Heritage Series 2008 Issue – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Mon, 15 Jul 2019 20:00:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 The American Optimist https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/the-american-optimist/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/the-american-optimist/#respond Tue, 01 Jan 2008 07:59:29 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=36559 Read more..]]> First we must move past the many pretenders who have rushed in to claim how much they did for the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Then you will find that Bill Flynn and a precious few others stand alone as dedicated Irish Americans in that effort. For Flynn it meant he put his reputation on the line in order to help the country of his parents achieve the impossible.

It was not easy. At the time he was Chairman and CEO of Mutual of America, a major insurance company, and some looked askew at this peacemaker as he went about the exhaustive task of bringing the different sides together in Northern Ireland. Some even dismissed the mission as a fool’s errand and an impossible task.

Indeed, in his book Uncivil Wars Padraig O Maille, the Boston academic, essentially reached that conclusion, that very little could be done for peace in Northern Ireland.

Bill Flynn brushed past all that in his typical straightforward fashion. Flynn sensed the opportunity for peace from his family heritage but also from his accomplishments as a genuine American success story, up from the bootstraps, and as a man who never had anything handed to him.

So whatever the academics were saying, Bill Flynn believed something else. His incurable American optimism saw in Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin and David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party, political wing of the UVF, two men who could help make peace not war. The rest of the world may have called them terrorists, but Flynn saw opportunity where others saw paralysis.

He put himself on the line. I don’t know how many trips to Northern Ireland he took but I’d say 100 or so would be no exaggeration. Then consider the incredible number of meetings he held in America. He brought parties from all sides across the Atlantic to speak to the National Committee on American Foreign Policy or just to gather in his Park Avenue office and air their grievances before they settled down to the business of peace.

Flynn resembles Senator George Mitchell in his incredible patience and forbearance with all the protagonists in the North. Through it all, even the darkest days, he kept faith with his vision of a successful peace process.

The mantle of history he wears lightly. There is the Flynn self-deprecating humor, that dry wit that cracks up even the most committed foe. There is that actuarial-like mind, as befits an insurance executive always calculating the angles, even as others walked away.

In the end he was proven right. He can wear the mantle of peacemaker, which few in this world can ever don.

Throughout it all, the support of his loving wife Peg and marvelous family made it possible for him to adopt another kid called Ireland. We are very lucky he did so. This special issue in a small way recounts his achievements. There is no other story more fitting or compelling than his to be told in Irish America. ♦

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A Champion of Peace in Ireland https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/a-champion-of-peace-in-ireland/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/a-champion-of-peace-in-ireland/#respond Tue, 01 Jan 2008 07:58:57 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=36561 Read more..]]> Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin, writes about the crucial role that Bill Flynn played in ending the violence in Northern Ireland.

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Bill Flynn is widely known in the U.S.A. as one of its foremost business leaders, as well as a patron of great causes in support of humanitarian, civil liberties and health issues.

In Ireland and among Irish Americans, he is also known as one of those who played a pivotal role in shaping the Irish peace process and making the progress of recent years a possibility.

I have known Bill Flynn for more than 16 years. We first met in Belfast after Bill had organized and funded a peace conference in Derry in 1992 called “Beyond Hate.” He met and was impressed by Martin McGuinness and later he travelled to Belfast where he and I had tea in the battle-scarred, dilapidated Sinn Féin offices on the Falls Road.

Bill is a first-generation Irish American who has family connections in County Down and County Mayo.

Bill came to the Irish situation through the Peace but quickly realized that there were huge issues of injustice underpinning the conflict.

Around the same time Sinn Féin was involved in discussions with Irish Americans interested in internationalizing the Irish cause for peace and freedom, and in developing a new direction, a new way forward.

In 1993 Bill was invited to take part in a delegation to Ireland as part of the “Americans for a New Irish Agenda.” This group had emerged out of “Irish Americans for Clinton” and its purpose was to secure the implementation of the commitments President Clinton had made in the election campaign for the White House.

The delegation was to meet a wide range of opinions and on its return to the U.S.A. from this fact-finding mission, to report to the White House.

In order to enhance the visit but in particular to persuade the delegation members of the importance of this project, and of the seriousness of the Sinn Féin peace strategy, Niall O’Dowd, the editor of The Irish Voice, advocated that the I.R.A. should do nothing during the period of time the delegation was in Ireland. The I.R.A. agreed.

Bill and his friends, including Bruce Morrison, Chuck Feeney, Bill Lenihan, Niall O’Dowd and Joe Jameson, met a range of groups and individuals, including the Irish and British governments. In West Belfast we met in the Sinn Féin office – Connolly House. As a result the group were forever labelled the “Connolly House group.”

The “Connolly House group” gave us some sense of what they could do. We agreed that the issue of a visa for me would be the short term focus of their efforts. They thought that this issue had the potential to unite many of the Irish American organisations and groups. From our point of view this campaign would provide tangible evidence of the ability of Irish America to positively influence the administration.

On their return to the U.S. Niall O’Dowd met with Bill and another colleague Ciaran Staunton to plan their next move. They went to Famous Original Ray’s Pizza at 688 Third Avenue. They agreed that Bill would ask the National Committee on Foreign Policy, a non-profit-making organization of which Bill was chair, to hold a peace conference on the north of Ireland. They would invite all of the party leaders from the six counties, including me. The three then left the pizza parlor to get on with the business of making peace in Ireland.

Several weeks after the meeting it emerged that the pizza parlor was being used by the Mafia as a centre for a major drugs operation.

The organization running the drugs was run by Aniello Ambrosio who owned the pizza parlor. He arranged drugs shipments and stored drugs in his basement. And for some time his parlor had been under surveillance by the federal authorities. In fact the pizza parlor where Bill and his two fellow conspirators had gone to have their quiet meeting was at that time probably the most heavily bugged place in the United States!

The invitation to me from the National Committee on American Foreign Policy duly arrived. It created a major political storm. The unionist leaders refused to attend. The British Embassy in Washington worked around the clock arguing against granting me a visa and claimed that it would be a diplomatic catastrophe. They were supported by some within President Clinton’s administration. But the issue excited Irish American opinion which mobilized in an unprecedented way and lobbied extensively for a visa.

Two days before the conference, President Clinton authorised a 48 hour visa that restricted me to the New York area. The backlash from the British government and system was hysterical. The Daily Telegraph summed it up by describing it as “the worst rift since Suez.”

Notwithstanding the propaganda spin there can be no doubt that the granting of the visa was a major shift in U.S. foreign policy and it marked a defining moment in the development of the Irish peace process. It was also evidence that an organized and focused IrishAmerica lobby could deliver.

The visit was a frenetic 48 hours of interviews, meetings and the National Committee conference. I especially remember the comments Bill made as he opened the conference. He said: “Several months ago I was invited to join a delegation to go to the north of Ireland. Despite my belief that altogether too many delegations have visited the north of Ireland to no avail, I went, and the trip turned out to be a very important week in my life . . . what we found was worse than what some of us, particularly me, had expected. From the Falls Road to the Shankill Road and from one end of Ireland to the other, we found deprivation, discouragement, fear and mistrust. We came away distressed but with the determination to act in a positive way if we found some way to do so.”

And in the many years since then, that has been the guiding ethos of Bill’s engagement with the Irish peace process – a determination to act in a positive way.

Bill has travelled to Ireland many times, accompanied by his friend Bill Barry. He has consciously sought to reach out to unionists and loyalists and to engage them in the process of peace making and partnership government. Under his guidance the National Committee has brought all of the major players to New York to outline their views and to set out their way forward.

Bill’s importance can be measured in the frequency with which all of the governments – Irish, British, and U.S. – talk to him and seek to involve him in whatever the current initiative might be. His presence at the Investment Conference in Belfast in May was very important.

He has also been a very important and valued point of contact for Rita O Hare, Sinn Féin’s representative in the USA.

I make a point of trying to meet Bill every time I visit New York. I find his analysis of the political situation there and in Ireland, and the machinations of the various players, insightful and enormously valuable.

I also greatly enjoy his observations about life, politics, Bill Barry’s efforts to lead him astray, religion, vegetable soup, and international affairs.

He is a good American patriot and a decent human being.

I wish him and his wife Peggy and their family the very best of good wishes.

Bill Flynn is a friend – a friend of Ireland but more importantly my friend. I know that there have been many times over the years when he has been put under enormous personal pressure to adopt positions the governments were advocating but with which he disagreed. I have always found him to be an honorable man who keeps his word and is prepared to take risks for peace. ♦

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The Quest for Peace https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/the-quest-for-peace/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/the-quest-for-peace/#respond Tue, 01 Jan 2008 07:57:58 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=36566 Read more..]]> Bill Flynn, the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, and the beginnings of the Northern Ireland peace process.

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The setting was the Elysée Palace in Paris. The event, a gathering of Nobel laureates in January 1988. The hosts, President François Mitterand, Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel, and the newly established Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. The individual who helped to make the gathering possible was William J. Flynn, chairman of Mutual of America.

At that gathering Dr. Carol Rittner of the Sisters of Mercy and the first director of the Elie Wiesel Foundation introduced me to Bill Flynn and his wife, Peg. In the course of the week that I spent there in my capacity as disarmament adviser to Professor Wiesel, I began to interact with Bill Flynn, who expressed an interest in the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP) that I had co-founded in 1974 with, among others, Professor Hans Morgenthau, a leading political realist in foreign policy and father of international relations studies.

