Blog from the US East Coast – Day 1

Presentation from New York State Legislature

By Mark Thompson in New York

Unable to get to DC we made our way through the bustling traffic and people of Midtown Manhattan for a conference call with Congressman Richie Neal’s Chief of Staff Billy Tranghese. Billy, a frequent visitor to the North, has more than a sound grasp of all the issues and is a seasoned aide to the impressive Richie Neal. Like the Congressman Billy has always been a dear friend to those in Ireland working for justice, equality, and rights – always ready to act in the greater interest of all the people back home.

Manhattan with its many positives and clearly as many negatives is nonetheless truly imposing and truly is the melting pot of the US.

It has changed so much from my first ever visit in the 1980’s fresh from Twinbrook, where I found an explosion of cultures, languages, customs, foods, and ways as I struggled to take it all in. I’ve probably been here twenty plus times since and still it never fails to impresses.

New York in January

Roads were cleared of snow that sat a few feet high on some parts of the sidewalks, pavements to you and I. And thankfully the weather changed for the better with the temperature rising from sub zeros figures rendering my prep bag of under-armour (the GAA type) thankfully redundant.

After a 45-minute discussion Billy had committed to begin the process, on behalf of Richie who chairs the bi-partisan Friends of Ireland group of Congress and Senate members, to initiate discussions with the group concerning the issues raised. These were summarized in an article I wrote in last week’s edition of the Irish Echo;

  • implementation of legacy agreements to address the past (noting the UK gov. inserted a ‘national security’ veto post the agreement);
  • no amnesties re the proposed statute of limitations being sought by the Tories and DUP for British soldiers who killed our loved ones;
  • funding for legacy inquests as requested by the North’s most senior judge Sir Declan Morgan so that families can have inquests without further delay accessing the facts unhindered and seek accountability (currently the funding is blocked by the DUP with the Tories happy to comply);
  • restoration of funding to the Police Ombudsman so he too can conduct his inquiries into the 350 plus legacy killings on his books – funding that was removed as his caseload increased dramatically post the appalling Al Hutchinson term.

From there it was onto Penn Station for the New Jersey Transit train out to Babylon, Long Island AOH Hall.

Apart form being an extremely beautiful area overall Long Island is the area (Manorville) where 1916 leader Tom Clarke had his 60 acre farm prior to getting word to up sticks and return in preparation for the Easter Rising. Which, thankfully he did.

Town Hall Babylon Long Island

Around a hundred people turned out at the AoH hall. This included a few relatives living in the area that had loved ones killed back home in the conflict – families that continue to struggle for justice.

Gerard Meehan was there. His beloved mother Maura and aunt Dorothy were gunned down by the British army in Cape St., lower Falls, October 1971 – along with a relative of 15 year old John Boyle shot dead by the SAS in north Antrim in 1978.

It was great they attended and in the after discussions they contributed immensely to the conversations after the main presentation.

Senator Phil Boyle presented RFJ with a proclamation from the New York State Senate for our work on behalf of families, which I was humbled to receive.

Presentation from New York State Legislature

Also there was Lenadoon native Kate Browning (nee Maguire) former legislator for Suffolk County, Long Island. Kate will be running on the Democratic ticket in the Congressional elections in November.

With an acute understanding of the issues families face back home there is no doubt that Kate will be an important voice on Irish issues not least the need to address the legacy of the past – if successful in getting elected. And we for one wish her well.

Hopefully she’ll be joining people like Richie Neal, Chris Smith, Pete King, Elliot Engle, Joe Crawley, Brendan Boyle, Bob Menendez, and a host of others engaged in these issues and being reawakened to the need for the US to once again focus its attention in getting the UK, and unionists, to honour their pledges by implementing compromise agreements and fulfilling their human rights obligations.

Many of those in attendance had direct connections to the above politicians pledging to lobby their respective Congressional and Senate representatives. And along with the commitments from Congressman Neal, via Richie, we hope to make some positive impact for the families we are humbled and privileged to work with and campaign alongside.

A great start to our tour with the Long Island AOH

Tonight we’re back to Manhattan at the Wolfe Tone Pub where we’re expecting a full house and where I’ll do my best to represent the best interests of all the families. Our host tonight is Malachy McAllister, a dear friend from the Ormeau Road and himself the survivor of a collusive attack that forced him and his young family to flee from Ireland in 1988.

So go raibh míle míle maith agaibh to all those too numerous to mention for organizing this trip and to all those coming out to support us.

I am writing this in the car on NJ Turnpike with lines of trucks all racing by, wheels up to the car windows, for position in the traffic into the city makes the Westlink and Falls traffic look tame – though I’ve no doubt that our FTA black hack drivers would hold their own here!