If you don’t defend human rights lawyers, who will defend human rights? -- Rosemary Nelson
It is all very well to have international laws on human rights, but if those laws are imperfectly enforced they might as well not exist.
-- Brice Dickson, Brian Gormally
The confluence of events that brought me to the north of Ireland as a 2015 NYU Gallatin Global Human Rights Fellow had their start a good few years ago. I’ll give you a very short synapsis of what happened to bring all this about.
The attacks of 9/11/2001 had a rather strong effect on me as they did with everyone who lived through that horrid time in our history. As an Irish American who was very fond of a drink, my resultant sadness and anger at the attacks replaced the happy feelings that usually accompanied my consumption of a few jars. So, I quit drinking all together.
Pictured, microfilm of the Newsletter newspaper from 4 July 1970 reporting on a pitched battle between the Provisional IRA and the British Army in which 3 people were killed. I remember the newsreels on TV.
I went to the employee assistance unit at the Department of Sanitation and informed them of my desire to stop drinking by going to a rehab facility, and they were only too happy to accommodate me. My first sober day was 10/20/2001, just over five weeks after 9/11, great. As most of you know those of us in this situation are said to be “in recovery.”
In September 2007, I decided that I would recover my education and so applied for enrollment at SUNY Empire State College, I was accepted and began what would turn out to be a success-filled, midlife academic career, receiving two Irish Language Summer Study Awards from the Fulbright Commission, the SUNY Chancellors Award for Student Excellence, an Associate of Arts Degree in Historical Studies, and a Bachelor of Science in Irish and Irish American Studies. I closed out my undergraduate career as the Student Speaker for the 43rd Commencement of SUNY Empire State College.
I am presently a graduate student working on my Master of Arts in Irish and Irish American Studies at NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House under a rather handsome scholarship. It seems that my commitment to living a life of sobriety has really been paying off, because God knows that if I was drinking none of this would have taken place. In November of last year I applied for the Gallatin Global Human Rights Fellowship at NYU and was delighted to be named one of eleven 2015 Fellows. I am now a Human Rights Research Fellow assigned to the Pat Finucane Centre here in the north of Ireland and it is my great honor and privilege to say so.
There are families and individuals beyond counting who have still not been made whole by the Good Friday Agreement.
I have really given you all the hyper-shortened version of my story in an effort to cut to the chase, which is this: There are families and individuals beyond counting who have still not been made whole by the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). The government and certain political parties have resisted examination of this situation, but help is on the way. Contained within the more recent Stormont House Agreement (SHA) is a section titled “The Past,” which deals directly with matters of human rights abuse that were part and parcel of the government’s modus operandi in those dark years before the GFA and surprisingly enough, in post agreement years.
It has been wisely said that trying to implement the SHA is like trying to build a ship while it is under sail, so easier said than done. But the primary components are there, and it is a case of governmental neglect that invites public participation in the developmental process of the SHA. Until such time as the scales of justice are put back into the balance that has proved so elusive, perhaps non-existent in this part of the world, the peace shall rest on fragile underpinnings. The Pat Finucane Centre, my host organization, is committed to helping those who have been ignored by their government, to exposing the government’s deadly collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries with an eye towards reconciliation, and to fostering the idea that without the enforcement of human rights our society will languish in disharmony.
Photo, at Keeragh Lodge in Castlerock, County Derry
When I dropped out of high school in 1978, I envisioned quite a different future for myself. But life is full of twists and turns, and, at a critical point in time, it seems that I made a good decision. Recently, I made another life-changing decision, I retired from my career of 22 years as a New York City sanitation worker. Because I needed more time to serve my fellowship than was available to me via my annual leave, the decision was easy. It has become apparent to me that I am experiencing a rather monumental pivot in my life, as I turn from serving the people of the City of New York as a sanitation worker to serving the people of Ireland as a human rights advocate. Upon the completion of my degree at Glucksman Ireland House, it is my intention to seek employment as a professor of Irish Studies, which would be in keeping with my lifelong commitment to serving my community. With the help of God and a few friends I hope to be successful.