A Question of Priorities
In accordance with a resolution which was enthusiastically and unanimously passed at our AOH/LAOH National Convention in Boston in 2006, an AOH National Board Committee for Veterans Affairs was created. It was also unanimously approved by the delegates that the sum of $5,000 would be donated by our National Board to agencies providing services to veterans of our own American armed forces. The newly formed committee under the leadership of Chairman John J. Kelly with the approval of our National Board determined that the initial amount would be distributed equally between the Archdiocese for the Military Services and the Wounded Warriors Project. It was my distinct honor, as our National President, to accompany our National Board Chairman of Veterans Affairs when the checks were presented with our sincere hope that they would be, hopefully, the first of many such donations from the members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America.
Once again at our National Convention in New Orleans in 2008, the legendary generosity of our members was evident when, in response to another resolution, they enthusiastically approved a similar amount to be donated to our National Committee for Veterans Affairs. We can be justly proud of our members, many of whom are veterans themselves, for recognizing the needs of our American veterans, young and old, and responding so generously to those needs. In the intervening time this very worthy cause has been taken up by several AOH State and County Boards, Divisions, and individual members. The troubling aspect is that, to the best of my knowledge, in the nearly four years since, there have been no further donations made by our AOH National Board for distribution by the National Committee for Veterans Affairs. The obvious question has to be - Why?
It seems to me that either our Annual National Board Christmas Appeal or our Hibernian Charity, or both, would be perfect vehicles to make donations to provide much needed assistance to agencies that provide services to our own American veterans, many of whom have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with life altering injuries sustained in service to the United States of America.
There seems to be a widely accepted opinion among our members that all of the money donated by our members to our National Board Christmas Appeal each year must be donated to charities in the North of Ireland. This is simply not true. Our State and County Boards, Divisions, and individual members when making donations to the Christmas Appeal or the Hibernian Charity are perfectly within their rights and, very frankly, should be encouraged to specify which charities are to be the recipients of their generosity.
We can be very proud of the fact that our AOH National Board Christmas Appeal for many years provided aid and comfort to the dependents of political prisoners in the North when husbands and fathers were imprisoned for their political beliefs. We also agreed that our help would continue through a transitional period following their release in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement. But, as in every case of recovery, there comes a time when those receiving help from others must take the initiative and provide the necessary steps to complete their own recovery. Eleven years after the closing of Long Kesh and similar institutions where political prisoners were incarcerated should certainly be more than enough time for them to have taken those steps.
The dismal percentage of Divisions that have donated to the Annual Christmas Appeal in recent years may be indicative of the feelings of the membership that perhaps it is time to diversify our donations and identify other worthy recipients for our charitable works. It should be kept in mind that even though our members are extremely proud of their Irish heritage and strive to preserve all aspects of it here in the United States, the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America is an American charitable organization.
Many in our membership are several generations removed from our ancestral homeland. Indeed, many have never set foot in Ireland. Therefore our charitable donations should include worthy causes here at home and throughout the economically depressed island of Ireland. Here at home, I refer specifically to those agencies providing services to our own American freedom fighters., Charity begins at home and we, as Americans, should never miss an opportunity to help those who gave so much to preserve our precious freedom and our cherished American way of life. All gave some, some gave all!
Please give very careful thought to the enormous sacrifices that these valiant young men and women have made for us and exercise your right to specify the recipients of your generosity!
Jack Meehan, Past National President
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America