Back in New York, Bill Flynn joined the NCAFP and from time to time attended foreign policy briefings. As often happens in nongovernmental organizations, the NCAFP began to experience financial problems. Sister Carol, with whom my wife, Eleonora, and I had become close friends, was determined that the NCAFP would survive and kept urging me to speak to Bill Flynn about our financial straits.

The setting was the Red Blazer restaurant in the theater district on West 46th Street. It had a dance floor and the well-known Vince Giordano Nighthawks orchestra. When I arrived with Eleonora, Bill Flynn was already at the table in the company of Sister Carol and two senior executives of Mutual of America, Stephanie Kopp and Linda DeHooge. We drank, we danced, we dined, and we talked about practically everything except our financial troubles. Sister Carol kept kicking me under the table, whispering, “Get on with it,” “What is the matter with you?” “Ask already.” All I managed to say was “I can’t.” This went on for some time until I summoned my nerve and told Bill Flynn of the financial crisis we faced at the NCAFP. He listened and came straight to the point, asking me gently how much it would take to keep the organization going. My reply: to keep it afloat we will need an infusion of $10,000, but to put the NCAFP on a solid foundation, $20,000 would work. Bill looked at me with a smile and said, “You will get a check,” and one arrived in the latter amount.

In return for Bill’s generosity, I invited him to become an officer of the organization. After a few days’ reflection he accepted the chairmanship, a responsibility he continues to discharge. To keep expenses down he invited me to move the NCAFP office to the Mutual of America complex at 666 Fifth Avenue and subsequently to the Mutual of America building at 320 Park Avenue, space we continue to occupy thanks to him and to Thomas J. Moran, who is now chairman, president, and CEO of Mutual of America and a member of the NCAFP’s Executive Committee.

February 1, 1994: The Waldorf-Astoria, N.Y.C. The National Committee on American Foreign Policy conference, left to right, George D. Schwab, William J. Flynn, John Hume, and Gerry Adams.

Gradually Bill began to talk to me about the troubles in Northern Ireland, a topic I knew about through Edwina McMahon, copy editor of the NCAFP’s bimonthly publication, American Foreign Policy Interests, formerly American Foreign Policy Newsletter, and a keen observer of developments in Northern Ireland. Starting in the mid-1980s she discussed her belief in the need for the NCAFP, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to articulating U.S. national security interests within the framework of Hans Morgenthau’s political realism, to become involved. I invited her to write for our bimonthly publication about the troubles and how the issue affected U.S. interests, which she did in 1988.

After the Downing Street Declaration proclaimed the right of the people of Northern Ireland to self-determination in December 1993, Bill Flynn sprang into action. He began to push hard for the NCAFP to become engaged in helping to resolve the conflict and suggested that the organization host a conference in New York with the major players in the conflict, including Gerry Adams, head of Sinn Féin and reputedly a former chief of the IRA, and two Unionist leaders, James Molineaux, head of the Ulster Unionist Party, and the Reverend Dr. Ian Paisley, head of the Democratic Unionist Party. Bill always thinks big, and so he concluded that the best way to publicize the conference would be a full-page ad in The New York Times.

To a former Sternist like me, the idea of admitting the outlaw Adams to the United States for a hearing was thrilling. To the NCAFP’s Executive Committee, the idea of such a conference featuring Adams came as a bombshell even though its members knew that Morgenthau advocated diplomacy not only with friends but also with enemies. My immediate task was to find a hook that would accord with the NCAFP’s mandate to help friends and enemies resolve conflicts that impinge on U.S. national security. On the surface the troubles appeared idiosyncratic, but not when one actually analyzed the situation: Britain at the time was beset by a deep economic downturn and could ill afford to spend between six and seven billion dollars annually in Northern Ireland on a population of about one and a half million people. It was only a matter of time until an expenditure of that magnitude would affect Britain’s commitments to NATO, the Middle East, and elsewhere where British interests parallel those of the United States.

Bill handled the Executive Committee meeting brilliantly, and following very spirited discussions the Committee finally went along and the ad appeared. Invitations went out to Adams, Molineaux, and Paisley, as well as to John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labor Party, and Dr. John Alderdice, leader of the Alliance Party. Nothing, not even the fact that the State Department refused to issue a visa to Gerry Adams, could make Bill lose faith that the conference attended by the Sinn Féin leader would take place at the Waldorf-Astoria on the date scheduled. Without the presence of Adams, I felt that the conference would be a fiasco and counseled Bill to call it off. He would sanction nothing of the kind and worked hard behind the scenes with Senator Edward Kennedy; Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith: Tony Lake, President Clinton’s national security adviser: Lake’s deputy, Nancy Soderberg, and others to persuade President Clinton not to miss this brilliant opportunity to bring the opposing parties to the table. Eventually the president saw the merits of the conference and approved a visa for Gerry Adams.

Three dates constitute defining moments for the justification offered by Bill Flynn and the NCAFP for our involvement in the Northern Ireland troubles: February 1, 1994; April 12, 1994; and October 24, 1994.

From the moment I officially welcomed Gerry Adams at Kennedy after he received a 48-hour visa, the NCAFP’s conference became a media spectacular. After the huge press conference at the airport, Sister Carol, the conference director, and I checked Adams into the Waldorf-Astoria under the nom de plume Shlomo Breznitz, a “noted Israeli scholar.” At the daylong Waldorf-Astoria conference that Bill Flynn presided over on the following day, February 1, 1994, some 80 representatives of the print and electronic media covered the proceedings. The pro and con demonstrations across the street on Park Avenue received their share of press exposure, as did Adams’s departure on the following day.

Despite the fact that the Unionist leaders failed to attend, at the end of the day, Bill Smith; Ambassador Angier Biddle Duke, moderator of the conference and former president of the NCAFP; Tom Moran, and I concluded that the conference was a success. The three main speakers, Adams, Alderdice, and Hume, agreed that peace could be obtained provided that parties to the conflict came to the table and approached issues without hatred. In the words of Gerry Adams: “Conflict resolution requires dialogue and negotiation. . . . On behalf of Sinn Féin, let me reiterate once again that our party has always expressed our willingness to engage in discussions without preconditions. Our political priority is to advance the peace process based on inclusive negotiations. The development of open debate and dialogue can only assist such a process. No situation is improved by ignorance or misinformation.” His parting words to me at the airport reinforced my positive assessment of the NCAFP’s road ahead: “I will never forget what you have done to bring me over, and I promise not to disappoint you in your expectations.”

William J. Flynn, Gerry Adams, George D. Schwab, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., and Ambassador Angier Biddle Duke.

The enormous publicity the conference engendered took the Unionist leaders by surprise, and Bill received an inquiry from Dr. Paisley asking whether he would consider inviting him, Peter Robinson, MP, and the Reverend William McCrea, MP, in order to present the Unionist position to the NCAFP.

The fact that Reverend Paisley finally accepted the invitation, as did Mr. Molineaux separately, was at least an indication that the Unionists did not want to be left out from the track 1 1/2 process that was beginning to take shape. That perception helped to diminish the significance of the lambasting remarks made by Reverend Paisley at the conference in New York on April 12, 1994, about the Downing Street Declaration. According to Paisley, the Declaration was designed to initiate a “phony peace process inspired by Prime Minister John Major of Britain and Prime Minister Albert Reynolds of Ireland.” Mr. Paisley asserted that the “Downing Street Declaration . . . imposes the principle of self-determination by the people of Ireland as a whole, a principle that the British government has signed onto and that denies to Northern Ireland self-determination unless it is in some way compatible with the political desires of the Dublin government.” This extreme position left the door open for further talks.

Before the NCAFP could enter into track 1 1/2 discussions and public diplomacy – that is, engage fully with the principals, including government officials, on the one hand, and at open forums at which they could brief the public on the progress of the peace process, on the other hand – a missing link had to be filled. Bill Smith soon forged that link by inviting the Loyalists to come to New York.

Moved by the historic IRA cease-fire announcement on August 31, 1994, the Loyalists accepted Bill’s invitation on October 13, 1994. Ten days later I welcomed the political representatives of the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Redhand Commandos as well as the Ulster Defense Association at Kennedy Airport. In contrast to the Reverend Ian Paisley, the Loyalist leadership consisting of David Ervine, Gusty Spence, Billy Hutchinson, Gary McMichael, Joe English, and David Adams embraced the Downing Street Declaration. In the words of David Ervine: “I am not suggesting that the Downing Street Declaration is perfect. But it is a chance, a real chance, the first real chance, I have ever perceived, to take weapons out of Northern Irish politics.”

Having won the trust especially of Sinn Féin and the Loyalists, the NCAFP began a 14- year involvement in the peace process. In early 2008 the National Committee ended its successful project on Northern Ireland. The journey was extremely difficult, especially for Bill who was often called on at a moment’s notice by one party or another to travel immediately to Belfast or Dublin or to both cities to help defuse issues such as policing, for example, that threatened to undermine the peace process. To make absolutely certain that Belfast, Dublin, and London understood that it was a National Committee on American Foreign Policy project and not purely Irish-induced, I accompanied Bill Flynn to Belfast and 10 Downing Street on one occasion, and on another occasion, three other members of the NCAFP’s Executive Committee, Ambassador Fereydoun Hoveyda, William M. Rudolf, and Tom Moran, as well as NCAFP member Edward Kenney, senior vice president of Mutual of America, accompanied Bill and me. Back in New York, Bill and the NCAFP continued to receive streams of visitors directly involved in the peace process from Belfast and Dublin. Also visiting us were British officials and Washingtonians from the Clinton and Bush administrations, all of whom were directly involved in the peace process and some of whom addressed the National Committee at Mutual of America’s celebrated dining room on the 35th floor. The NCAFP’s senior fellow Edwina McMahon kept providing our membership and the foreign policy public with incisive articles published in our bimonthly, American Foreign Policy Interests.

