10 December 2009 Edition

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Impressive turnout in New York marks 25 years of

Gerry Kelly

Gerry Kelly

TUESDAY 8 December saw an impressive turn-out of political leaders, human rights activists and Irish-American organisations in New York’s City Hall to mark 25 years of the MacBride Campaign for Equality and Fair Employment in the North of Ireland.
The MacBride Principles, a nine point anti-discrimination charter, and the support they attracted, particularly in the US, ensured a focus on equality in employment and kept the issue at the centre of the political agenda for 25 years.
Organised by the ‘Irish Echo’, in association with New York Law Firm, O’Dwyer and Bernstien, and hosted by the Speaker and President of the New York City Council, Christine Quinn, the panel included the Comptroller elect for New York City, John Liu, the first Asian American to be elected to city wide office, and the New York State Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli.
Prominent equality campaigner, Inez McCormick, one of four original signatories of the Principles addressed the gathering alongside Sinn Féin Junior Minister, Gerry Kelly, whose responsibilities in the North’s Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister include equality and inclusion.
Joe Jamison, of the Irish American Labor Coalition and Irish Government Consul General to New York Niall Burgess also spoke.
Former New York Comptrollers were recognised at the event, highlighting the consistency and commitment of the New York Comptroller’s Office to the principles of justice and equality over the 25 years since MacBride was launched.
Over the years the contribution of the State Comptrollers’ Offices to the MacBride campaign, and to the issue of justice in Ireland, has gone way beyond simple endorsement of the MacBride Principles. The Comptrollers’ Offices have been one of the key engines of the campaign, pro-actively promoting and ensuring compliance with these key equality provisions and raising the bar in terms of the delivery of equality on the ground as a result of US investment decisions.
The attendance of the City Comptroller elect, John Liu was particularly significant, ensuring that the approach adopted up to now will continue under his new administration.
In his remarks at the event Gerry Kelly said:
“The offices of the City and State have used powerful American pension funds to back MacBride, to challenge patterns of structural inequality in the workplace and now in supporting sustainable investments in areas of the North that have suffered decades of systematic discrimination”
He argued that US political and financial muscle – filtered through tough contract compliance measures – can continue to play a hugely positive role in the North.
Inez McCormick said the Principles were important not just in their technical detail but also as an instrument of change, demonstrating that change was possible. And, she pointed out, change is essential to break the pattern of socio-economic deprivation.
Liz Holtzman, a former Comptroller and leading Jewish American figure, spoke about the impact on her personally when, on a visit to Belfast in the mid-1980s, she was ordered from her car at the point of a British Army gun. Leaving Belfast, she said, she knew that ordinary people had to live with the reality of that type of treatment on a daily basis.
The New York event demonstrated beyond doubt that the drive for justice and equality in Ireland remains a potent force in the city of New York and across the USA.

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