, on top of the 250 already affected by the current cap, and could impoverish 1,000 more local children. 

The budget also commits the government to:

  • Cutting working tax credits, expected to hit 45% of working families nationwide
  • Freezing local housing allowance, meaning housing benefit will not keep up with rising private sector rents
  • Turning maintenance grants for students into loans, threatening to deter poorer students from going to university

This budget represents an attack on families and those in low-paid work, as the government looks to balance the nation’s books on the backs of the poor. When people fall through the increasingly threadbare safety net, it is councils that are left to pick up the pieces at the taxpayer’s expense. But how are we meant to do that when our own budgets are being cut to the bone?

Cllr Hull tweets at @AndyHull79

Summer Budget - Unfair for Islington

Islington's Executive Member for Finance and Performance, Cllr Andy Hull, writes about the Tory Government's summer budget.  Well unfair  Welfare reforms brought in by the government since 2010 have already...

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Plans by the Tory Government to cut the benefit cap could see 1,000 more children in Islington pushed into poverty. 

Today's Budget, set to be announced by George Osborne, will include a cut in the amount of social security a household can receive in London by £3,000 per year. Research by Islington Council has shown that almost 600 more households in the borough would be affected by the reduction, on top of around 250 families that are already hit by the current cap. 

The council's research has found that up to 1,000 more children in Islington could be pushed into poverty, in a borough that already has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the country. 

Cllr Andy Hull, Executive Member for Finance and Performance, commented: "According to the government, the benefit cap is meant to reflect the average income. But average earnings haven’t dropped by £3,000, so why are they cutting this support from families who need it?

"This national, one-size-fits-all policy takes no account of local realities. Rents in London are much higher than elsewhere, and yet the same caps and cuts apply. With such a shortage of affordable housing in the capital, cutting the benefit cap won’t drive down rents; it will just drive people into poverty."

Cllr Hull added: “For Islington, the Government cutting the benefit cap will mean huge losses of around £1.6 million in Housing Benefit – likely to translate into a big rise in tenants’ arrears. At a time when the council’s budget is stretched to breaking point, we can’t guarantee to cover the loss.

"We call on the Government to stop this cut in its tracks. Failing that, we need the Government to provide us with additional Discretionary Housing Payment funds to help us cover the shortfall. We will do our best to support struggling families in our community, but there’s a limit to our ability to shoulder the burden of government cuts and shield residents from their impact.” 

1,000 children in Islington could be pushed into poverty

Plans by the Tory Government to cut the benefit cap could see 1,000 more children in Islington pushed into poverty.  Today's Budget, set to be announced by George Osborne, will...

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At the last Full Council Meeting of Islington Council, Cllr Jean-Roger Kaseki (pictured) spoke passionately about the importance of human rights and the freedoms the Human Rights Act protects. 

As the Government seeks to undermine this vital legislation, Cllr Kaseki called on the Council and others to fight to defend the Human Rights Act.

Cllr Kaseki's speech - 

I am delighted to add my loud voice to support what has been said about our commitment to support the Human Rights Act.

Human rights are central part of our British values and this year we celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta and we should celebrate Britain’s role as guarantor of human rights and individual rights.

The Human Rights Act is a fundamental cornerstone to the civil liberties of British citizens and we should be proud of this human rights legislation

In the wake of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as we needed international human rights mechanisms, regional human rights mechanisms and national human rights mechanisms to be set up, therefore paving the way for defending, protecting and enforcing human rights worldwide.

Let me focus on the origins and machinery of the European human rights system to examine the relationship between the UK and the European Court of Human Rights following the Human Rights Act:

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is an international treaty drawn up within the Council of Europe, which was established in Strasbourg in 1949 in the course of the first post-war attempt to unify Europe. The United Kingdom was among the first states to ratify the ECHR and played a pivotal role in its creation. The UK accepted the right of individuals to take a case to Strasbourg and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in 1966.

The ECHR is a regional treaty of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. After the Second World War when countries came together as the United Nations to say ‘never again’, they agreed a set of universal standards of decency for all human beings. These standards are intended to protect every one of us. They include our rights to life, not to be enslaved or forced into labour, to religious freedom, to a fair trial and not to be discriminated against. Let me remind this chamber that Conservative politicians contributed to enshrining these fundamental rights from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948.

On the European Court of Human Rights, in 1998, the right of individual petition and the jurisdiction of the Court were made compulsory for all states which are members of the ECHR. Since that time, the Strasbourg system has expanded hugely due to an influx of eastern and central European states whose membership of the Convention signalled a break with their authoritarian past. Forty-seven nations - some 800 million people - are now within the European human rights system, which is widely accepted as the most effective international regime for enforcing human rights in the world. No democracy has ever withdrawn from the Convention.

I am glad that in 1998, the then Labour Government introduced the Human Rights Act. This shows that we are serious about supporting human rights. Regarding the protection of human rights in the UK, the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) created a domestic scheme of human rights protection which preserves the distinct role of the judges at the same time as safeguarding parliamentary sovereignty. The HRA gives effect in domestic law to the fundamental rights and freedoms in the Convention. It makes available in UK courts a remedy for the breach of a Convention right, without the need to go to Strasbourg. It requires all public authorities to act compatibly with the ECHR, providing a basis for the development of a ‘human rights culture’ in public services across the UK.

