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2 April 2012 Edition

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Fógraí Bháis: US Congressman Donald Payne, New Jersey

CONGRESSMAN DONALD M PAYNE of New Jersey, the first African American member of Congress from New Jersey and a great friend of Ireland, passed away on 28 February of complications from colon cancer.

Congressman Payne, a member of the Democratic Party, was recognised at one point in his Congressional career as having the most pro-Irish voting record in the entire US Congress. Amongst the legislation he introduced was a measure to ban the use of plastic bullets by the British Army and a bill to support an inquiry into the deaths of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.

Donald championed the cause of the Irish deportees, urging that they be permitted to remain in the US. He strongly supported the International Fund for Ireland and pushed for continued funding. His office hosted dozens of Irish interns over the years. A frequent visitor to Ireland, he accompanied former President Clinton on his historic trip to the North. He also travelled to South Africa to support the work of Irish volunteers building homes to replace shacks in the townships with his good friend, Niall Mellon, founder of the Niall Mellon Township Trust charity.

He joined Irish nationalists in monitoring the Orange Order parades to document violations against the Catholic residents of Garvaghy Road. A strong supporter of the Irish Peace Process, he personally met with leaders of all parties and with the ‘US Envoy to Northern Ireland’ to encourage successful implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Congressman delivered the Frank Cahill Memorial Lecture in Belfast one year and was named the winner of the Pat Finucane Award by the Irish American Unity Conference in recognition of his support for human rights.

Expressing his “deep sadness” at Congressman Payne’s passing, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD recalled that during a debate in Washington on the MacBride Principles for fair employment in the North of Ireland, Donald remarked:

“I and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus can easily identify with the Catholic minority. I recognise many similarities in how they are treated with how people here were treated.”

Gerry Adams praised the contribution the New Jersey Congressman had made at home and internationally:

“Donald Payne will be remembered with gratitude and real affection for his support at difficult and dangerous times in Ireland and elsewhere in the world. He will be sadly missed by his own constituents and by people the world over.”

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