George D. Schwab, president of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

Bill, in his inimitable style, introduced a new dimension to the National Committee’s track 1/1/2 diplomacy on Northern Ireland: hosting Sinn Féin and Loyalist guests at sumptuous working luncheon and dinner meetings at the 21 Club. I remember well, for example, the party that sprang up after I escorted the Loyalists from the airport to the Fitzpatrick Hotel on Lexington Avenue the afternoon before the conference convened on October 24, 1994. The guests, after the arduous trip from Belfast to London and on to New York, descended from their rooms about 20 minutes after check-in time, and Bill invited us all to a late afternoon and early evening bash at the hotel where our guests enjoyed the food and drinks and began to sing movingly nostalgic Irish songs. At about ten in the evening Bill said it was time to go to the 21 Club. Exhausted, I excused myself and learned early the next morning that the evening came to an end at two that morning. It was astonishing to observe that the Loyalists at eight in the morning looked as fresh as if they had slept for hours. We soon discovered that their performance matched their looks.

Another of many such memorable events that were set in the 21 Club took place in 2005 when we were certain that peace would break out soon. Following a working luncheon with Martin McGuinness, presided over by Bill but this time attended by the former honorary chairman of the National Committee Dr. Henry Kissinger and the present honorary chairman the Honorable Paul Volcker, Kissinger observed, as correctly reported in The New York Times, “If it could happen in Ireland, with the history of Ireland and the distrust, I’d like to think it could happen anywhere.”

To honor Bill for his extraordinary work and commitment to the peace process, the NCAFP’s Executive Committee unanimously voted to establish the William J. Flynn Initiative for Peace Award and name him the first to receive it at a stellar Waldorf-Astoria dinner in 1997, citing Bill’s “unswerving belief in the educability of men to live in peace with one another and . . . his courage in translating his faith into political action and in working tirelessly for peace in Northern Ireland.” Others so honored in subsequent years are Senator George J. Mitchell, the Honorable Hugh Carey, and Gerry Adams, MP. Another recipient, Britain’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland, the Right Honorable Dr. Marjorie Mowlam, struck an especially personal and warm note in her acceptance speech when she observed that “There are a lot of people in this room . . . who helped tremendously. I can’t name everybody because we’d be here too long. But I’ll just say George [Schwab], Bill [Flynn], and Tom [Moran] because they did make a difference, and they didn’t just make a difference in terms of what they did. They made a difference in terms of who they are.”

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George D. Schwab is president of the Naional Committee on American Foreign Policy. ♦

 

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The Early Years https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/the-early-years/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/the-early-years/#respond Tue, 01 Jan 2008 07:56:38 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=36577 Read more..]]> How the son of immigrants from Mayo and County Down found success in America but never forgot his Irish roots.

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Each year when he returns to Ireland, Bill Flynn takes time to stand at the graveside of his grandparents in Loughinisland in County Down, just over the border from the Irish Republic. It is a beautiful part of Ireland, with the Mourne mountains sweeping majestically down to the Irish Sea and the wild Irish landscape providing a picturesque backdrop.

Bill Flynn finds peace there. It puts in perspective the incredible journey from this remote corner of Ireland to the top echelons of American business that he and his family have taken. As the son of Irish emigrants, Bill Flynn can appreciate the incredible pull of the land his parents had to leave behind. Every time he returns, he understands more about what that struggle to survive and the decision to leave home must have involved. As with millions before, the mystic chords of memory resonate even more with the passage of time.

William J. Flynn with his beautiful wife Peg.

A few years back, local dignitary Lord Edward Ballyedmond invited Flynn and his wife to come for dinner at his castle. They flew there by helicopter and Bill sat at a banquet in his honor attended by the great and the good, including many British dignitaries, even some royalty. He couldn’t help but think back to his grandfather and father, who had worked the estates not far from where he sat, and what they would make of their boy now sitting amid the gentry.

“I reckon they’d be smiling. Perhaps they’d think it was a wonderful thing to see the family do so well. But I can’t be sure of that. For what they endured, at the hands of their masters in the North of Ireland, we will never know,” says Flynn.

His father, Bill Sr., would live the kind of life that adventure books are written about. He became tired of working the fields, the bone-weary and repetitive work with no hope of advancement. Like millions of Irish before him, he set his sights on North America.

Thus it was that Bill Flynn Sr. struck out for the New World, barely in his twenties, his son reckons, with one hand as long as the other. It was the time of World War I, and the Old World was convulsed in a senseless worldwide conflict. Bill Flynn Sr. wanted no part of that. He wanted better.

In Northern Ireland at the time, the impending partition would split north and south, lead to civil war and decades of conflict. A generation later, Bill Flynn Sr. could never have imagined that his son would be back and play a huge role in resolving that conflict.

Bill Flynn Jr. remembers his father as a mild-mannered man. “He was a man who had no dislike of the British, no hatred of anyone really. He was ambitious but only for his family. He was aware of second-class citizenship in the North but not in a fierce way.”

Flynn Sr. took to the high seas. He told his son years later that one of his key memories of that emigrant voyage was of a man called Ned the Fiddler, who at the departure gathering, made his fiddle sing, moving Flynn’s father to tears. Many years later, Bill Jr. took his mother back to Loughinisland to meet his father’s only surviving sister. Together they met up with the now very senior Ned the Fiddler, who one more time, took out his fiddle and with ancient fingers played “Little Town in the Old County Down.”

Bill Sr. ended up in British Columbia, where he went to seek his fortune in mining. From there he migrated down to Seattle and worked in shipbuilding. Then, in the early 1920’s, he set out for New York, but somehow stopped off in Butte, Montana, where he became employed by the Anaconda Cooper Company. While there he also trained and qualified as a stationary engineer, essentially the man in charge of the power for the mine. It was a valuable career that would stand him in good stead later, especially during the Depression.

Once in New York he met Anna Connors, from outside Castlebar in Mayo. She was a daughter of farmers who had taken the emigrant boat herself. She had a sister in Brooklyn who likely had sent the fare back to her.

Anna and William Flynn. Anna hailed from County Mayo, while William came from County Down.

In 1925 Anna Connors and Bill Flynn were married. She was a working girl then, in Forest Hills, Queens, while he lived in Manhattan’s east sixties. He would ride out on the old Queensborough Bridge Trolley car to see her. The family believes that they probably first met at an Irish dance. Back then Irish emigrants didn’t talk much about what they left behind. There was a “great silence” about how hard life had been and how difficult it was to just get by. They also knew they were unlikely to go back. Bill Flynn’s parents were no exception.

“They wanted to look forward, to raise their kids in America, to put the bad times behind.”

Bill Flynn Jr. was born in 1926 and the family lived in East Elmhurst near what is now La Guardia Airport. They had a house of their own that they bought for $6,000, a fortune in the 1920’s. The small three-bedroom was the culmination of the emigrant’s dream: to own their own home. The bad old days in Ireland seemed long left behind.

Bill Flynn’s childhood was a warm and loving one, despite the hard times. It was a mixed neighborhood, “mixed in the sense of Irish and German and Italians. We were all one. The one thing I remember is that there wasn’t a single kid that was left out in any of our ballgames. We were all one big family.”

All in the family: Daughters Anne (left) and Caroline (right) and sons Hugh (left) and Bill (right) are pictured outside the family home.

Some of his earliest memories are of seeing planes flying out of what was then a tiny neighborhood airfield called North Beach Airport – today’s LaGuardia Airport.

That part of Queens then situated as it was on the banks of Flushing Bay, was as close to country living as could be found in the five boroughs. Flynn remembers the bay shore and the extensive grounds where La Guardia is now. There was rafting and canoeing and swimming at Flushing Bay long before the airport and the highways and the Triborough Bridge forever altered the landscape.

The Flynn family grew. Soon there were Anne and Caroline (both now deceased), and Bill’s brother and close neighbor and still best friend Hugh Patrick. Times were tough but the Flynns were better off than most. “People say you come of age and remember things of a certain era. I remember very vividly the Depression years and I remember the increasing realization that my father had employment, all because of that stationary engineer license. He was employed by the now defunct World Telegram & Sun newspaper right through the Depression. Others were unemployed for long periods of time. Flynn stayed with the paper up to the day it closed its doors in the early 1950’s.

“It was a time of real struggle. Often neighbors would come by for lunch or dinner. There was always food on our table. No one had to ask.”

Flynn reveres the memory of FDR and Mayor Fiorella La Guardia, who guided America and New York out of the Depression. “President Roosevelt gave people great hope and instigated various schemes such as home loans and mortgage assistance, which allowed many people we knew to keep their homes. Nevertheless, one of the things I remember most vividly is that many people lost their homes, were left with literally nothing. Roosevelt did everything he could to stop all that.

“About Mayor La Guardia, I don’t remember the specifics, except that he raised spirits, he was a very enthusiastic leader, he felt and sounded like he was one of us. That was very important.”

