By Ray O’Hanlon
Florida is this week poised to overturn MacBride Principles legislation that has been law in the Sunshine State since 1988.
A rescinding bill, approved by both houses of the state legislature, is reportedly on the desk of Governor Rick Scott.
Scott is expected to sign the measure.
The development is a bolt from the blue as MacBride Principles campaigners - and the many Irish Americans who supported state and municipal MacBride campaigns that began in the early 1980s - have long considered the campaign to be more or less completed.
18 states and over 40 municipalities in the U.S. have MacBride legislation in their legal codes.
Now Florida looks set to reduce the state tally by not just one, but given the state’s size and economic clout, by a big one.
“This bill steamrolled through. There was not one vote in opposition,” Sean Sidway, a leading member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Florida told the Irish Echo.
Hibernians in the state, alerted to the situation and aware that it is the eleventh hour, are now scrambling in an effort to persuade Governor Scott to stay his pen.
But time is not on their side.
Sidway, the chairman of the Florida AOH Freedom For All Ireland Committee, said the bill would completely undermine the 1988 legislation.
Sidway said that the AOH was attempting to identify the original sponsor of the bill and had reached out to some legislators.
A document seen by the Irish Echo indicates that the measure was preceded by a “Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Statement” drawn up for the Florida Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government.
The bill, SB 7024, was then introduced in the Senate back in early March by the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee. The impact statement cover page also refers to the State Board of Administration.
Initial responses from some of the legislators contacted about the bill, according to Sean Sidway, had shown that legislators were either uninterested or “totally uniformed” about the bill, its subject matter, and it likely effects.
“It seems that they (legislators) have been taken in by the optics and are unaware that things are not all fine in Northern Ireland. This bill seems to have been inspired more by a profit motive rather than a moral imperative,” Sidway said.
“That moral imperative is getting lost in the shuffle,” he said.
“It’s really alarming. They (legislators) don’t have a grasp of the situation. You don’t give back what you have fought to achieve,” Sidway said of the late hour AOH bid to stop, or delay, the bill signing.
The MacBride Principles are a set of guidelines aimed at promoting non-discriminatory hiring in Northern Ireland.
They came into being in the early 1980s when Catholics in Northern Ireland were two-and-half times more likely to be unemployed than Protestants.
However, the intent of the principles was to bring about fair employment opportunities for all, regardless of religious or political affiliation.
Signatory states and municipalities require that their pension funds invest only in companies in the North that comply with the principles.
Many U.S. companies operating in Northern Ireland have embraced the principles, named after the late Irish Nobel laureate, Sean MacBride.
The MacBride campaign is seen as having prompted successive British governments to enact their own fair employment legislation in the North.