Council bill targets Irish investments

January 26, 1993|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

The Baltimore City Council is supporting a bill requiring the city's retirement systems to sell their interests in companies doing business in Northern Ireland if the firms don't abide by a set of principles aimed at eliminating discrimination against Roman Catholics.

The ordinance, introduced yesterday by Councilman Perry Sfikas, D-1st, was co-sponsored by all 18 other council members.

"When I was campaigning in [Irish Catholic sections of] Northeast Baltimore, it was one of the issues raised repeatedly," Mr. Sfikas said.

"But this is not only a matter of meeting a constituent request, it also is a matter of social justice."

Backers of the so-called MacBride Principles, nine points that sketch something of an affirmative action program for Catholics in Northern Ireland, say outside pressure is needed to ensure that Catholics in Northern Ireland receive fair treatment in the workplace.

Supporters of the council measure say that anti-Catholic discrimination has been a fact of life in mostly Protestant Northern Ireland since the British government established the state in 1921.

Catholics are 2 1/2 times as likely as Protestants to be unemployed, even though Catholics and Protestants have roughly the same educational and job qualifications, according to supporters of the MacBride Principles.

If the council passes the MacBride Principles bill, it will not be the first time that the city has attempted to use its pension funds as a lever for social justice.

In 1986, after heated debate, the council passed a bill requiring the retirement systems to sell their interests in firms doing business in South Africa, with its rigid govern

ment-sanctioned system of racial segregation and discrimination against blacks, and Namibia, or South West Africa, a country administered by South Africa.

The principles are named after the late Dr. Sean MacBride, a Nobel laureate who founded Amnesty International and headed a committee that first proposed them in 1984.

Already in this country, 30 other cities and 13 states have passed legislation similar to what is being considered in Baltimore.

Although the ordinance in Baltimore enjoys unanimous support from the council, it still must go to hearings and be voted by the legislative body.

Also, President Clinton has endorsed the principles as "appropriate guidelines" for addressing the disparities in Northern Ireland.

Council members said it is unclear just how much of the $1.8 FTC billion in pension money controlled by the city's three retirement systems would be affected by implementation of the MacBride Principles, although several said it would be a "minor amount" of money.

"It is not huge in terms of the overall dollar value," said Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th, chairman of the Taxation and Finance Committee, to which the legislation has been assigned.

Mr. Murphy said administrators of the city's pension systems have yet to do an analysis of the potential impact of the legislation.

He said he does not expect a protracted and heated debate over the bill introduced yesterday, as occurred with the South Africa bill, because of the relatively small impact he expects it will have on the value of the pension systems' holdings.

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