Nick Clegg's wife

"We are the largest minority community in the country yet unlike the Irish in America, we have no political clout. It's time we got organised and made our vote count," declares Jennie McShannon, chief executive of the Federation of Irish Societies in Britain.

There are 64 marginal constituencies in Britain where the strength of the Irish vote could determine the outcome, she says. McShannon challenges the notion that the Irish vote is solely for Labour.

That might have been the case in the past but it's gradually changing. An Irish Post survey found 57% of readers were Labour, 11% Conservative, 8% UKIP, and 1% BNP.

Although it's only a week until polling day, the three main party candidates in Hammersmith – one of London's key marginals – have taken time to attend hustings in the local Irish centre.

First- and second-generation Irish quiz them about the economy, ID cards, the expenses scandal and the peace process. "The Irish are interested in the same issues as everybody else but some matters are particularly relevant to us," McShannon says.

"The building trade which employs so many Irish people has been hit hard in the recession and many people have lost their jobs. Although it's not widely known, the Irish have higher rates of cancer and mental illness than wider society so the NHS is of prime concern.

"Care for the elderly is a major issue for us. The Irish in Britain are an ageing population. The over-50s make up 51% of the Irish community, compared to 35% of the white British community, and 14% of other ethnic minority communities.

"The Irish have contributed massively to this nation. We have nursed the sick and we have built much of Britain. It's only right that we now ask the politicians how they will look after our interests." Most Irish people at the hustings are reluctantly voting Labour or else Lib Dem in the hope of a Lib-Labour coalition.

In Camden, Irish businessman Ciaran Murphy is voting Conservative: "We must kick-start the economy and the Conservatives are the best people to do that. The Irish need to forget the past and start voting with their heads and not their hearts."

Some people are disillusioned with the election. Fiona Fox, director of the Science Media Centre in London, is second-generation Irish. Her father is from Dublin, her mother is from Tipperary. She finds the election sterile.

"Despite all the hype surrounding the leadership debates, the issues are being addressed only superficially. There is no detail on the economy from any of the parties and some subjects are being completely ignored.

"Every other day, the bodies of British soldiers are coming home from Afghanistan. The rights and wrongs of the war is a hot topic among the public. Yet the three party leaders stand there saying they absolutely support the troops and that's the end of the discussion."

But two factors might encourage Fox to vote Liberal Democrat: "My 11-year-old son Declan loves them. He's been glued to the debates, cheering Nick Clegg on and he's been out canvassing. I'm delighted he's interested in politics and I want to encourage him.

"I also loved it when Nick Clegg's wife [pictured] said she wasn't taking five weeks off work to traipse around the country campaigning for him. SamCam is intensely annoying and I can't bear to see a smart, professional woman like Sarah Brown in her organic vegetable garden at No 10 talking about bumble bee houses just to get Gordon votes."

Fox's husband, Kevin Rooney from west Belfast, is head of social sciences at Queen's Comprehensive in Watford. "I like some Tory education policies. New Labour has dumbed down our schools and universities," he says. "But I couldn't vote Tory if I lived to be 90. I'll never forgive them for the hunger-strike, for Wapping, for the miners' strike or Thatcher's cuts."