THE Ancient Order of Hibernians, one of the oldest and largest Irish organizations in the U.S., announced last week that they would primarily focus on pro-life issues for the future, now that the Northern Irish issue has been essentially resolved.
"We must reenergize ourselves to fight the scourge of abortion in the same steadfast manner that we used to fight the many injustices wreaked upon Catholic/Nationalists in Northern Ireland," the group's national president Jack Meehan said.
Michael Cummings, archivist of the AOH, told this newspaper, "What we want to do is to demonstrate that we can provide support and resources for those women who are faced with problem pregnancies or with difficult choices, and hopefully defend the right of the unborn by giving the practical assistance those women need."
Leaving aside the fact that this exclusively all-male group's support for pregnant women seems a trifle offbeat, the decision to follow this path is a mistake.
Making abortion the key issue for the Hibernians brands them as a Catholic, not an Irish institution, yet it is on Irish issues that the AOH have been by far the most effective.
There is noting wrong at all with seeking a right to life agenda, but it is also one shared with hundreds of other organizations, many of them far better equipped for that fight. What has made the AOH uniquely effective is their focus on Irish issues.
They are making a mistake if they believe that the Irish part of their work is now done. There is the major issue of the future of Irish coming to America, and those already here in undocumented status.
Just last year thousands of young Irish descended on Washington, D.C. seeking comprehensive immigration reform. Just because this is now a difficult and divisive issue in the U.S. does not mean that the AOH should walk away from it.
The AOH's own mission statement makes a major statement of support for such people. And we quote, "The order seeks to aid the newly arrived Irish, both socially, politically . the AOH has been at the political forefront for issues concerning the Irish, such as immigration reform."
That is absolutely true, and it continues to need to be true in the months and years ahead. Is there any more important issue for such an established Irish American organization than ensuring that there will once again be a welcome for Irish people to come to the U.S.?
The AOH are also prematurely winding up their activism on Northern Ireland. Now that the peace has brought the warring sides together there is a deep need for economic subvention and investment from this country to ensure that the peace holds.
Northern Irish leaders Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley could not have been clearer about that during their recent visit here. Both believe that economic investment from America is a critical part of ensuring that the power sharing government continues to succeed.
The AOH should also be involved in the upcoming economic conference in Northern Ireland, hosted by the U.S. government on the issue of investment in the North. Issues such as the devolvement of policing powers to the new government in Stormont are also ones that the AOH can play an important role in.
The organization has played an outstanding part in Irish activism over the centuries, dating back to defending Irish and Catholic groups from the assault of Know Nothings, the Nazis of their times. This is no time to move to an entirely new focus when so much remains to be done.