The HRA meant that the European Convention of Human Rights was finally adopted into UK law nearly 50 years after it was drafted and polls indicate overwhelming public support for the rights guaranteed in the HRA and for the existence of legislation to protect human rights.

The HRA has achieved much already. It has held the state to account for spying on us; safeguarded our soldiers; and supported peaceful protest. It is helped rape victims; defended domestic violence sufferers; and guarded against slavery. It is protected those in care; shielded press freedom; and protected people from press intrusion into their personal lives.

That is why it is astonishing for this Tory Government to plan to repeal this successful legislation. This will have major implications on human rights as I am deeply concerned at the implications for individuals and institutions, not least because the European Convention of Human Rights forms a fundamental part of the devolution settlements for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Repealing the 1998 Human Rights Act will do serious damage to EU standing, and I believe, undermine key elements of constitutional relationships within the UK, and seriously damage our standing within the European Union.

British sovereignty in relation to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg would decrease in the wake of a repeal, with increased supervision of the UK effectively making Strasbourg a court of first instance, with UK judges no longer able to influence the court’s decisions.

We need to lobby this Tory Government to pull back from implementing these damaging plans. We should protect the existing rights within the Human Rights Act, which has achieved so much and keep the UK in the European Convention.

We need to communicate human rights and unlike the Tories who want to deny human rights to our citizens by repealing the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a Bill of Rights, those of us who are passionate and support human rights need somehow to reach beyond for more human rights awareness and advocacy in our communities and explain to people why human rights should matter to them and this is how we will defeat the Tories’ plans to scrap the Human Rights Act.

So, communicate human rights - stand-up for human rights - defend human rights.   

Standing Up for the Human Rights Act

At the last Full Council Meeting of Islington Council, Cllr Jean-Roger Kaseki (pictured) spoke passionately about the importance of human rights and the freedoms the Human Rights Act protects.  As...

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Cllr Alice Perry, St Peter's ward, writes about the importance of tackling the practice of 'blacklisting' - 

Our lives our defined by our work, the communities we come from and our most strongly held values and beliefs. Defending and strengthening our rights at work is at the heart of what it means to be Labour. Back in 2009, the Information Commissioner exposed details of a large-scale surveillance operation run by a company called The Consulting Association. This company collated files on thousands of construction workers and sold the information to 44 construction companies.

Blacklisting is the illegal practice of systematically denying individuals employment on the basis of information, accurate or not, held on some kind of database. While it has been a serious blight on the construction industry for many decades, the discovery of this database was concrete proof of a massive national blacklisting scandal.

The raid resulted in the closure of the database, which had been used to record details of union activity and health and safety campaigning by construction workers. In some cases, just attending a meeting was enough to get you blacklisted from future employment.

The list contained over 3,000 names of workers, many of whom had had their lives ruined as a result. As the GMB point out “Blacklisting has devastating effects, including lengthy periods of unemployment, and being forced to retrain to work in other industries. Not only does this cause financial hardship for the person blacklisted, but also for anyone who is dependent on that person’s career.”

A national campaign led by Trade Unions like the UCATT, the GMB and Unite has sought to achieve justice and compensation for those affected, as well as calling for a full public inquiry and for companies guilty of blacklisting to be barred from tendering for publicly procured contracts.

Shockingly, around half of the workers on this secret database still do not know they were victims of blacklisting. As a society, we cannot turn a blind eye to this unjust, illegal practice.

Many Councils across the country have passed motions against blacklisting and supported the national anti-blacklisting campaign. In 2013 Islington Council wanted to look into what additional practical measures could be taken. Due to the scale of the practice and the terrible impact this had on the lives of thousands of workers, we investigated how local authorities could avoid doing business with companies guilty of blacklisting who had not self-cleansed (e.g. providing detailed evidence of the steps taken to remedy past damage done and prevent future occurrence.)

As a council, we adopted the following changes to its procurement policy:

  • The Council will now not enter into contracts with companies implicated in ‘blacklisting’ unless they can demonstrate that they have ‘self cleansed’ and taken adequate measures to remedy past damage done and prevent future occurrence.
  • The Council is amending its standard contract terms and conditions to introduce a new clause on ‘blacklisting’ to make explicit the link between ‘blacklisting’ by the contractor (or any sub-contractors that they engage) and the Council’s ability to terminate the contract.
  • If during a tender process, a candidate is unable to declare that they have never ‘blacklisted’, they will now be required to prove to the Council’s satisfaction that they have ‘self-cleansed’.

I am delighted that other Councils have adopted similar procurement processes to tackle blacklisting. It is great to see so many Labour Councils adopting ethical procurement processes. If Labour had won the election the party had promised a full enquiry into blacklisting. We should continue to campaign for this and supportthe ongoing major legal action. There is also a lot we can do right now in local government to challenge this disgraceful practice, hold guilty companies to account and fight for justice for thousands of workers.

