Laboriously researched background to the International Fund for Ireland
BOOK OF THE DAY: SÉAN DONLONreviews A Fund of Goodwill – The Story of the International Fund for Irelandby Alf McCreary The International Fund for Ireland 184pp €25
IN AUGUST 1977, president Carter issued an important statement – the first such statement ever by a US president on Northern Ireland – in which he said that in the event of a peaceful settlement, “the US Government would be prepared to join with others to see how additional job- creating investment would be encouraged to the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland”. The key people who influenced the statement were speaker Tip O’Neill and Senator Ted Kennedy in the United States and, from Ireland, Garret FitzGerald, John Hume and the Irish diplomatic service, notably Michael Lillis, political counsellor at the Irish Embassy in Washington.
Following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in November, 1985 president Reagan announced his support for the agreement and within a year the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) – the vehicle for US financial support – was up and running.
There were inevitable difficulties in getting the wheels in motion. There were differences between London and Dublin and internal difficulties in Northern Ireland. The leadership of Peter Barry, the hard-headed minister for foreign affairs, ensured that British reluctance was overcome.
Prime minister Thatcher initially blocked EU support on the grounds that “it is not the lack of money that is the matter with Northern Ireland”. The EU eventually came on board in 1989 and, since then, has been a close second to the US in the total of international commitments of €870 million to date. Australia, Canada and New Zealand have also contributed.
Alf McCreary has now written the story of the fund and brings his fluent style and laborious research to a book beautifully produced and published by the fund.
From the outset, the fund promoted economic and social projects in Northern Ireland and in Border areas and encouraged contact, dialogue and reconciliation between the two major traditions. So far, it has funded 5,700 projects including the linking of the Shannon and Erne waterways, significant help to communities in Northern Ireland’s disadvantaged areas and the construction of the Jeanie Johnstonsailing ship by trainees from different religious and political backgrounds.
All of this did not happen easily, especially in the early years. The work of the fund mirrored the political and security situation in Northern Ireland and both unionists and republicans opposed it in its early years.
Much of the fund’s achievements can be attributed to its chairmen, all of whom have shown courage, imagination and a typical Northern Irish get-things-done mentality. Sir Charles Brett (once denounced by Dr Paisley as a traitor!) was succeeded by JB McGuckian, WT McCarter and now Denis Rooney who may well have the task of presiding over the fund’s final phase. While the fund will continue its work for the next couple of years it would be unreasonable to expect external support thereafter, especially in the current relatively stable political and security situation in Northern Ireland. Rooney has wisely shifted the fund’s focus to support for sustainable, community-based structures for reconciliation which will hopefully operate beyond the fund’s lifetime.
The IFI has played a vital role as Northern Ireland travelled the difficult road to peace and stability. It has been a fitting monument to the extraordinary work which speaker O’Neill and Senator Kennedy have done for peace. There was no domestic political gain in it for them; if anything, it cost them support in some American-Irish circles. They acted from a genuine love for Ireland, and a commitment to non-violent ways of achieving peace and reconciliation.
- Seán Donlon is a former Irish ambassador to the United States