When I read of the passing of Philip E. Curran of Westbrook (Maine Sunday Telegram, March 25), a smile came upon me as I remembered the story he once shared about the day the Irish flag flew over Maine’s Capitol dome. In an Osher Lifelong Learning class on Irish history, Phil talked about his own Irish roots and his work for peace and justice in Northern Ireland.

Through his work to establish the Maine Irish Children’s Program, Phil with his wife, Nancy, had visited Belfast, Northern Ireland, where in 1985 he witnessed firsthand the harsh effects of job discrimination against Catholics in the workforce. At that time, unemployment measured at about 20 percent and as high as 85 percent in Catholic sections of Belfast. That experience prompted Phil, a Republican state representative from 1988 to 1989, to take action.

Working with state Sen. David Kerry, D-Saco, Phil sponsored a bill that would require Maine to adopt the MacBride Principles of Fair Employment. The bill would ban investments of Maine state funds in corporations doing business in Northern Ireland, unless the corporations agreed to abide by the MacBride Principles, developed by Dr. Sean MacBride, a Nobel Peace Prize winner. The bill used the threat of withdrawing Maine state pension fund investments from companies doing business in Northern Ireland as leverage to curb discrimination against Catholics.

Phil described to his Lifelong Learning classmates the bill’s road to passage: “The legislative process fired the passions of nearly everyone in or close to the Maine State Legislature and even those across the sea. The bill went through three years and two vetoes. It passed the Maine House and Senate, twice – first vetoed by Gov. (John) ‘Jock’ McKernan and, a year and a half later, for the second time. Then both houses passed the bill again and when the governor vetoed it, the House overrode his veto. After the Senate made a few changes, the governor finally signed it, and the MacBride Principles of Economic Justice became the law for Maine, guiding the state’s investments in Northern Ireland.”

Phil said he was very proud the day the bill was finally signed into law. He added: “The governor looked out his window and was astonished to see the tricolor flag of Ireland billowing in the wind over the state Capitol.” Gov. McKernan issued orders for the flag to be removed. No one ever admitted responsibility for unfurling the Irish flag over the Maine State House, but I have long suspected Phil might have had something to do with it. The MacBride Principles became the law of the United States in October 1998.

Phil said in the twilight of his many years of service: “I’m a lucky man who got to do what I loved to do!” The people of the state of Maine and many in Northern Ireland were the lucky recipients of his long years of service and passion for social justice. The Irish would say, “Phil was a grand old man.”

 

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