Flynn’s school was PS 127, in East Elmhurst, right on the border with Corona, a neighborhood with a significant black population, so he had several black classmates and teachers in school. “We never thought anything about it. We were Polish, Jewish, Irish, Italian and black kids. It was an altogether very pleasant experience.”

He loved being an altar boy and remembers, with great pleasure and fond memories, PS 127’s principal, Mr. Greenberg, who had given Flynn permission to be late for school on the many occasions when he was asked to serve at funeral masses at St. Gabriel’s. Funerals somehow seemed quite frequent during the Depression. By 1939, at the age of 12, he graduated and was now ready to begin high school, when St. Gabriel’s parish priest, the Rev. Anthony J. Foley, whom Flynn greatly admired, strongly encouraged him to apply to Cathedral High School Preparatory Seminary in Brooklyn, a full hour and a half away by bus and subway. A good student, he began contemplating the priesthood. “It just seemed very natural at the time,” he recalls. “I thought I had a calling.”

Flynn’s parents, he remembers, had mixed feelings. They knew the loneliness of the life of the priesthood, but were proud of their eldest son.

In late 1945, he went on to the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, Long Island. Five years later, during which time he had delved deeply into theology, philosophy and several languages, the time came to make a deeper commitment. However, he had increasingly come to the view that the priesthood might not be for him.

The Irish Americans: Bill and Peg with their children, Jim (left), Robert, Maureen, and Bill, Jr. (right).

Still, he credits the grounding he received in the linguistic, philosophical, and theological worlds with making him a far more rounded person than he would have ever become otherwise. “You gain the ability to think beyond the here and now, to put yourself and your times in an historical context,” he says. It was a training that would serve him well in the years ahead. ♦

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For God and Country https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/for-god-and-country/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/for-god-and-country/#respond Tue, 01 Jan 2008 07:55:03 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=36590 Read more..]]> Edward Cardinal Egan, archbishop and cardinal of the archdiocese of New York, writes that Bill Flynn’s faith is as integral to who he is as his Irish heritage.

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One rarely hears the phrase “For God and Country” anymore, but years ago it was seen as an excellent model for how young men and women should order their priorities in life. If a young person made serving God and following His commandments the first priority, then the second priority, service to the country, would inevitably follow, as that young person grew to be a responsible parent, a civic-minded neighbor, and conscientious citizen.

It is disappointing that such concepts are in some quarters thought out of date in today’s society, but it is encouraging to know that there are still people like my good friend Bill Flynn who have never lost that sense of duty and responsibility. Indeed, “For God and Country” can be fairly considered an apt summary of his life.

Having had the privilege of working closely with Bill over the years, I have seen that he is proud of and committed to his faith. Faith is not, however, something he wears on his shirtsleeve so that it may be admired by others. Rather, it is an integral part of the man, as much a part of who he is as his Irish heritage. Both are of the essence of how he lives his life.

Bill is much more than a Sunday morning Catholic, as he strives to understand his faith and put it into practice. He is wonderfully well read, studies the teachings of the Church with intensity, and looks forward to those occasions when he can discuss a point of theology with me or another clergyman. His faith is deep and made all the stronger by his passion for learning.

As a young man Bill attended the seminary and thought very seriously of pursuing a vocation to the priesthood. Although he ultimately decided that God was calling him elsewhere, this foundation has helped to guide Bill, both as he reared his own family and throughout his career as he became a most successful businessman; and it has earned him the respect of all who know him. To this day, Bill remains in touch with friends and classmates from his seminary days, enjoying the opportunity for discussion about the Church’s role in modern day society. Throughout his adult life, he has always made himself available to support the Church including service as Chairman of the Knights of Malta and a founding member of the Pope John Paul II Vatican Museum on the grounds of Catholic University in Washington.

After leaving the seminary, Bill joined the United States Army Air Corps. His love of country and respect for the men and women of the United States military stayed with him long after his service was completed. In later life, Bill became closely associated with the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and arranged for many of Mutual of America’s officers to have an opportunity to become familiar with the leadership of our military by attending the National Security Seminar at the War College. Bill was eventually asked to serve as a member of the U.S. Army War College Foundation, and this he did for several years. Upon his retirement from Mutual of America, his successor, Tom Moran, and the Board of Directors of Mutual of America decided to honor Bill by donating to the U.S. Army War College the funds necessary to create, in Bill’s honor, the Omar N. Bradley Chair in Strategic Leadership. Bill is known to quote another great General, Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., who said, “Leadership is character and competence. If you can only have one, opt for character.” Bill Flynn is one of those rare individuals who actually has lived his life with both character and competence.

It was while Bill Flynn was in the Army that he married his dear wife, Peggy. Together they instilled in their children an understanding of the importance of a loving family and faith in God. During those early years of married life, Bill became a teacher, once again seeking to serve the Lord through his service to his students. Bill understood the importance of a good education and shared his passion for learning with his students, just as he did with his own children. Bill Flynn is rightfully proud of his family and has taught them by example that even in the most difficult of times some comfort is to be found in prayer and that it is ultimately our faith that sustains us.

Pictured at the Mutual of America Building: William J. Flynn, Edward Cardinal Egan, and popular Irish Consul General Tim O’Connor, who ow serves as a special assistant to Irish president Mary McAleese.

Bill was also a marvelously successful business leader, serving for many years as the President of the Mutual of America Life Insurance Company. He always understood the potential and importance of Mutual of America as a provider of pension services to more than 15,000 charities across the country, so that individuals who worked to improve society might be able to retire with dignity.   This is yet another example of Bill Flynn’s service to others. While Bill continues to serve the company whenever and however he is needed, he made certain that the good work he began would continue after his retirement, but choosing and mentoring a successor, Tom Moran, who not only has carried on Bill’s work but has done so fully aware of the need to lead with both character and competence.

However, it is without question that Bill Flynn will always be especially remembered for his role in helping to bring peace to Northern Ireland. He has often told how his own involvement in seeking peace began when two friends approached him about helping them to raise money for the IRA. He knew that sending money to continue fighting was not and could never be a solution that would lead to peace. Thus, that very day he made a decision to do whatever he could to help find a path to peace. Once again, he turned to his friends in the Catholic community and sought the assistance of Sister Dorothy Ann Kelly, President of the College of New Rochelle, and the U.S. Director of the Peace People, an organization formed by two women in Northern Ireland who won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work. Bill Flynn literally walked the streets of Northern Ireland with Sister Dorothy Ann Kelly, seeking to learn from anyone and everyone who would speak to him and always seeking to be accurately informed.   With those first conversations, it became clear that a new direction was needed, and Bill decided that he would work to try and find that new direction. From that time onward, he was tireless in his efforts, bringing every political group to New York to speak in front of a gathering of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, of which he is Chairman. When he was not bringing the leaders to New York, he and his small group of interested friends were traveling to Belfast to meet with politicians and paramilitaries from both sides. He was the only person to be in attendance as a witness at both the IRA and Loyalist ceasefire announcements.   Those that had once criticized him for getting involved in a conflict that had no solution quickly reversed themselves and became his strongest admirers. It is no small surprise that Bill Flynn is universally recognized as one of the most influential Americans in making peace a reality.

I am proud to call Bill Flynn my friend. It is my hope that many more will emulate his life of service and commitment to helping others, and that they too will discover the beauty to be found in the simple truth of living one’s life “For God and Country.” ♦

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Captain of Industry https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/captain-of-industry/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/captain-of-industry/#respond Tue, 01 Jan 2008 07:54:36 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=36595 Read more..]]> Niall O’Dowd follows Bill Flynn’s journey from seminary student to the upper echelons of corporate America.

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After leaving the seminary, like most bright Catholic kids, Bill Flynn set his sights on Fordham University. It was 1948 and the Jesuit school was the Harvard of its day for Catholics, especially in the post World War II era when the GI Bill was in force. At Fordham Flynn went straight for an MA, bypassing the BA as he had earned its equivalent at the seminary.

Casting around for a career after leaving the seminary, Flynn had realized his great love was economics. He had been particularly influenced by a book called Progress and Poverty by Henry George, written in 1879, which advocated a progressive solution to the issue of land ownership and natural resources. Flynn recalls that Henry George “had an extremely insightful understanding of the problem that continued to face our economy, even though [Progress and Poverty] had been written many years before. Flynn was impressed with how George addressed the problem. “How can there be so much poverty in the midst of such progress?” And that question is as real today,” reflects Flynn. “I think the best solution will always involve government and private enterprise working together. We have to protect the less well off as well as restrain the mighty. Above all, unbridled greed must be tempered.” In recent times, economists like the 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize winner Milton Friedman have agreed that Henry George’s book was a trailblazer and one of the seminal texts.

Flynn continued on at Fordham toward a Ph.D. in Economics. At the same time, he undertook, for a year, to teach mathematics at Regis High School in New York City. By the end of his first year at Regis, in the summer of 1949, the Korean War broke out and Flynn enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, where he served for 3 years, mainly in Texas and Washington, DC. During his tour in Washington, Flynn also taught a course in Management at The University of Maryland’s Extension College.

Meanwhile, he had caught the eye of a young Irish girl from the Bronx. Flynn first met Peggy Collins at a dance at St. Vincent’s Church in Manhattan. Peggy’s parents had come over from Kerry and raised their five kids in New York. Church dances in Manhattan were where the action was for young Irish kids, and when the tall and handsome Bill Flynn met the dark-haired beauty from the Bronx, it was love at first sight.

