By Stephen McKinley
Staten Island was the surprise destination for a group of politicians and town councillors from Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council recently, where they enjoyed a luncheon in their honor and held meetings with a view to establishing greater business ties between Tyrone and Staten Island — and applauded the progress on building an unusual golf course back in Ireland.
How they found their way to New York City, however, was partly the work of Staten Island businessman Michael J. Miglino, who helped forge a partnership two years ago between Dungannon and Staten Island in New York. Miglino welcomed Dungannon mayor Francie Molloy and town Councilor and former Fermanagh-South Tyrone Member of Parliament Lord Ken Maginnis of Drumglass, and their colleagues, Councilor Jim Cavanagh, economic development officer for the west of Northern Ireland Jim Douglas, and council Chief Executive William Beattie.
Miglino, vice president of ADCO Electrical Corporation and a member of the Staten Island Economic Development Committee, found his way first to Dublin, and later to Northern Ireland on several business trips across the Atlantic in the 1990s. The luncheon on Nov. 8 at the College of Staten Island was partly to celebrate the progress made on a plan established two years ago to build a golf course and hotel complex on the border between County Tyrone in Northern Ireland and County Monaghan in the Irish Republic by a manor house called Favour Royal.
The _20 million complex, which is under construction and is believed to be two years from completion, is to include an 80-bedroom hotel as well as the cross-border golf course that would be endorsed by golf professional Nick Price.
“It’s a unique golf course,” Miglino told those gathered. “It’s not only in Northern Ireland, but it crosses the border. You play a few holes in the Republic.”
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Crossing borders was at the forefront of the agenda during lunch, as first Mayor Molloy and then his colleagues from Tyrone paid tribute to the unique and well-tried power-sharing arrangement in Dungannon council, while explaining recent political advances to their Staten Island colleagues. During the Troubles, Dungannon council was often deadlocked along sectarian lines. The idea of rotating the chair of the council every six months led to greater cooperation, efficiency and understanding.
“Dungannon,” said Miglino, “is a model for what has happened in Northern Ireland.” He addressed Maginnis and reminded him of the chilly encounter on “Larry King Live” in 1994 between him and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams when the pair had refused to look each other in the eye.
When it was Molloy’s turn to address the gathering, he acknowledged that the reforms of the Good Friday agreement still had some way to go.
“Today we still have teething troubles, but that’s politics. We have a new stable situation,” he said.
Each speaker turned his attention to the more serious economic conditions in Tyrone. Maginnis recalled the change of the years as agriculture, once 50 percent of the local economy, declined to “well below 10 percent.” New opportunities had to be created, Maginnis told the audience, because for too long “we [have been] losing our best young people. We have to run to stand still, to create job opportunities and the quality of life. That’s why we’re here today.”
After Maginnis, long-serving local SDLP Councilor Jim Cavanagh spoke, paying tribute to Miglino’s interest and enthusiasm for the South Tyrone region.
“Very often visitors concentrated on south of the border. Only recently have they ventured north of the border. Our district will benefit,” Cavanagh said. Cavanagh later took the floor and sang “Come Back Paddy Reilly” for the delighted Staten Island audience.
Afterward, the South Tyrone delegation headed for St. George and an afternoon meeting with local councilors there. Cavanagh was optimistic about the prospects for Dungannon and South Tyrone.
“The strengths in East and South Tyrone are in manufacturing, similar in some ways to Staten Island,” he said. “Projects like the Favour Royal golf course are dependent on our economy and on a viable peace process, which we have.”