In the wake of the epoch-making IRA ceasefire of 1994, Californian State Senator Tom Hayden swept into Belfast like a heaven-sent hurricane of righteousness.

With the gospel of “no back of the bus for anyone” in his civil rights campaigning DNA, Hayden “got” the issue in the North of Ireland intuitively.

Give everyone a fair shake, put ballots before bullets and, crucially, underpin the peace with prosperity.

Those were his guiding principles.

But of course he also brought can-do Irish American chutzpah to the task as well.

As Belfast City Council members were lined up to greet the first of President Bill Clinton’s economic missions to our wounded city, he would rise above the rigid and frigid culture of handshake to give each of the Sinn Féin members a hearty hug.

And then he stuck to the task.

He campaigned for the groundbreaking MacBride Principles on Fair Employment in California but also made an economic peace dividend the thrust of his activity on his many visits back to Belfast and Derry.

Principled and pragmatic, as he proved in the current U.S. election season and up until his passing last week, Hayden urged nationalists to maximize their political mandate while delivering real change on the ground.

He articulated that philosophy in his introduction to “Dome of Delight,” a history of the transformation of Belfast City Hall.

And he chided comrades in the U.S. who failed to understand the enduring Irish and Irish American contribution to the international cause of social justice and liberation.

Indeed Tom’s seminal book, “Irish on the Inside,” remains the most important tomes about the blessings and obligations which flow from having Irish American heritage.

Though his own experience underlined the lacuna which sometimes afflicts Irish Americans: he wasn’t aware that his name, Thomas Emmet, came from the Irish revolutionary who rose to great prominence in New York in the wake of the 1798 Rebellion, this until another veteran campaigner for the justice and peace in Ireland — Pat Doherty of the New York State Comptroller’s office — told him when they met in the early days of the MacBride campaign in San Francisco.

Read More: Tom Hayden, leading activist on Irish issues, dies in California

Tom Hayden left electoral politics over recent years but politics never left him.

We last met at a meeting I had as Mayor of Belfast with Governor Jerry Brown of California in San Francisco three years ago.

Tom flew in from Los Angeles to be with our group.

His prominence on the Irish peace process earned him his place at the table, but he told me he also wanted to raise a vexed question around life sentence prisoners which I surmised had created a little falling out between him and Governor Brown.

As our meeting in the governor’s Oakland offices wore on, I became a little worried that Tom hadn’t seized the opportunity to present his own issue.

When the meeting wound up (with a ballad from the Great Hunger sung no less) the governor led us to the elevator and I presumed Tom had blown his chance.

But as the elevator doors closed, Tom held open the door, leaned across to the governor and had, literally, a word in his ear.

Peace was made.

And I had witnessed a political master class.

To his wife Barbara, sons Liam and Troy: we mourn your loss but I trust his family, friends and comrades take solace from the fact that when freedom-loving people gather in Ireland, Tom’s name will be spoken. Ar dheis láimh Dé go raibh a anam ró-uasal.


Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is Finance Minister in the North of Ireland and a Sinn Féin elected representative.

This story first appeared in the Irish Echo. To read more articles, visit their website here