Fifty-six years later, Peggy has continued to be a rock for her husband throughout his stellar business career, as well as a wonderful mother and grandmother. In March 1953 the couple had been married in a lovely little Catholic Church “Annunciation” in Houston, Texas. Following his tour in the service, Bill Flynn remembers, as the greatest time of his life, setting up his young wife and family in Long Island and starting out on his career in business. All of this, however, brought to an end his work on a Ph.D. thesis and Flynn’s hopes for a doctorate.

Click to view slideshow.

Wanting to put his degree in Economics to work, Flynn decided to try for a job at Equitable, then one of the largest pension plan companies in America. He was immediately hired by the pension department there. It was a different era; for instance, he was required to wear a hat at all times. “It took my family a year or so to get used to that,” he says. Be-hatted or not, he commenced a stellar rise to the top.

He discovered he had excellent mathematical ability when it came to calculating risk strategy on long-term insurance and retirement plans. He created a new insurance product called Guaranteed Investment Contracts (called GICs), which soon became an industry standard and led to huge new pension fund investments for the Equitable. Soon he was shooting up the ladder and explaining his strategy in teaching sessions to other Equitable employees. At the same time, he took a position at Fordham University School of Business teaching freshman Economics.

Today he reflects on what goes wrong in most companies that take a downward spiral. “Greed is the biggest problem. People as well as companies get successful and all together too many get very greedy. Look at the recent mortgage crisis and all the Wall Street firms that overextended themselves. It’s the same mistake over and over. I saw it all at Equitable. Eventually AXA took over the Equitable Life Assurance Society; the great Equitable had gone nearly bankrupt. My advice is always, don’t get greedy, help the other guy and stay in the real world. That’s my lesson from business and to anyone who is willing to listen.”

Flynn also observed how Equitable had become a major player in the mortgage business by observing how much the banks were charging their customers for mortgages. Equitable went up against the banking industry and, for many years, succeeded in offering some of the most attractive mortgage rates in the country. “You didn’t have to be Einstein to figure out how to do this,” says Flynn.

It was a trying time to be an Irish Catholic. The great news of the election of the first Irish Catholic president had been swept away with JFK’s assassination a few short years later. The shock of that moment still stays with Bill Flynn.

“I’ll never forget it. I and two of my associates were up in Utica, making a pension plan presentation to the board of trustees of a major union pension fund. All of a sudden the news came that something awful had happened; Kennedy had been shot. Then we learned that he had died. It was the most traumatic day. Every one of us was in a total state of shock – not a dry eye in the place.

“I was really caught up with John and Bobby Kennedy. I was very enthusiastic about them. Bobby in particular. I remember writing out thousands of envelopes asking for financial support for Bobby when he ran for U.S. Senate in New York. I was so pleased later to have gotten a letter from Bobby, after he had been elected, thanking me for my efforts.”

By 1971 Bill Flynn was Senior Vice President of Equitable’s pension operations, but was increasingly interested in a job involving greater responsibility. He knew he needed a new challenge.

Then a small company called the National Health and Welfare Insurance came looking for a president. It had about $50 million in assets and 125 employees.

Nowadays, it is known as Mutual of America with 1,100 people and billions of dollars in assets.

The company had been in deep difficulty and on the ropes when Flynn joined. “My predecessor was a really lovely – beautiful guy.  “He asked me for my views on his company’s situation. I was very straightforward. I said, you must have top flight administrators and decent investment performance. If you let either one get out of hand, you become faced with a nightmare —which was what had happened to this otherwise fine Company. Board members appreciated my straight talk, I think. In any event, I was hired as President & Chief Executive Officer.”

“I sat down and looked at the worst case scenario and came quickly to the conclusion that we had to hire several new and very experienced people and quickly get on with the job of turning the company around.   Several fine professionals came with him from the Equitable.

Flynn, during his first few months, traveled extensively to meet Mutual of America’s top customers and employees to evaluate the company’s problems and needs. He also needed a new name, as the old one, National Health and Welfare Insurance, was unwieldy and left customers in doubt as to what the company was actually doing. Mutual of America struck him as a straightforward title that left no ambiguity. An insurance giant was born.

A man who had been on the Mutual board for over 20 years and is a longtime friend, describes Flynn thus:

“He had the capacity to identify a market that no one else had thought about. He identified the non-profit market, the number of companies who were too small and thus incapable, on their own, of getting decent life and pension plans.

“He also introduced an incentive compensation system for employees so that everyone was focusing on the customer. People were reasonably well paid, but they had to deliver. Those small non-profits on their own did not have the power to negotiate for themselves, but they desperately needed coverage. It was Bill’s genius to identify that gap in the market and provide that coverage.”

Flynn was “always hypersensitive” to the needs of people. “He was a great employer. Mutual had the best health care and pension plan imaginable for all employees, from the top guy to the littlest guy. I have been on many boards and I can tell you that Bill Flynn is as good as any executive I have ever met, including those who run the IBM’s and other major companies. He had a vision, a belief in people and a sense of responsibility that made all the difference.”

Click to view slideshow.

That vision was never more evident than when, as Flynn began winding down his career, he made the risky move to build a new corporate headquarters on Park Avenue for his company.

He explains, “We were based over at 666 Fifth Avenue and a very large foreign company (name withheld) purchased the building with the result, thanks to New York City’s then real estate tax code, our little company got hit with a substantially higher real estate tax. The increase was enormous. I said, we can’t let this happen again; we’ve got to have another work space and we’ve got to own the place.

“It was a five-year run around looking in Suffolk County, in White Plains, in Connecticut, even Florida. Some people said we ought to be going to Florida and this went on and on, but it began bothering me that we should move out of New York City; after all, this is where we belonged, where we had our roots.

“One day two Board Directors and I were talking and we decided, heck, we like it in New York, and why the hell are we going out in the suburbs or somewhere where we’ve no roots? Shortly thereafter, there came along a young real estate executive, who upon hearing what we wanted to do, said, ‘I’ve got something.’

“And what he had was this building at 320 Park Avenue which became our headquarters. The building, at that time, didn’t look that great, but it was owned by the people who built Canary Wharf in London, which was going downhill financially, so they were selling their Park Avenue building which was, by that time, empty and, indeed, completely stripped down. So here you have a building that was all cleaned out (including all asbestos), and all the buyer had to do was to rebuild the building over the existing steel. The key was to construct a new building without redoing the steel. For if you were you to take down the steel, zoning laws, at that time, would have required you to build a smaller building than what was there previously.

“So it was close to two hundred million to buy, and close to another hundred million to rebuild, in total, close to three hundred million. Many questioned our decision, as there was a real estate slump at the time. By the close of 2007, however, it was assessed at close to 1 ¼ billion. It really worked out for us.”

That is certainly putting it mildly. In real estate as well as in business, Bill Flynn had the Midas touch. But the former seminarian from Queens didn’t just want to be known as a good business head. He wanted to give back as well. Bill Flynn, the humanitarian and peacemaker, was not long emerging. ♦

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The Williamsburg Charter: A Golden Rule for Preserving Religious Freedom https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/the-williamsburg-charter-a-golden-rule-for-preserving-religious-freedom/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/the-williamsburg-charter-a-golden-rule-for-preserving-religious-freedom/#respond Tue, 01 Jan 2008 07:53:49 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=36605 Read more..]]> William J. Flynn presented the following remarks at the First Liberty Forum in New York on November 15, 1988.

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On June 25, 1998, leaders in government, religion and business signed the Williamsburg Charter in Colonial Williamsburg. I felt privileged to be one of them.

The Williamsburg Charter is an historic document that reaffirms the first sixteen words of the Bill of Rights. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free expression thereof.” We stand in awe of these men of Williamsburg who, more than 200 years ago, inspired these words. We salute their special genius. We admire their courage, for these sixteen words were to change, in a most remarkable way, the future course of history, both of our nation and the world.

People were to be free to pursue, without interference, those things about which they felt most deeply – those elemental questions of conscience that give meaning to life. Yet, the affirmation of religious freedom would have meant nothing without the protection of a strong, abiding sense of mutual responsibility for its preservation. We must always remember that, in the words of the Charter, “Rights are best guarded when each person guards for all others those rights they wish for themselves.”

It is no accident that Mutual of America was the major corporate sponsor of the “First Liberty Summit” at Williamsburg and of this “First Liberty Forum” in New York. It is part of our continuing commitment to those forces in life dedicated to building a richer, better world. Nothing could have been more fitting than for us to play a supportive and enabling role in this reaffirmation of the First Liberty. At a time when our spiritual values are being tested perhaps more severely than ever before, we concluded that it would be most timely and appropriate to reaffirm our belief in and dedication to preserving the true meaning of the First Amendment.

There are some commitments which one makes out of obligation, some out of position and some out of choice. There are other commitments which are thrust upon one by the weight of history and heritage. For me, religious liberty and freedom of conscience is such a commitment.

I speak as a Catholic of Irish heritage whose father was from the north and whose mother was from the south. And I am deeply saddened when I see the violence that divides neighbors and the bitterness that hardens the soul.

I speak as a father who has marveled at the birth of his children, who has delighted in watching them grow up, who has lived to see his children’s children playing on a summer day, and who – because of these precious, intimate experiences – cannot help but wonder about the world we will hand on to the generations to come. Will it be safe and sane or ugly and violent? The answer depends to a great degree on our willingness to commit our energies to searching for ways to live together in spite of deep differences.

