Martin Galvin with a an unedited version of a letter that appeared in yesterday's Irish News.
Most readers will not know of the recent death of former Bronx Congressman Mario Biaggi, or why someone long away from Congress would deserve mention today. However anyone familiar with the critical decades of the 1970s and 1980s will recall this heroic pathfinder for justice.
These were tumultuous years when the British shifted from Internment to criminalization leading to ten Hunger Strike deaths in 1981.British complicity in collusion murders was smugly denied. Even open murder on Bloody Sunday could be whitewashed.
Congressman Biaggi came to the fore in the early 70s, speaking against Internment, the Ballymurphy Massacre and visiting the north after Bloody Sunday. However, unlike many American politicians, he never gave up. Mario Biaggi’s office was the first place we called upon in response to every new British injustice. We knew that he would spearhead an immediate Congressional protest that the British could not ignore.
He founded a bipartisan Ad Hoc Congressional Committee on Irish Affairs and enlisted more than 120 Senators and Congressmen. Biaggi championed the north even when his willingness to hear Irish Republicans alongside all other viewpoints, brought opposition and indeed vilification.
During these years of Section 31 and Broadcasting Ban censorship the British and Irish governments deemed Irish Republicans best unseen and unheard. The Irish government of those years, along with the SDLP, ridiculed Mario Biaggi and convinced some politicians with Irish surnames like Moynihan and Kennedy to attack him.
Instead of being intimidated, Biaggi became more determined. He often remarked “those who should be leading the fight against British injustice with us, are instead siding with the British against us. It will not stop us.”
Biaggi had nothing to gain politically. He was of Italian ancestry and did not need Irish votes. He fought Irish issues out of feelings that went beyond political interest.
His Committee wanted visas for Sinn Fein, hearings on the north to include all parties, and access to brief the President on the north. Much of this foreshadowed George Mitchell. One can only speculate what could have been achieved if those who should have been leading the fight had not sided against him.
In 1984 the Royal Ulster Constabulary brutally attacked a peaceful Belfast rally when Gerry Adams called me to the platform despite a British ban against me. Biaggi organized a Congressional hearing, then summoned members of Congress, Irish-American leaders and the press. Before the hearing he took me aside privately. He was visibly, palpably angry. He referred to the family of John Downes and everyone attacked that day and said “We will show the British they can’t do this to us!” It was this feeling that he was one of “us” with the victims of British injustice that should be remembered at his passing.