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Florida rescinds its MacBride Law

The State Capitol building in Tallahassee

By Ray O’Hanlon

As expected, Governor Rick Scott of Florida has signed a state budget bill that includes, in its multitudinous line items, a bill that rescinds the state’s MacBride Principles law.

The budget bill, which had to be passed in totality or not at all, was signed by Scott Thursday even as Ancient Order of Hibernians members in the state were inundating the governor’s office with calls.

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The Florida MacBride law had been on the books since 1988, a year of particularly strong MacBride activity across the U.S.

And in another development, it has emerged that Nebraska, with little fanfare or fuss, rescinded its MacBride law in 2011.

The rescinding was presented in January of that year to legislators on the state’s Retirement Systems Committee as a money saving measure.

The amount saved was, according to a transcript of the committee’s deliberations obtained by the Echo, $8,500.

With Florida and Nebraska subtracted, the principles are today law in just 16 states, though they are also enshrined, since 1998, in U.S. federal law.

The Florida rescinding measure was an item in the overall budget bill generated by “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.

The language 7024 is dry and matter of fact; it give virtually no hint of a political hand behind it. The bill even lists the MacBride Principles.

Nevertheless, the rescinding of the Sunshine State’s MacBride code is prompting an immediate pushback from pro-MacBride groups such as the AOH and Irish National Caucus.

In a statement, Greg Seán Canning, AOH Florida State President, expressed “great disappointment” after receiving a call from the governor’s office “informing me that Governor Scott signed Senate Bill 7024 into law.”

Canning continued: “Despite the loss of our initiative to prevent this legislation from becoming law, there is some positive news. First, the Governor’s office stated that they were inundated with phone calls all day. They also stated that they never realized how organized the AOH was and the strength of our response.

“That being said, I would like to express my gratitude for the quick response from our Brothers, Sisters, and Friends both in and outside of Florida. We only learned about Bill 7024 a few days ago. This Bill was held up in committee throughout most of the legislative process. This kept it out of the public eye.

“When it was finally released, the Senate only had two days to consider it. Many knew nothing of its ramifications. They were informed that this legislation would help the economic situation in the North and that because of the progress being made within the 6 Counties, the Mac Bride Principles were no longer needed. By the time this Bill became public knowledge, it was too late.”

Canning followed up with a call to action stating in part: “First, while we would rather engage in a struggle that we would have a better chance of winning, we cannot always turn away from those that offer little to no chance of success.

“There are those situations (this being one of them) when we as an organization must take a stand based on ethics. If we must always base our actions on victories only, then we have failed as an organization with principals. There will be those times when we will have to engage an issue even if there is no chance of success. I believe that this situation needed a strong response from us.

“Going forward, we must all keep a close watch on future economic bills that might serve to alter the current economic situation in Northern Ireland. This bill may well pave the way for stronger legislation in Florida or similar legislation in other States.

“Make no mistake, the MacBride Principles are under attack. We must seriously think of how to inform legislators from other States on the ramifications of removing the protection of the MacBride Principles in Northern Ireland. Doing so can and will reopen the doors of economic discrimination against the Irish Catholic Nationalist population within the 6 Counties.”

Fr. Sean McManus, president of the Irish National Caucus and the most high profile MacBride campaigner in the U.S. since the 1980s, didn’t mince his words describing the Florida rescinding as “anti-Catholic, anti-Irish.

Said the Washington, D.C.-based McManus in a statement released before Governor Scott signed the budget bill: “If Florida’s governor were to sign a Senate Bill to repeal the MacBride Principles, it will be seen as anti-Catholic and anti-Irish — whatever the governor’s intentions.

“Why would the Florida Senate attempt to do this? Who manipulated them in such a way? The MacBride Principles are universally regarded as being the most important and effective campaign ever against anti-Catholic discrimination in Northern Ireland.

“The Governor would be profoundly ill-advised to be associated with such an awful act. The MacBride Principles were passed to ensure that Florida dollars would not subsidize anti-Catholic discrimination in Northern Ireland. Those who are opposed to these principles will logically and naturally be seen to be anti-Catholic and anti-Irish. That’s politics 101.”

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