I speak as an American for whom freedom is not only an ideal to cherish, but a responsibility to act upon. In a world in which the contrasts are all too apparent, in our nation where differences too often breed bigotry, I feel the weight of that responsibility.

In 1987, Mutual of America sponsored a film entitled, “Courage to Care,” a film about individuals who in quiet ways protected those at risk during the Holocaust. They were not born heroes nor did they view themselves as heroic. They did assume the responsibilities of their convictions.

We must do the same. We must uphold and renew that which makes us caring persons, striving for a just nation and a peaceful world.

Mutual of America is proud to have been part of the significant event of bringing the Williamsburg Charter to pass. I can’t remember a time when my deepest personal convictions and most important professional responsibilities converged so perfectly. I am proud to join the other signers of the Charter in reaffirming religious liberty and freedom of conscience, which is so central to who we are, so vital to our future, so needed in the world. The successful celebration of the Williamsburg Charter may be behind us, but its purpose is always before us and we look forward to spreading its message. I ask you to join me in affirming as your own the Summary of Principles that we commend to you today. ♦

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Making a Difference https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/making-a-difference/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/making-a-difference/#respond Tue, 01 Jan 2008 07:52:20 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=36634 Read more..]]> Bill Flynn’s commitment to the community is rooted in his Irish Catholic childhood.

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“No pessimist ever set foot on Ellis Island, no pessimist ever crossed the prairies, and no pessimist ever built cities from one end of the continent to another. These things were done by people with vision and hope.”

Thus does Bill Flynn wonderfully describe the country he grew up in and the people who made it what it is. Flynn himself embodies that vision. He is a chronic optimist, even when it comes to the most intractable problems. He says it springs from his father and mother, who, despite raising a family through the Depression, never lost their hopes and dreams for their young family and their ambitions to do better every day of their lives.

The Irish poet Eavan Boland wonderfully summarizes what the generations of immigrants went through in order to give their kids the opportunity of America. Bill Flynn can relate to it in the stories of his parents.

“What they survived we could not even live.

By their lights now it is time to imagine how they stood there,

what they stood with,

that their possessions may become our power:

Cardboard. Iron.

Their hardships parceled in them.

Patience. Fortitude. Long-suffering

in the bruise-coloured dusk of the New World.

And all the old songs.

And nothing to lose.”

While Bill was growing up, the topic of Ireland often got debated across the kitchen table in the Flynn household. Though he describes his father as mild-mannered, other relatives who came over from Northern Ireland were not as forgiving of the harsh world from which Catholics had come. Essentially corralled into a state they felt no allegiance to and had never voted to join, they were strangers in their own land, second-class citizens and heavily discriminated against.

Click to view slideshow.

Flynn remembers some firsthand experiences. “We had relatives that would come in. They would tell the most awful stories. They were intensely interrogated by us as kids, but it led my own general disposition to question the British, and to be aware of the problems faced by Catholics in the North, to hate bigotry, and to hate sectarianism, really. Later on, those meetings had their impact, and suddenly I began to read about and study what was going on. There were other Irish influences, a lot of music, reels, dancing. Dad was, I think, more romantic about Ireland than was Mom. I think the women had it much harder. Peggy’s mother felt that way too.

“My father went back only once. He stayed with his only surviving sister, Rosena. As it turned out, he almost died over there. Struck with pneumonia, he came back early. For years he wanted to make the journey once again, but there was never really the opportunity for him financially or otherwise.”

Bill Flynn made his first trip back to Ireland in 1971. “I took my mother over to visit her old home in Co. Mayo and to visit with my father’s only surviving sister, Rosena, in County Down, Northern Ireland,” he remembers. It was to be his introduction to the North. It also spurred renewed interest in his roots.

“It’s a mysterious force, it’s like gravity; you can’t see it, but you can feel the pull of it. It’s a feeling of being home and being at one with people—a coming together.”

But it was other world trouble spots that interested him at first. One of his favorite comments is that if you believe in something, “sending a check is not enough. If you believe in something, you simply have to support it in every way.”

Bill Flynn believed he could make a difference. Despite leading a major insurance firm that was experiencing rapid growth and consumed all his working hours, Bill Flynn was curious about giving back, about getting involved in issues greater than himself.

When Bill Flynn speaks, everyone listens, including Henry Kissinger.

His deep religious faith also spurred him. Unusual for a corporate chief executive, he combined a significant spirituality with a can-do business attitude. He appointed several Jewish leaders to his board and became very friendly with Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, writer and Holocaust survivor.

“Elie is a great teacher; he helps you understand the darkness in the soul of men, but also the greatness that can reside there, as it surely does in him. There are some men who have earned the right to preach, to tell the world what they must do. Even if he had never won the Nobel Prize, Elie is one of those men.”

Flynn became a board member of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity after Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. In 1990 Mutual sponsored the “Anatomy of Hate” conferences in Paris, in Oslo, and later, other major cities around the world, hosted by Wiesel’s organization. At these meetings, world leaders, including many Nobel Prize winners, gathered to examine the lethal effects of hatred on people and society with a view to discussing how to get beyond hatred. Flynn was deeply impacted by the clear efforts to bring about peace in conflicts such as the Middle East and South Africa. Inevitably his thoughts turned to his father’s native land. Two years earlier, Mutual had sponsored the Williamsburgh Charter, which addressed the issue of religious liberty in a pluralistic society. Clearly Northern Ireland was a case study for such an issue. In 1992, Flynn took the plunge into his own ethnic history urged on by a Sister of Mercy, Sr. Carol Rittner. He sponsored a Beyond Hatred Conference in Derry, Northern Ireland entitled “Living with Our Deepest Differences”, meeting for the first time with Sinn Fein, SDLP and Unionist leaders of Northern Ireland.

CEO Mutual of America Tom Moran, Gov. Hugh Cary, Amb. Mitchell Reiss, William Flynn, and Dr. George Schwab.

“I was learning, like everyone else who approached this issue. I hope I was humble enough to listen and, I hope, hopeful enough to not let the negativity that was still widespread put me off trying to help.”

The sprigs of peace were beginning to sprout in the North at that stage. Revelations about SDLP leader John Hume and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams meeting with Rev. Alex Reid in secret at Clonard Monastery in West Belfast to hammer out a common attempt at a way forward were raising hopes for the first time in decades. A new Taoiseach (prime minister) in Ireland, Albert Reynolds, was making renewed efforts to crack the twenty-five-year deadlock. Flynn was suddenly hopeful. Since 1987 he had been seeking a way to become involved. Back then he had joined the Irish American Partnership and led an American delegation to Ireland to meet with Paddy Harte, the Donegal member of Parliament who saw the partnership as a powerful vehicle to involve America. The effort petered out, however, and Flynn’s next attempt had been with Nobel Peace Prize Winner Mairead Corrigan and her American coordinator, Sister Dorothy Ann Kelly, president of the College of New Rochelle.

September 2005: Bill Flynn with Sisters Dorothy Ann Kelly and Regina Kehoe.

Flynn remembers that early involvement. “Dorothy Ann was head of the Peace People in the States, and she was deeply into this fine organization. I used to go to all their meetings and contribute to it as well. Mairead Corrigan was a powerful speaker. She’d get your blood going about what was going on in the North, so I became a real fan. I said to Dorothy Ann, I wish I knew more about all this. And she said, “How would you like to learn more about the Peace People?” And I said I would, and she said, “I’ll take you to Ireland and I’ll introduce you to all these people.”

“We had a great week meeting all the Protestants and Catholics alike. It was a great learning experience. It also helped me to decide the level at which I wanted to operate.”

Flynn also had contact with Irish Northern Aid, the Republican fundraising group in America. He particularly remembers a conversation with two leading Noraid members in his Fifth Avenue office. Flynn was troubled by the high level of violence in the North and, to a degree, by Noraid’s efforts in support of Sinn Fein. He explained to them he could not support those using force to accomplish their purpose in the North. Then the men asked him what he was prepared to do or was he just content to blame others from the sidelines. “They made me feel like a draft dodger,” said Flynn.

His chance to play a major role came soon after. A small group of Irish Americans in New York was in close contact with the Clinton presidential campaign and had received assurances from them that Clinton would address the issue of Northern Ireland once he was in office. It was the kind of breakthrough that Irish America had always dreamed of: an American president becoming involved in the search for peace in Northern Ireland.

The third of the advertisements in the New York Times focused on the Irish Peace Process.

It was a time and a tide. Positive conflict-resolution efforts were taking place in the Middle East and South Africa, the Cold War was over, and the ties between Britain and the United States were not as critical as they once were. The end of the century was coming up, and a generation of Northern Ireland leaders were suddenly asking, why not us? Many of them saw America as the key.

The Irish-American group needed key names in the community to join them. Bill Flynn was already a standout, both in pursuing conflict resolution and as a successful and respected businessman, but would the Mutual of America chief risk his public profile, his business success and his Chairmanship of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, in seeking to help bring what many believed to be an unsolvable conflict to an end?

Flynn never hesitated when he was asked. In the citation for his selection as one of the 100 Irish Americans of the Century, Irish America stated that “William J. Flynn will always be remembered as the man who dispensed with a great taboo—the notion that American business should not get involved in bringing peace to Ireland. He broke the mold when he set out in tandem with a few others to change the reality that American business had nothing to offer toward peace in Ireland. The historic peace process was the result.”

