Tributes paid to ‘champion’ of NI peace process Bill Flynn

Irish-American businessman a pivotal player in building political support in US for pact

Bill Flynn (right) in New York with then Northern Ireland deputy first minister Seamus Mallon, in 2000. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA

Bill Flynn (right) in New York with then Northern Ireland deputy first minister Seamus Mallon, in 2000. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA

 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has led the tributes to Irish-American businessman Bill Flynn, a leading advocate for the Northern Irish peace process in the United States, who has died aged 92.

Mr Flynn, a wealthy New York-based insurance executive and philanthropist, was described by Mr Coveney as a “giant of Irish America and a key figure in US support for peace on the island of Ireland. ”

“Very proud of his contribution,” the Tánaiste tweeted over the weekend.

The businessman, who died on Saturday, was the first Irish-American chairman of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

He and the committee were instrumental in pushing the Clinton White House to grant a visa to then Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams in 1994, a catalyst in building support among republicans for the peace process.

The committee invited Mr Adams to speak at a conference on Ireland in New York, to which the Clinton administration – pressed by Mr Flynn and other prominent Irish-Americans from business and politics – granted him a 48-hour visa to attend.

Bill Flynn with Martin McGuinness, Ian Paisley and Paula Dobriansky at an event in New York. Photograph: John Harrison/PA
Bill Flynn with Martin McGuinness, Ian Paisley and Paula Dobriansky at an event in New York. Photograph: John Harrison/PA

Reacting to Mr Flynn’s death, Mr Adams described the businessman as “a champion of peace in Ireland” and the issuing of the visa as “a key moment in the efforts for peace”.

“In Ireland and among Irish-Americans, he is also one of those, along with Niall O’Dowd, Chuck Feeney and Bruce Morrison, who played a pivotal role in creating the conditions for the IRA cessation in August 1994 and in opening up political support in the USA for the Irish peace process,” said Mr Adams.

The former Sinn Féin leader said that Mr Flynn’s importance “can be measured in the frequency with which all of the governments – Irish, British and US – talk to him and seek to involve him in whatever the current initiative might be.”

‘Draft dodger’

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald paid tribute to Mr Flynn’s efforts to build process across both communities in Northern Ireland. She said he was committed to peace right up until his death.

“He made sure that he reached out to all those affected by the conflict and forged relationships with people from the unionist and loyalist backgrounds,” she said.

Mr Flynn was born in New York to a Co Down father and Co Mayo mother. A graduate of Fordham University in New York, he became chief executive and chairman of the multibillion-dollar US insurance company Mutual of America, working from an office on Park Avenue in Manhattan.

He received a CBE in 2009 for his contribution to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

In an interview in 2002, Mr Flynn traced his desire to seek a peaceful solution to the Troubles back to a meeting with two men from Noraid, the Irish republican fundraising body in the US, in the 1980s.

“I told them that I was against terrorism and violence and that I would help in a different way,” he said.

“One of them said: ‘So you feel strongly about Bloody Sunday and you feel strongly about this and that, but just what the hell have you ever done about it?’ It was the first time I have ever been made to feel like a draft dodger.”