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MacBride finally law in California

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

A 12-year campaign to pass MacBride Principles legislation in California finally succeeded last week when Gov. Gray Davis signed a MacBride bill into state law.

The move means that California’s state pension funds, currently valued at a massive $248 billion, will be used to help persuade U.S. companies doing business in Northern Ireland to implement the nine fair-employment guidelines named after the late Sean MacBride.

Under the new law, California will support pro-MacBride shareholder resolutions at annual general meetings of relevant companies.

Additionally, the new law mandates the California Public Employees Retirement System, and the California State Teachers Retirement System, to annually investigate if relevant companies are in compliance with MacBride. California’s constitution allows the State Legislature to pull investment from non-MacBride companies in the North if the legislature so votes.

Of the state’s $248 billion in pension fund money, roughly $11 billion is directly invested in U.S. companies operating in the North.

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The signing of the latest MacBride bill by Gov. Davis, a Democrat, follows three successive vetoes of California MacBride legislation. Gov. George Deukmejian, a Republican, vetoed a MacBride bill passed by both houses of the California legislature in 1989. His successor and fellow Republican, Pete Wilson, cast his vetoes in 1991 and 1994. The ’94 veto was on the eve of the first visit to California of Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.

In 1991, Wilson described the MacBride legislation he vetoed as "redundant and unnecessary at best" and a threat to the economic well being of Northern Ireland on the grounds that it discouraged U.S. investment.

By 1994, with prospects for peace in the North on the rise after the first IRA cease-fire, Wilson justified the veto by saying that those improved prospects for peace made MacBride legislation even less relevant. MacBride backers, however, rejected Wilson’s view and vowed to maintain the campaign.

The initial mover of MacBride legislation in California was longtime political activist and now State Senator Tom Hayden. In subsequent years, the leading proponent became State Assemblyman, now State Senator, John Burton. The bill just signed by Davis was largely crafted by Burton.

Since the inception of the MacBride campaign in 1984, MacBride legislation has been passed by 18 states, the District of Colombia and about 30 other cities and municipalities.

Nine out of the 10 largest industrial states — the exception being Ohio — are now backing the principles. And California’s move means that over 50 percent of pension funds in the entire United States are now arrayed behind the fair-employment guidelines.

Davis, a former California State comptroller, is a long-time MacBride supporter and following his election last year, MacBride campaigners were confidently predicting that they would finally be getting their hands on the state they describe as "the jewel in the crown."

"This is a day we’ve long hoped for, and long worked for," said Fr. Sean McManus, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Irish National Caucus.

"Equality must be the heart and soul of the Irish peace process. The MacBride campaign is all about making sure that U.S. dollars do not subsidize discrimination in Northern Ireland."

McManus was present in Sacramento in May 1987 for the first California MacBride hearing. Also present were Hayden, fair-employment campaigner from Belfast Oliver Kearney, and Pat Doherty of the New York City Comptroller’s Office.

New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi was quick to congratulate Davis for signing the California bill. The New York Comptroller’s office coordinates U.S.-wide shareholder action in support of the MacBride campaign.

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