Pictured at the Bronx Hibernians Awards Dinner (l-r) Martin Galvin, Senator Charles Schumer, former congressman Peter King, Patricia Megahey, and Ancient Order of Hibernians National Vice President Sean Pender. Photo by Nuala Purcell

Schumer Says No Return To Hard Border

Senator Charles Schumer was in full Hibernian mode.

The Senate Majority leader told an overflow crowd at the Bronx County Ancient Order of Hibernians Dinner on Sunday, November 20, that there could be no return to a hard border in Ireland as a result of any undermining of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Schumer, who was honored as "Hibernian of the Year" by the Bronx Hibernians, also took aim at the British government's proposed amnesty bill.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

Schumer was honored alongside "Spirit of 1916" honorees, former congressman Pete King, National AOH Vice-President Sean Pender, AOH Chaplain Fr. Brendan Fitzgerald, and Patricia Megahey, representing the campaigning wives of the group of men known as "The Deportees."

The gathering, at Rory Dolan's in Yonkers, and according to organizers, also also marked the 25th anniversary of the historic 1997 Clinton administration order halting the deportations of former Irish political prisoners settled in America, while noting hardships still confronting them and those that followed like Malachy McAllister and Patsy Donnelly.

Senator Schumer was introduced by Bronx County AOH President and Master of Ceremonies Martin Galvin, as one who “has made our fight his own in Congress for more than thirty years.”

Schumer told a cheering crowd about his meeting with then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, where Schumer said: “there will be no trade deals done if there is any backsliding on the Good Friday Agreement, which has ushered in a period of peace and the possibility of equality and shared prosperity.”

Schumer added: “There can be no return to a hard border via undermining the Northern Irish Protocols or any other mechanism."

On the new Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, which would take away the rights of victims’ families to get inquests, Ombudsmen investigations, civil suits for loved ones murdered during the conflict, while discarding Britain’s part in the Stormont House Agreement, Schumer said: “We must also oppose the very unwelcome and unjustified efforts in the UK to pass the regressive, so-called Legacy legislation, which will undermine the ability of the victims of the Troubles – and the families of those killed – from seeking truth and justice in the legal system. It is just wrong.”

Senator Schumer also pledged to continue his support for Irish immigration and for Patsy Donnelly, an Irish immigrant from Tyrone, married and long settled in America, who is now under deportation proceedings only, according to Martin Galvin, "because decades ago he was questioned by British Royal Ulster Constabulary about Irish Republican involvement."

Former congressman Pete King, who had a close working relationship with Senator Schumer while in Congress, even though the two men represented different parties, was introduced as a man who “stood on Irish platforms first as Nassau County Comptroller, and then in Congress in days when it was politically unpopular even within his own party to do so. He became a respected Congressional authority on Irish issues whose leadership convinced other congressmen to follow him in supporting us.”

Congressman King spoke about the major changes he sees in Northern Ireland and praised the part played by Irish America in achieving such progress.

He said: “Today I am able to reconnect with men and women who worked so hard for so many years during the 1980s and 90s for freedom and justice for all of the people in the north of Ireland. Their efforts did a great deal to bring about the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which ended centuries of struggle on the island of Ireland. Then and now it has been my privilege to stand with these dedicated people."

Fr. Brendan Fitzgerald, introduced as pastor of nearby St. Barnabas Parish and New York State AOH Chaplain, was praised for making a tremendous contribution to the AOH, Woodlawn Irish community, and St. Barnabas, including making the annual Gaelic Mass Day a national event watched across the country via AOH Youtube.

Fr. Fitzgerald noted how honored he was to be named New York State AOH Chaplain and to see the Mass in Irish watched by thousands of people.

He referred to the British amnesty legislation and quoted Pope John Paul II, who said “there is no peace without justice, and no justice without truth." Fr. Fitzgerald said “Truth is the foundation of justice and peace, and we must never lose our passion for truth in order to gain a perception of peace."

National AOH Vice-President Sean Pender, in an impassioned address to the gathering, said: "While we have had successes there is much more we need to do. The British are still denying legacy truth, and try to undermine the protocol which could mean a return to a hard border.

"The deportees still suffer hardships. Malachy McAllister was deported and Patsy Donnelly now faces deportation proceedings. We do not have a united Ireland or even a timeframe for a border poll. We have much to do and can only do it by working with both political parties.”

Patricia Megahey was honored for her work in Irish Northern Aid, and as a representative of the wives who have led the campaign for the Irish political deportees.

Megahey noted the leading role of women “because women are often left out of the conversation and the history books in Irish history and history around the world.”

And she continued: “The deportees are still in limbo; people think the cases have been settled. All the men continue to have problems with their status because they have no status.

"Every year they need to re-apply for a work permit-without the work permit, they have no legal documents that say they have the right to work and live in the United States.

“These men are treated as terrorists and enemies of the United States. They are not terrorists; they fought for their country as anyone of us would do for this country. We need a permanent solution to these cases."