While the current health crisis has held back many of our Freedom for all Ireland initiatives, it did not stop British injustice. The British used the lockdown as their opportunity to renege on the Stormont House Agreement, Brexit agreement, victim’s pensions and legacy justice. Meanwhile groups doing vital FFAI work, with AOH support, were closed down or limited. They are counting on the AOH, more than ever, to give them the publicity, political support and financial help they badly need.
AOH FFAI must adapt and find new means to influence American and Irish politicians, contribute to justice groups in Ireland, impacting British policies, and setting the agenda for Irish American groups.
Health restrictions may block us from organizing speaking tours, but our national and state leaders have found new technologies to bring events like the transatlantic launch of PLASTIC JUSTICE to Hibernians across New York. After the election we will know who our elected representatives are and can target members of the administration or key Congressional committees for support on Irish issues.We have to find new approaches to continue our contributions in support of the Christmas Appeal grants.
WEBINAR SPEAKING EVENTS
I expected to be speaking about plans for a new tour which could provide a speaker for some of our best Christmas Appeal events (like the Fr. Murphy Awards in Albany), follow-up on FFAI political issues post-election and help motivate more areas to support our FFAI political and fundraising initiatives.
Obviously we cannot not have a speaking tour at this time, planned fundraising events had to be cancelled. However we are now bringing speakers to you by webinar broadcasts.
Nearly 1500 Hibernians, led by National Presidents Danny O’Connell and Karen Keane, viewed the webinar broadcast launch of PLASTIC JUSTICE, a report by Relatives for Justice, which documents how British state forces used plastic bullets to kill 17 Irish people with impunity. The event made public newly uncovered British secret documents, written just before and after one of the killings, which will now be used by legal representatives of the Downes’ family in their court battle for an inquest.
Three victims’ relatives spoke. It was deeply moving even for those who were aware of the circumstances of these murders. One of the most important aspects of this event was that groups like RfJ invited the AOH to co-host the launch, because of our successes in bringing legacy justice issues to Congress. The launch has also been covered for three weeks by the IRISH ECHO and VOICE.
Last month, in a history making first, Hibernians across the state got to see speakers representing 17 Freedom for all Ireland grant recipients talk about their projects and hear why AOH-LAOH Christmas Appeal donations are so crucial. The event is now posted on our AOH site. In the past only the FFAI Chair and those few Hibernians able to get to Ireland saw these presentations. It was inspiring to hear these leading representatives. Hibernians can take pride in these Christmas Appeal grants.
At the same time what they said was deeply concerning. Many of the recipients spoke of our grants being a lifeline for them because of the impact of covid. For example, John Kelly the leader of the Bloody Sunday campaign, said the Museum of Free Derry relies on paid admissions by visitors, which were wiped out. Brian Cawley of Tyrone National Graves said the funds they use to care for the patriot graves and memorials in East Tyrone, comes from an annual fundraiser at Easter, which was cancelled. A number of other groups and centers were closed for months. The message seems clear. Our donations this year were crucial, but because the covid crisis continues, they desperately need us to come through for them next year.
FFAI POLITICAL INITIATIVES
Last year at the request of AOH FFAI, the House Foreign Affairs Committee hosted a special briefing by Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice and Professor Mark McGovern, only 9 days after Boris Johnson announced plans to stop prosecutions of British troopers during the 1969-98 conflict. Congressman Eliot Engel scheduled the briefing, attended by Congressmen, many Congressional aides, two observers from the Irish Embassy and an observer from the British Northern Ireland Office. Mark Thompson and Professor McGovern urged Congress, to take a lead along with Irish America and the Irish government in opposing a trooper amnesty which would be a political disaster and violation of the Good Friday agreement.
The British pay close attention to American Congressional scrutiny. FFAI was able to organize this hearing and also a series of Congressional letters to the British Ambassador.FFAI speakers from Ireland also help in AOH efforts to build up a network of Congressmen, who are aware of key FFAI issues and the importance of Irish issues to voters in their district. We are unfortunately losing key members like Eliot Engel and Peter King. We will soon have an opportunity to identify and approach key members in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Senate and administration elected from New York.
New York State AOH and LAOH packed the Assembly and Senate galleries, after calling their elected officials to support resolutions about Ireland’s 1918 vote for freedom and 1919 Declaration of Independence.
Last year working with State President Tom Lambert, State PEC Chair Liam McNabb Chair and former State FFAI Chair Ciaran Geraghty we were scheduled to return to Albany on April 21st, for state ceremonies remembering Terence MacSwiney, Kevin Barry and other Irish patriots who gave their lives during the Black and Tan War of 1920.
These ceremonies bring an awareness of our history to those who never heard of events like the Irish Declaration of Independence or understand their historical importance. They show our elected officials that they have to pay attention to Irish issues and the AOH. Thirdly at a time when the British and Unionists want to honor the six county state and partition, these ceremonies are a subtle reminder, they created the Orange State against a national vote for freedom, and Declaration of Independence and through a war using the Black and Tans to terrorize Ireland.
Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the 1981 Hunger Strike, the death of Bobby Sands MP and nine others. The Hunger Strike and what it represented should be the theme of a state resolution in New York State and in cities and municipalities across the state and nation.
Resolutions can recall the contribution of AOH members under former State President John Egan and National Digest Editor Frank Feighery, among others who were instrumental in getting AOH banners and representatives at demonstrations across New York State in support of the Hunger Strikers every day from March 1st through October 3rd.
The 2019-2020 Christmas Appeal was a record breaking success led by New York. A total of $20,864 came from 37 New York State contributors to the Christmas Appeal. New York more than doubled the next highest state. We are not going to be able to hold some fundraising events which were a key part of the appeal. I am appealing to everyone around the state to try and make special collections so that we do not let these groups down at a time when they need our help the most.
Christmas Appeal grants are awarded to groups working for complete and absolute independence, peace and unity for all Ireland. Groups applying for donations from the FFAI Christmas Appeal must submit applications that include a question on how they promote freedom for all Ireland. The recipients and amounts were based on written applications and recommendations from the National FFAI Committee. Final determinations were made by our National officers.
Every designated donation to approved groups was honored and groups named for designated donations got additional monies because we wanted contributions to reflect your feelings.
New applications were approved for the Ballymurphy Families Committee, Bloody Sunday Trust (which over-sees the Museum of Free Derry), Tyrone National Graves, and the Witness Project headed by Sean Murray.
Repeat recipients included -Relatives for Justice, Pat Finucane Centre, Holy Cross Ardoyne, EALU-(means Es-cape in Irish) is a center for Republican ex-political prisoners, New Lodge Commemoration Committee, Conway Mill Trust, Tyrone AOH, Cairde Strabane, St. Patrick Centre, Downpatrick, Duchas Oiriall-South Armagh, Bridges beyond Boxing, Belfast, Down Patriot Graves, Green Cross, Belfast National Graves, Omagh Basketball and Omagh Choir.
2021 FACT FINDING TOUR
In 2019, Hibernians completed a highly publicized nine day fact-finding mission led by President Jim McKay and LAOH President Carol Sheyer and including leading Hibernians from 13 states.
In 2021, we are proposing a tour that would include meeting the families of all of the hunger strikers as well as discuss the continuing legacy and political meaning of the 1981 Hunger Strike today.
NYAOH FFAI Chair