As boards and divisions continue to consider their contributions to the annual Freedom for All Ireland Christmas appeal, I would like to present a speech I made recently regarding Relatives for Justice. It is my hope that it will convey to you the importance of the work that we support with our appeal:
It was almost 10 years ago that I first met Mark Thompson, Clara Reilly and the staff of Relatives for Justice (RFJ) in their Falls Road office in West Belfast. In that time I have learned about the hundreds of families that they have helped in their quest for justice. I have had the honor to personally meet dozens of these families and learn firsthand of their quest for justice. I have been in awe of the staff of RFJ and inspired by their determination to fight for truth and justice. Often faced with what would seem insurmountable odds, they labor on, for they have the truth as their most valuable asset on their side.
Through my work with the AOH I have rallied support for RFJ at the local, state and national levels. The AOH has helped with our donations and our voices; We have told their story in meeting halls, conventions and to our elected officials both locally and in the halls of Congress.
Dealing with the past in a transparent and truthful way is a remaining challenge of not only the Good Friday agreement but a key component of the transition of a society from post conflict to true, lasting peace. It is the difference of defining a fragile peace as a lack of war to a lasting sustainable peace for equals.
RFJ’s quest is for justice for those families still seeking truth. Unfortunately, that quest for justice and truth has been often delayed, deferred, postponed and put off by the existing systems that are in place in the North of Ireland. For the truth to emerge, the vehicle that will provide the process must be free from the prejudices of the British government and her henchmen disguised as civil service employees in offices that they still influence. Britain has had its opportunity to address the past but it has failed terribly. Justice — even when it has been achieved — takes not months or years but generations.
Ignoring the issues is no longer an option. Britain must acknowledge what it has done, admit what it has done and apologize to those it has harmed.
It is my hope that the recent awarding of the 2011 AOH Sean MacBride Humanitarian award to Clara Reilly, chairperson and founding member of Relatives for Justice and a woman who for 40 years has been the backbone of the civil and human rights movement for the people of the North, will continue to highlight the critical importance of truth recovery in North of Ireland. RFJ has proven to be a true broker for peace and justice in the North. They have supported families regardless of their religion or political affiliation. RFJ does not believe in a hierarchy of victims, they believe that we cannot let those who seek the truth be left behind.
Their important work is often threatened and impeded by the subtle forms of discrimination that still exist in the North. A new building that RFJ desperately needs to serve the communities they support sits available and vacant but funding and support is held up by bigots disguised as bureaucrats. Funding is often tenuous with workers having to be laid off while new funding is searched for. But through all of this, they preserve and thrive.
If we do not address the past then the truth will be the last victim of the troubles, and there will not be a strong foundation for the future. The future cannot be built on the lies of the past. A foundation of truth can be the only hope for the future. The work of RFJ will help cement the future of all people in the North.
On October 14th, only three days after the cowardly British prime minister David Cameron reneged on his government’s commitments to the family of Pat Finucane, Geraldine Finucane, Pat’s widow, issued the following statement: “The world is now aware that my family and I were invited by the British Prime Minister David Cameron to 10 Downing Street earlier this week to hear his decision on the holding of an inquiry into the murder of my husband, Pat Finucane. Even now, days after the event, we still feel humiliated and insulted by the ordeal we were made to endure … We cannot be expected to take the British Prime Minister’s word that it will be effective when he is reneging on a Government commitment in order to establish it. His actions prove beyond doubt that the word of British Prime Minister is not to be trusted. The case of Pat Finucane shows that British Prime Ministers no longer keep their promises.”
Geraldine Finucane has for over 20 years strived for justice and truth in the murder of her husband. Cameron’s actions and mistreatment of the Finucane family serve as a perfect example of why we still need to be cognizant of the issues that still affect the North of Ireland.
Congratulations to Dan Dennehy for hosting such a wonderful, first-class fundraising event in Manhattan to support RFJ and the Christmas Appeal.
Dan Dennehy, NYS FFAI Chairman, reports that the NYS FFAI 2012 Christmas Appeal Fundraiser held at Harbour Lights Restaurant was a tremendous success. Co-hosted by the Brehon Law Society of NY and with the dramatic views of Manahan skyline and The Brooklyn Bridge, the event was a lively evening of music provided by AOH members Sean Griffin and Stephen Gara, excellent food and great guest speakers.
Among those who presented a contemporary view of the issues in Northern Ireland were National Vice President Brendan Moore, National FFAI Sean Pender, Steve McCabe and General Jim Cullen of the Brehon Law Society. Many Hibernians, including Brian Kelly, NYS Director, Aidan O’Kelly Lynch, President of the AOH Peekskill participated in the event as well as National Director Jere Cole and Mike Carroll of the Brehon Law Society.
The highlight was a moving speech by 2011 AOH Sean McBride Award winner Clara Reilly of Relatives for Justice, who was presented with a $2,000 check from the NYS Board as part of their Christmas Appeal Fundraiser proceeds. Dan Dennehy said, “The Brehons have helped make this event a complete success, and we are excited by the prospect to working with them on many more efforts and causes in the future.”