We can't ignore blacklisting

Cllr Alice Perry, St Peter's ward, writes about the importance of tackling the practice of 'blacklisting' -  Our lives our defined by our work, the communities we come from and...

Thousands of council homes are likely to be forcibly sold to help fund the extension of Right to Buy after plans were announced by the Tory Government. 

In Islington alone, an estimated 1,840 vital council homes could be sold in the first 5 years of this disastrous policy. 

The Tory Government included plans in the Queen's Speech to allow more housing association tenants to buy the homes they live in at a discount under the Right to Buy policy. To fund this extension, the Government will force councils to sell higher-valued properties as they become empty. 

Islington has joined forces with several other London Boroughs to investigate the impact this policy will have, discovering that as many as 3,500 council homes could be sold in Islington, Camden, and Haringey alone within the first 5 years. 

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Cllr James Murray (pictured), Islington Council’s Executive Member for Housing, commented: “With Londoners already facing a huge housing crisis, forcing councils to sell homes in high-value areas is likely to have a destructive impact in Islington and right across the capital.

“Thousands of council homes would have to be sold, particularly in inner London boroughs, and the report we have produced underlines that there would be a big question mark over the Government’s promise that the homes would be replaced. We'll see a fall in the number of council lettings, which in turn will push up private rents even further, particularly in outer London boroughs.

“This report seems to confirm what we feared – that the Tory Government's policy is wrong for London, both socially and economically, and will make our grave housing crisis even worse.”

The key findings of the report were - 

  • Around 3,500 homes can be expected to be sold across Camden, Haringey and Islington in the first five years of the new policy.
  • The sales of empty properties is not likely to be enough to pay for the right-to-buy discounts, to compensate housing associations for loss of asset, to build replacement homes and also contribute to a brownfield fund
  • Even if the Government's proposal for replacing homes works, there would be an estimated time lag of at least two years from the sale of homes to replacement ones being built. The report uses DCLG data to estimate that this would result in 579 families with children and 385 homeless households being unable to get a council tenancy in the first two years.
  • Many families unable to get a council tenancy would face the prospect of remaining in overcrowded homes, whilst households who are underoccupying would likely take remain in their home for longer before downsizing.
  • Homeless households would have to enter or remain in temporary accommodation. This is likely to have an effect on the private rented sector and on other council services in outer London boroughs as inner London boroughs rent homes for use as temporary accommodation outside of their own boroughs. 

 

Council homes at risk from Tory Government

Thousands of council homes are likely to be forcibly sold to help fund the extension of Right to Buy after plans were announced by the Tory Government.  In Islington alone,...

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Leader of Islington Council, Cllr Richard Watts, writes about the next 5 years following the general election - 

I'd like to start by saying thank you. Thank you to each and everyone person in Islington that voted Labour and re-elected our fantastic local MPs, Emily Thornberry and Jeremy Corbyn.

Emily and Jeremy have always been dedicated fighters for working people in our communities, and after beating the Tories into second place, I know they will continue to make a difference on the things that matter. 

Sadly, however, the results across the country mean we now face five more years of a Tory Government. 

I think it's right that we are completely upfront with people when we talk about just how bad the next few years will be. 

Further massive cuts to the council, devastating policies that will make it harder for people to get and keep affordable homes, and brutal cuts to vital welfare support, will all make the lives of people in Islington harder. 

I want to make you a promise today - no matter how hard the next five years are, Islington Labour will always be on your side. 

We will fight this Government every step of the way, and continue to make a difference on this issues that matter to working people - jobs, housing, and help with the cost of living. 

But we need your support and help to continue our work to improve the lives of people in our community. 

I hope that you will join me and start the fightback today. Volunteer today with Islington Labour by clicking here and join the Labour Party here.

Best wishes,

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Cllr Richard Watts

Leader of Islington Council

@RichardWatts01 

Thank you, but we need your help

Leader of Islington Council, Cllr Richard Watts, writes about the next 5 years following the general election -  I'd like to start by saying thank you. Thank you to each...

To celebrate St Patrick’s Day, 17th March, Islington Council today raised the Irish flag above the Town Hall. 

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This occasion was witnessed by members of the local Irish community, councillors, and the Leader of the Council, Cllr Richard Watts. 

Organiser of the event Cllr Troy Gallagher said of the occasion: "St Patrick’s Day is an important date in London’s calendar.

"Raising the Irish flag is a great gesture to mark the occasion, and to celebrate our Irish population in Islington and the contribution they have made to our local community. 

"Islington's strength is our diversity and I’m proud that today we’re celebrating the distinctive contribution of our Irish residents in the borough."

Pictured: Councillors and council employees with the Irish flag at the Town Hall. 

Irish flag raised to celebrate St Patrick's Day

To celebrate St Patrick’s Day, 17th March, Islington Council today raised the Irish flag above the Town Hall.  This occasion was witnessed by members of the local Irish community, councillors,...

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