Bill Clinton was elected in January 1992. By September that year, the Irish-American group, numbering just five people including Bill Flynn, former Congressman Bruce Morrison, businessman Chuck Feeney, and labor leader Joe Jameson, were ready to play their part. The endgame was set to begin. ♦

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The Irish Peacemaker https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/the-irish-peacemaker/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/the-irish-peacemaker/#respond Tue, 01 Jan 2008 07:51:25 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=36658 Read more..]]> Niall O’Dowd writes about Bill Flynn’s extraordinary role in the Irish peace process.

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On February 12 1994, Bill Flynn and his trusted friend and associate Bill Barry drove to Belfast to meet with Gerry Adams. (Barry was Chairman of Barry Security Services after leaving an exciting career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.)

It was directly in the wake of the granting of a visa by the U.S. government to Adams, allowing him to come to America. His 48-hour visa visit had won international headlines, and Bill Flynn’s role in securing that visa had been widely covered.

The Northern Ireland conflict was center stage worldwide  placed there because Bill Flynn had helped lead the audacious strategy to win an American visa for Adams at a time when he was considered an international pariah.

Flynn and Barry’s appointment was at Connolly House in West Belfast and Flynn was behind the wheel of a rented Mercedes.

They were behind time and turned off the M1 motorway close to their destination. Suddenly they came upon a burning building, with tanks and soldiers with machine guns everywhere.

Their destination had just been hit with an RPG rocket launcher fired by Loyalist paramilitaries. If they had been on time for their appointment they would have been in the building when the rocket hit. If Bill Flynn ever needed confirmation that it was a tough and dangerous business he was involved in in Northern Ireland, he received it that day.

Given his Northern Irish roots and his pride in his Irish heritage, it is hardly surprising that Bill Flynn became interested in the conflict there. Unlike millions of other Irish Americans, however, Flynn did not confine his interest to a sentimental attachment on St. Patrick’s Day or an occasional tip of the hat to his Irish roots at some dinner or other.

9/25/07: New York City. Prime Minister of Britain Tony Blair and Bill Flynn.

Typical of the man, he became involved at the deepest level possible after weighing the many options he had about where and when to get involved.

Too many Americans allowed their sentiment and family history to cloud their judgment when it came to Northern Ireland. Bill Flynn would not make that mistake.

His approach was typical of his successful business career, a great deal of analysis followed by a direct and clear-cut strategy. If mistakes were made, they were corrected. Friendships on all sides of the conflict were cultivated and acted on.

“This was never going to be an emotional outreach, rather it was going to be a carefully planned strategic involvement designed to achieve maximum impact,” says Flynn.

Professor Fergal Cochrane of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Research at Lancaster University in Britain has argued that it was Irish-American “soft power” as exemplified by Bill Flynn and others that transformed the Northern Ireland peace process. In his 2007 article “Irish America, the end of the IRA Armed Struggle and the Utility of Soft Power,” Cochrane makes the telling point that hardline Irish-American organizations such as Noraid had nothing like the impact that men like Bill Flynn and Charles Feeney, highly successful businessmen, had on the peace process when they became involved.

In early 1993, just as the Northern Ireland issue was beginning to heat up, Bill Flynn made the key decision to become Chairman of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, a group with great standing in the American foreign policy world. This gave him a powerful independent position, which he was to use to great advantage.

“The National Committee brought together a very fine group of foreign policy experts,” Flynn says, “and I believed it was a very useful forum for discussions such as we wanted to hear about how peace might come to Ireland or one of the many other trouble spots around the world. I saw it as a great venue for different points of view to be expressed to us.”

The Loyalist viewpoint is aired at a NCAFP meeting. Left to right: Billy Hutchinson, Joe English, William Flynn, David Ervine, Amb. Angier Biddle Duke, and Gary McMichael.

Since June 12, 1991, Flynn had been aware that a major effort was underway to create a new opening for peace in Northern Ireland using Irish-American influence as a major lever. On that date he had met with a leading Irish-American figure, a close friend and confident (who asked that his name be kept private) who outlined the strategy to him.

It would involve Irish America becoming an honest broker between the Republican movement and the powers that be in America. It was a high-risk strategy but it appealed to Flynn because he could see the logic behind Irish-American soft power.

“Irish America had never become involved in a direct way, acting as a broker rather than cheerleading one side or the other,” he says now. “This was an outstanding opportunity to think outside the box.”

The first crucial test of the new departure occurred when the Americans for a New Irish Agenda (ANIA) as the deputation was known, arrived in Belfast on September 3, 1993. The group consisted of Flynn, businessman Chuck Feeney, former Congressman Bruce Morrison, publisher Niall O’Dowd and labor leader Joe Jameson.

August 31, 1994. Awaiting the news of the ceasefire: Bill Barry, Bruce Morrison, Joe Jameson, Bill Lenehan, Niall O’Dowd, Mairead Keane, Martin McGuiness, Lucillea Beathnach, Martin McGinty (obscured from view), and Gerry Adams, at Sinn Fein’s Connolly House, Belfast.

The election of Bill Clinton had dramatically changed the equation between America and Ireland. Clinton was on record as proposing a far more involved stance on the issue of seeking peace in Ireland. The New Irish Agenda group were about to be the instrument of that.

Through a series of secret contacts and long-distance communications, a secret document was produced which outlined the willingness of the IRA to conduct a week-long ceasefire starting at midnight on Friday, September 3, while the American delegation was in Ireland. Their intent was to show the American administration that the IRA were interested in a major outreach to America.

“It was smart thinking on their part,” says Flynn. “The Republican movement needed to end their international isolation, and we were the ones who were going to try and help them achieve that.”

Prior to their visit North, the group spent two hours in Dublin with new Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Albert Reynolds who threw everyone else out of the meeting and told the group he was making real progress with his British counterpart John Major and he needed American help to bring Sinn Féin in from the cold.

It was the beginning of a great friendship between Flynn and the Prime Minister. “Albert saw things not just as a politician, but also as a successful businessman, which he was before he ever entered politics,” says Flynn. “We connected right away. I loved his straightforward analysis and I think he had a deep affection for America, which really helped.”

They also went to see Jean Kennedy Smith, the new U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, and Flynn made another invaluable connection. “She was just getting used to the job,” he remembers. “But I could see she had a lot of determination and she wanted to make a difference.”

One of the key meetings was with Loyalist political figures in Belfast and again Flynn found himself meeting an unlikely cast of characters that included Gusty Spence, an icon in Loyalism; David Ervine, Spence’s successor as head of the Progressive Unionist Party, and Gary McMichael who led the political wing of the Ulster Defense Association.

“They really opened my eyes and those of our delegation.” Flynn remembers. “They talked about the poverty and depression on the Shankill Road and in the major Loyalist areas. It was a real change to hear their side of it, how they felt Ian Paisley had misled their communities and how they were also bearing the brunt of the violence. They were so articulate and committed, they really made an impression.”

It was the beginning of an important relationship for both sides. Bill Flynn took it upon himself to include the Loyalists in every future move he made in Northern Ireland. They deeply appreciated the inclusion after years of exclusion.

The meeting with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness on that trip was the key moment. There was a huge media presence outside the meeting place, but once inside it was all business.

Consul General Niall Burgess, Peter Hain, and Bill Flynn pictured outside Glucksman Ireland House, NYU, in June 2008.

“It was a long and very intense meeting,” Flynn remembers.

The Americans laid out their strategy that every move by the IRA towards peace would be matched by political benefits in the United States, including a visa for Gerry Adams as President Clinton had promised. While they themselves could not promise such a visa, they made clear they would be ready to fight hard for it.

“I was very impressed with Gerry Adams,” Flynn now remembers. “He struck me right away as a man of his word, and there is nothing more important. I have never wavered in that belief since.”

The unofficial ceasefire held while the group was in Ireland. From September 3 to September 11 there was no IRA activity. Back in Washington, through the network created by the visiting Americans, the news reached directly into the highest levels of the White House. The first seeds had been sown.

In the months that followed, the peace process began to pick up steam. The British government admitted it had conducted secret talks with Sinn Féin, and it was leaked in Ireland that the two governments had been working on a joint declaration plan to push progress in the North.

The American delegation needed to decide on strategy, and at a midtown meeting in a New York pizza parlor, the decision was made to pursue a visa for Gerry Adams.

It was a long shot at best. Previous applications had all been turned down. While there was significant contact with the White House, the idea of an Adams visa before an IRA ceasefire was still considered too risky for the new administration. The British Embassy was actively canvassing against any gesture towards Sinn Féin.

Bill Flynn had the perfect vehicle, however, as Chairman of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP). He himself had impressive credentials for hosting the event, having sponsored conflict resolution conferences on the Middle East and Ireland previously. His friendship with a clutch of Nobel Prize winners such as Elie Wiesel also gave him enormous credibility.

12/3/2007: Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness pictured with Bill Flynn on the occasion of their joint visit to New York.

Taking the issue out of its Irish context and placing it in an international dimension was critical. Flynn put the proposal to invite all the Northern Ireland leaders, including Gerry Adams, to come to America and speak at a peace conference to the NCAFP board. Some of the members were highly dubious about inviting an “international terrorist” to speak before them. A few years earlier, Margaret Thatcher had spoken at an NCAFP event. Henry Kissinger was an honorary chairman and made clear he did not like the idea. But Flynn persevered.

