In Memoriam: Bob Linnon, The Quiet Man
If memory serves me correctly Bob Linnon was the third National President of the Irish American Unity Conference (IAUC) following the founder Jim Delaney of Chicago, Ill and San Antonio, TX and the irrepressible Dan Kennedy, a native son of Ireland and then Detroit, MI. The IAUC was a newcomer on the activist Irish American scene after the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Irish Northern Aid Committee but quickly established itself as a player by appealing to civil rights and human rights activists and professionals from every religious and political persuasion.
A Seton Hall Professor, Linnon seemed perfectly suited to lead such an organization and he did so skillfully at one of the most critical times in the history of the Anglo-Irish conflict. The AOH and INA had long records of fundraising and in giving voice to the victims of British oppression in the North of Ireland. But the IAUC under Bob’s leadership expanded the limited lobbying efforts in Washington and established a base there which continues today in efforts to highlight British abuses of law and justice and most recently their discrimination against the Gaelic language.
He traveled the length and breadth of this nation to testify on behalf of laws linking the use of the MacBride Fair Employment Principles in investing and purchasing with public funds. He was a catalyst in the Council of Presidents of Irish-American Organizations which strengthened the voice of all in the corridors of power on Capitol Hill and in State capitols like Boston, Albany, Columbus and Sacramento. His cool command of facts and issues and quiet demeanor became a trademark of all those he called to Washington for Lobby Day.
However, perhaps his finest hour came when he called for an investigation into how the International Fund for Ireland money was being used. The brainchild of then Speaker Tip O’Neil, the IFI was quickly crafted by the British to disburse the funds only to loyalist groups East of the Bann River thus reinforcing decades old discrimination against Catholic/Nationalist groups. The Irish government played its usual supporting role in this and few in America were ready to make waves against Speaker O’Neil’s project. Faced with the research conducted by IAUC member Professor Gerry Coleman with the insight of the late Oliver Kearney, President Linnon arranged for an appearance before the Foreign Affairs sub-Committee of Lee Hamilton. The scathing IAUC testimony prompted a St Patrick’s Day op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal exposing the waste and abuse and oversight was improved at once. Bob’s courage in standing up to powerful interests defined the man, the issue and proved the IAUC as a group to be reckoned with in advocating on all issues.
Apart from his leadership and fierce pride in IAUC initiatives, Bob Linnon was a man of a sincerity and compassion that was easily felt by all those he worked with in America and, more importantly, by those long victimized by British troops and their treachery. He was a credit to his profession as he patiently worked to educate the media, legislators, citizens and other educators on the finer points of extradition, deportation and why the term famine was appropriated by the British to describe An Gorta Mor.
On behalf of President Kate McCabe and my fellow Board Members we extend our sincere condolences to Bob’s family and friends and thank God for his example of commitment and courage in the fight to end the partition of Ireland.
Michael J. Cummings
Member, National Board