Congressman Donald M. Payne of New Jersey passed away early Tuesday morning at the Saint Barnabas Medical Center, of complications arising from colon cancer.
Congressman Payne, the first African American member of Congress from New Jersey, was a great friend of Ireland. He was recognized at one point in his Congressional career as having the most pro-Irish voting record in the entire U.S. Congress.
Among the legislation he introduced was a measure to ban the use of plastic bullets by the British Army and a bill to support an inquiry into the deaths of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson. The Congressman championed the cause of the Irish deportees, urging that they be permitted to remain in the U.S.
A frequent visitor to Ireland, he accompanied former President Clinton on his historic trip to the North. He also travelled to South Africa to support the work of Irish volunteers building homes to replace shacks in the townships with his good friend, Niall Mellon, founder of the charity Niall Mellon Township Trust.
He joined Irish nationalists in monitoring the Orange Order parades to document violations against the Catholic residents of Garvaghy Road. A strong supporter of the peace process, he personally met with leaders of all parties and with the U.S. Envoy to Northern Ireland to encourage successful implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Congressman delivered the Frank Cahill Memorial Lecture in Belfast one year and was named the winner of the Pat Finucane Award by the Irish American Unity Conference in recognition of his support for human rights.
A former educator and native of Newark, New Jersey, Congressman Payne dedicated his life to serving the men, women and children of his Congressional District. He also traveled throughout the world serving as a calm and rational voice on issues impacting the social conditions of the global community.
Congressman Payne used his senior position on the U.S. House of Representatives Education and the Workforce Committee to advocate on behalf of children, working families and senior citizens.
His top priorities remained closing the achievement gap, providing equitable funding for public schools and making college and healthcare more affordable. As the highest ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights, Congressman Payne worked tirelessly to protect human rights and provide humanitarian aid to developing countries, particularly in Africa.
He also served as a former Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and most recent Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams paid tribute to Payne.
"Donald was a thoughtful, generous, and well informed politician who was personally dedicated to improving conditions for others and who worked diligently on behalf of his constituents and of his party"
"He will be remembered with gratitude and real affection for his support at difficult and dangerous times in Ireland and elsewhere in the world. He will be sadly missed by his own constituents and by people the world over. I want to extend by sincerest regrets and deepest sympathy to his family and friends."