“It’s important when you commit to something that you give it everything,” he remembers. “I knew it was the right thing to do and I was determined to do it.”

Flynn set the date of February 1, 1994, as the conference date and booked the Waldorf Astoria. He invited all five leaders of the major Northern Ireland parties. The invitation won worldwide headlines.

On December 27, Flynn arranged for a full-page ad in The New York Times entitled “Irish Eyes Are Crying for Peace” co-signed by hundreds of leading Irish-American business and community leaders. The impact was immediate. “It set the tone,” Flynn remembers. “It created a sense that the Irish issue was one of great concern to leaders all over America.”

It was followed a few weeks later by another advertisement in The New York Times entitled, “Peace for Northern Ireland Is Within Their Grasp.” It was from the National Committee on American Foreign Policy and featured the five political leaders invited to the conference. The issue had suddenly become mainstream.

The Adams visa battle will go down in history as a seminal moment in Irish-American history. Against the odds, President Bill Clinton eventually sided with Flynn and the NCAFP and allowed Adams a 48-hour visa to come to America. In doing so he defied his own State and Justice Departments, FBI and CIA and key advisors including House Speaker Tom Foley.

Jack Farrell of the Boston Globe later wrote about the decision, “It was a case of classic Clinton, of a president who brooded and temporized and weighed the political ups and downs and then followed his heart down a risky path.”

For Flynn it was a majestic victory. After Adams arrived, Bill hosted a small party for him in a room at the Waldorf. The media world was full of images of Adams arriving in New York. Flynn himself felt utterly calm despite the whirlwind surrounding him.

The conference itself was a huge success, and the images of Gerry Adams speaking at the Waldorf Astoria with Flynn at his side were flashed worldwide. Also present was John Hume, SDLP leader and future Nobel Prize winner, and Lord John Alderdice leader of the Alliance Party, both of whom added to the history of the occasion.

In his remarks, Flynn promised that Ian Paisley and James Molyneaux, the two Unionist leaders who had refused the invitation, would be invited to come at a time more convenient to them. Within the next few weeks, both had agreed to come to New York and explain their positions. America was showing Ireland how peace could be made.

On March 17 that year the White House threw open its doors and invited leading Irish Americans from all over the country for a St. Patrick’s hooley. Hollywood celebrities like Michael Keaton, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Richard Harris mixed with Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator George Mitchell and others. At about 11 o’clock President Clinton stood up to say a few words to the assembled 400 when cries of “bravo” rang out and a huge cheer arose. A Clinton staffer remarked that he knew then they had made the right decision on Adams.

Bill Flynn, the architect of much that had happened, was there that night, taking in the magnitude of the occasion, but also aware that much was still to be accomplished before the IRA ceasefire that was now on the horizon could be accomplished.

The next few months were full of back-and-forth negotiations with Sinn Féin by the American group. Assurances were sought and received, some of which remain private to this day.

Flynn made several trips to Ireland, sounding out opinions in Dublin, London and Belfast, and forging friendships in all camps, including good relations with Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Northern Secretary of State, as well as, Sir John Stevens, the famous head of Scotland Yard.

On Thursday, August 25 the New Irish Agenda delegation was back in Dublin. The secret message had come from Sinn Féin that late August was a good time to come over to Ireland. The import was clear – the IRA was about to make a move.

They had a meeting in Dublin with Albert Reynolds and his Deputy Prime Minister Dick Spring. It was clear that a ceasefire was coming, but its length and whether any conditions were attached was not. Flynn himself believed the ceasefire would be open-ended and without conditions. “I felt we could trust Adams on that,” he says.

Amid huge media coverage, the New Irish Agenda group arrived in Belfast for their meeting with the Sinn Féin leadership. Once inside the door, Adams told them that the IRA was going to call a complete cessation. “It was one of my greatest moments,” Flynn remembers. “Against all the odds our group had helped achieve something historic and momentous.”

A few days later, Flynn was in Dublin when the historic announcement came down. The IRA had declared a complete cessation of operations.

“To me that IRA decision was the most natural thing in the world. I looked on it as another good business decision,” Flynn says.

“You know, in my business we celebrate great victories and then we’ll have a martini and we’ll go back to work. I felt awfully, awfully good about it, but the arguments were strongly in favor of this being the only reasonable solution.”

It was only when talking to his relatives in Northern Ireland that he realized the full import of what he had helped achieve.

Six weeks later on October 13, Bill Flynn was accorded the singular honor of being the only Catholic and American present when the Loyalist Combined Military Command met at Lord Carson’s old military compound in Belfast to announce the Loyalist ceasefire.

Flynn had been contacted by phone in America and told in coded language to come over. It was an incredible compliment to the Catholic son of a Northern Ireland father.

Bill Flynn, Martin McGuinness, and Bill Flynn, Jr. at an NCAFP luncheon, 21 Club, July 29, 2005.

They invited him to meet them the night before and study the document they had prepared. “What I remember is that in the proposed ceasefire document Gusty Spence and David Ervine had apologized for the harm Loyalists had done over the years. And I remember urging them that they not take that apology out of the statement because it would mean so much to so many of the people of the North and, thus, help make the settlement come more quickly. We went over the statement word for word. The next day Gusty Spence told me, ‘Bill, whatever you do, should there be any cameras around, don’t get yourself in the picture.” So I sat in an anteroom with a former commander of the Combined Military Command and listened as Gusty Spence, to his great credit, read clearly and forthrightly, the order of ceasefire to all of the Loyalist forces. I was very pleased that they had invited me there. It was one of my proudest moments.”

In the years that followed, throughout breakdowns in the ceasefire, new IRA and Loyalist violence, roadblocks in the peace process, and presidential visits to Northern Ireland, Bill Flynn remained a key figure.

He ensured that every party, from whatever background, had a forum in America if they wanted to speak. On numerous occasions he personally flew to Northern Ireland to try and help when negotiations hit a snag. A measure of the man is that the British government, Loyalist leaders and nationalists and Republicans all considered him an honest broker when problems arose.

Throughout it all he remained true to his convictions that peace would find a way. He believes the Downing Street Declaration, the first document signed by Albert Reynolds and John Major in December 1993 remains the touchstone of the peace process. It affirmed the right of the people of Northern Ireland to self-determination, and that the province would be reunited with the Republic of Ireland if and only if a majority of the people was in favor of such a move.

It included for the first time in the history of Anglo-Irish relationships, as part of the prospective of the so-called Irish dimension, the principle that the people of the island of Ireland, North and South, had the exclusive right to solve the issues between North and South by mutual consent. The joint declaration also pledged the governments to seek a peaceful constitutional settlement, and promised that parties linked with paramilitaries (such as Sinn Féin and Loyalists) could take part in the talks, so long as they abandoned violence.

“It truly was the cornerstone for the entire process and you can draw a line from there through the Good Friday Agreement to the St. Andrews Agreement which brought about the power sharing government of today,” says Flynn.

The North’s troubles are likely coming to an end because of this agreement. Bill Flynn is one man who played an indispensable part. His father would be very proud. ♦

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An Architect of Peace https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/an-architect-of-peace/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/01/an-architect-of-peace/#respond Tue, 01 Jan 2008 07:50:30 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=36695 Read more..]]> Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, reflects on Bill Flynn’s contribution to peace on the occasion of the Flax Trust Dinner in New York City.

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Over the course of many years, many people have been given a tremendous amount of credit for being architects of the peace process and being involved in contributing to the peace process. Some of them are dubious claims but not in the case of Bill Flynn, and I want to make it quite clear in the course of this contribution that I regard Bill Flynn as one of the heroes of the peace process. He stood by the process through thick and thin, he is my friend, he is someone I have a tremendous amount of confidence in, he was there with us from the very beginning to the very end and it was a real joy having him in Parliament Buildings on that historic day of May 8th when the institutions of power sharing, the North South institutions and the British Irish institutions went live effectively for the first time.

I want to acknowledge and pay tribute to the work done by the Flax Trust in Belfast and indeed throughout the North. They have contributed wonderfully on a process of reconciliation through economic and social development. It is a registered charity. They do tremendous work and now, in terms of economic regeneration in the communities, are branching out into areas like the arts, education and business incubation. I think that’s very very laudable and very much complementary to the ongoing work of Government which we were involved in at this time. I’m a huge admirer of Sr. Mary Turley and Fr. Myles Kavanagh, people who have for all their adult lives worked for reconciliation and peace through providing employment and jobs and now their story goes from strength to strength. I’m very proud to contribute to what I hope will be a wonderful evening, I hope everybody will enjoy themselves and I think that also, given that we are speaking to an audience in the United States of America, it is important to stress that the United States of America and Irish America have played an incredibly important role in the development of the Irish peace process over the course of many years through President Clinton and President Bush and the various envoys that they sent to the North, not least Senator George Mitchell who was very much involved in the final days of negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement. Things here have taken off incredibly and we’re now four months into the establishment of these institutions, and the hope and optimism of the entire community has never been higher than it is at the moment. Ian Paisley and I, as I say, have been in government for nearly four months and we meet almost every day sometimes for three, four hours a day and there hasn’t been one angry word between the two of us.

I think he has played a remarkable role in contributing to this effort and I think that there is a very definite commitment from both himself and myself on behalf of the two largest parties in this administration to ensure that we go from strength to strength. Thank you for contributing to one of the most successful peace processes in the world today.

Go raibh Mait agaibh. ♦

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