No Brexit between Irish America and Ireland
I leave the country for a heartbeat and Mrs May’s dream deal on Brexit and with the DUP hits the buffers.
Which makes me think I should take the newly-launched Norwegian direct flight from Belfast International Airport to the US more often!
And indeed, Brexit did feature in a lively panel at the annual New York-New Belfast conference where leading New York lawyer Brian O’Dwyer predicted a bumpy ride for Brexiteers among Irish Americans wary of any development which would imperil the gains of the peace process.
Belfast exile in the Big Apple, businessman Michael George provided a contrary view, proving that while you can certainly put two Friends of Belfast into a room in New York, you can’t necessarily make them agree.
Also taking part in the eighth annual transatlantic summit were New York State Assembly members Mike Fitzpatrick (a Republican), Mike Cusick and Brian Kavanagh (both Democrats) and City Council Irish Caucus members Danny Dromm and Elizabeth Crowley.
From two days of discussions, debates and dialogue my favourite quote came from Irish Echo editor Ray O’Hanlon: “There will be,” he pronounced, “no Brexit between Irish America and any part of Ireland.”
During my New York sojourn, I also met up with New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, sole custodian of the state’s $192bn pension fund which has billions of dollars invested in companies with operations in the North. Tom will receive an honorary degree from Ulster University on 10 July at the Derry graduation in recognition of a lifetime as an activist investor and a tireless supporter of equal opportunity and peace. On 14 July, he will spend a day in Belfast meeting with community and business leaders as well as some of the start-up companies who have benefited from the $22m he has pumped into enty funds here.
Biggest treat of the week wasn’t meeting Geraldine Hughes, whose new movie The Book of Henry was released on Bloomsday (Friday) nor indeed witnessing the inimitable Larry Kirwan sing James Connolly at a celebration to recognise the tie-up between US trade unions and the new James Connolly Centre on the Falls Road — magnificent as those moments were.
No, my highlight was opening the new Sensory Garden at St Columba’s primary school in Straw, Co Derry, on Tuesday.
I was bowled over by the passion and commitment of teachers, governors and parents to the lifting up of their young charges at the school and thrilled by the inspiring playground singing of the pupils. As well as being recognised as an “outstanding” school by the Department of Education for the quality of its teaching, St Columba’s has more positive activities linking the school to its community than New York has yellow cabs. Pioneered by the pupil’s Eco-Council, the new Sensory Garden will provide a space for the children to learn more about the environment while also providing a space for reflection and calm — qualities prized by Frank Liddy of Aware who has been taking mindfulness classes at the dynamic school.
And impressive and all as Ray O’Hanlon is, one of the St Columba’s pupils had a remark which bested even him. As I cut the ribbon on the new sensory garden with the irrepressible principal Fiona Kennedy, one child was heard to ask a classmate, “is teacher getting married?”