Only in America: New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, as his surname suggests, is more a son of Tuscany than Tralee but for all that his contribution to the Irish peace process has been extraordinary.
As sole custodian of the State’s $184bn pension kitty, he has been a vigilant defender of equality of opportunity in the workplace in the North of Ireland through the MacBride Principles which were honed by his chief aide Pat Doherty.
And with statistics showing that those born into the nationalist community continue to endure higher levels of disadvantage than their unionist neighbours, it’s clear that our fair employment journey is not yet finished.
Additionally, Comptroller DiNapoli has moved to underpin the peace with investment.
In 2014, he made the biggest-ever single investment in a Northern Irish equity fund when he placed $15mwith Crescent Capital of Belfast. I have had the opportunity to meet the Comptroller’s senior staff in the state capital of Albany to pitch for more investment in the North and Comptroller DiNapoli spent the best part of a week in Belfast and Derry in late 2014 eyeing further opportunities for investment from a $30m investment fund he has set aside for new opportunities here.
In short, therefore, he’s the perfect person to launch the Belfast International Homecoming 2016 at the Consulate of Ireland on Park Avenue, New York, at 8am on Friday 22 January. Nothing epitomises the enthusiasm of our global family to build the peace with jobs than the commitment of ordinary Empire State workers — public servants, police officers, fire-fighters, nurses — to have their hard-earned pension funds invested in the North of Ireland.
That breakfast launch will also give the vibrant Irish American community the opportunity to hear more about the Belfast International Homecoming and to hear from Consul General of Ireland Barbara Jones, whose last diplomatic posting was in….Belfast.
Only in America II: When multi-Oscar nominated cinematographer Haskell Wexler passed away at his Califrornia home last week, Belfast lost a dear friend.
For the 93-year-old, who was working on his latest movie until recent weeks, had a special place in his heart for Belfast and for Ireland. Perhaps the film legend, who won his first Oscar for the seminal Medium Cool, formed that special bond on a raft in the Indian Ocean during the Second World War where he cared for a fellow-Merchant Marine sailor — and Irish American — who died in his arms during their 20-day ordeal. Our Santa Barbara pal Kevin McKiernan, who brought Haskell to Belfast in 2008, says he often quoted a passage from Grapes of Wrath. We reproduce it here in his honour. Ar dheis láimh Dé go raibh sé:
Tom Joad: A fellow ain’t got a soul of his own, just little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody then,
Ma Joad: Then what, Tom?
Tom Joad: Then it don’t matter. I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.
And talking of souls, I remain convinced that the most effective campaigner against poverty and for social justice in this year of 2016 will be Pope Francis. Inspired by his Papal Encyclical, I am making a New Year resolution to open up a dialogue with local Catholic church leaders around tackling unemployment and poverty in South Belfast. Everywhere I look in Belfast, I see faith groups leading the way and am convinced that co-operation between politicians and communities of faith holds boundless possibility. I will keep you posted on my progress.