Irish American Unity Conference (IAUC) President John Fogarty hailed the success of this year’s national convention in Boston, calling it a ground-breaking effort on behalf of Irish America in the encouragement and facilitation of cross-community dialogue in the north of Ireland. This year’s convention brought together members of both the unionist and nationalist communities, including academics, community workers, politicians and political ex-prisoners. Speakers included Dr. Pete Shirlow, Raymond Stewart, Terry Kirby, Bobby Lavery, Matt Morrison, Paul Harkin, Gerry McHugh, Roy Garland, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Raymond McCord, Nuala O’Loan and Father Aiden Troy. Participants took part in public and private discourse throughout the weekend, speaking forthrightly and respectfully without diluting their beliefs or holding back their opinions in order to be polite.
Speaking at the close of the convention, President Fogarty said, “In order to move forward and come together, we need to recognize each other’s positions and allow time for understanding, even if we do not agree. Through dialogue we might develop the level of understanding necessary to produce genuine visions of a common future in the north of Ireland that is both inclusive and just. As witnessed in Boston this weekend, the Irish peace process does not simply belong to the political parties, it belongs to the people.”
Though political parties are at the center of representative democracy, it is the belief of the IAUC that political agendas very often slow down or even halt the process of engagement. The honest discourse which was witnessed and participated in at this year’s convention reinforced the notion that ordinary people, motivated by the desire to secure a safe and egalitarian future for all our people, can create a parallel avenue for advancement; can create a situation atmospherically which supports and facilitates the ability of the political parties to interface to the benefit of all.
President Fogarty went on to say, “The IAUC appreciates the difficult and often painful work necessary to bring about true and lasting political change, and we will continue to use our resources to encourage such discussion in the future. Irish America has played such an integral role in the Irish peace process, and we should continue to be used as a tool to lay the groundwork for political and socioeconomic change in Ireland in any way that we can.”
Unionists spark heated debate at IAUC convention
By Irish Echo Staff
(Pictured from the left are: republican ex-prisoner Terry Kirby, IAUC President John Fogarty, IAUC Treasurer Gretchen Bales, and IAUC Chairman of the Board Dr. Robert C. Linnon)
Unionist voices at the Irish American Unity Conference annual convention in Boston last weekend brought a new dimension to the annual gathering of the pro-United Ireland activists.
The most heated exchanges of the day followed repeated assertions by Raymond McCord that the IRA ex-prisoners present were “terrorists”.
McCord, whose son Raymond was murdered by a loyalist gang leader who was a police agent, rebutted claims by former republican prisoner Gabriel Megahey that the IRA had acted in defense of embattled nationalist communities in 1969.
“I have acted in defense of my family,” said McCord. “I have beaten up loyalist paramilitaries who threatened my family but when did the IRA’s defense become putting bombs in pubs in the middle of Belfast?”
On several occasions, McCord challenged his audience to tell him how his three grandchildren would be better off in a united Ireland.
“Convince me they’ll be better off and I’ll vote for a united Ireland,” he said.
However, McCord remained unimpressed by the answers he received.
“No one here has answered my question satisfactorily,” he told Saturday’s closing session of the convention.
Ulster Unionist Roy Garland said dialogue was the cornerstone of continuing reconciliation in Northern Ireland. He had harsh condemnation for Dr. Ian Paisley’s DUP, recalling that Ian Paisley Jr., now a minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, had demanded Garland be drummed out of the UUP for being pictured with Gerry Adams and Albert Reynolds.
Fr. Aidan Troy, the North Belfast priest who famously defended schoolchildren who were the focus of angry loyalist pickets outside Holy Cross school told the convention that education was crucial to the future of Northern Ireland.
“The key to carrying the process forward is education,” he said.
Responding to questions about the need to encourage integrated education, Troy defended the right of parents to chose a Catholic education for their children.
“But I would like to see the Catholic hierarchy come forward and to say, what contribution can we make to integrated education. However, we can’t expect the children at integrated schools to carry the burden of integrating their communities if at home their parents and grandparents are carrying a contrary message,” he said.