from Martin Galvin,Esq., National FFAI Chairman …
FFAI ISSUES UPDATE
A -Boris Johnson threatens Ireland and European Union with “no deal Brexit” unless new deal concessions-
After becoming British Prime Minister without any general election, popular mandate or Westminster majority , Boris Johnson began by threatening a no deal Brexit disaster on October 31st, unless the EU renegotiates the Withdrawal Agreement to his liking. He is gambling that the EU will bow to threats and offer major concessions to stop Britain from crashing out of Europe and forcing a hard border across Ireland. Johnson in his first Westminster speech as Prime Minister promised a “golden age”, ushered in by an October 31st withdrawal ” no ifs, no buts”. He said the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the British government under Theresa May was something “no country that values its independence and indeed its self-respect could agree” and its terms for the Irish border, a “monstrosity” “unacceptable”, “anti-democratic.” Johnson boasted that his regime was “turbocharging” preparations for a no deal Brexit crash out, if Europe refused to abolish the backstop. He snubbed Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, by not phoning him for six days.(Customarily incoming British Prime Ministers make a courtesy call to the head of the Irish government within a day of taking office).Johnson then clashed with Varadkar, saying the backstop must be abolished. Varadkar replied that the emergency measure was made necessary by British decisions. Ireland’s Tanaiste or Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney described Johnson’s strategy as “give me what I want or I will burn the house down for everybody.” He said if Johnson wants to “tear up” the existing Withdrawal Agreement with the EU “we are in trouble” and charged the British Prime Minister with deliberately putting Britain on a “collision course” with Ireland and the European Union. Johnson said he would not meet with French and German leaders unless they agree in advance to “abolish the backstop”.
The “backstop” was agreed by Britain and the EU as part of the 599 page Withdrawal Agreement to avoid a disastrous hard border across Ireland. Brexit would make the six counties Europe’s land border with Britain, requiring customs, import and immigration checks. The EU invited the north to remain in the customs union, with customs, immigration controls etc beginning in the Irish sea, (meaning at entry points into England, Scotland or Wales). Brexiteers within the Tory Party, backed the DUP, to veto a “backstop” or safety net that would only begin if a full trade agreement was not reached by the end of 2020.
Johnson took over for Theresa May after winning a contest within the Conservative Party. There was no general election and he needs 10 DUP votes for a majority in Westminster. Alliance Party head Naomi Long said “we need a statesman not a showman.” SDLP head Colum Eastwood said “Johnson coasted into Downing Street on a wave of Brexit bluff and bluster”. Michelle O’Neill said Sinn Fein would “engage Johnson on the fact that there is nothing good to come from Brexit”.
B -New amnesty moves for British troopers meet Congressional challenge-
In the closing days of the contest for Tory Party leadership, Boris Johnson vowed to end “unfair prosecutions” of British troopers for murders committed in the north between 1969-98 with a statute of limitations. (Read ‘unfair” as ‘any’ murder prosecutions of troopers). He quickly created a post of British Army veterans minister and named Johnny Mercer, the most vocal advocate of trooper amnesty at Westminster, to head it. The move would make a mockery of British claims that its troopers and constabulary were not “above the law” or did not act with impunity in the north. Only a handful of British troopers were ever imprisoned for murders like Ballymurphy or Bloody Sunday. There are growing British worries about prosecutions of former troopers, because proceedings like the Ballymurphy Massacre Inquest reveal how British troopers committed brutal murders which were white-washed by the crown.
Six Members of Congress joined in a bipartisan letter to Deputy British Ambassador Michael Tatum, citing American concerns about state force amnesty in legacy killings and Britain’s failure to implement agreed legacy mechanisms. The bipartisan Congressional initiative, joined by Representatives Peter King, Eliot Engel, Chris Smith, Brian Fitzpatrick, Nita Lowey and Brendan Boyle. The initiative also follows a recent AOH sponsored tour by Mark Thompson of Relatives For Justice and Edge Hill University Professor Mark McGovern, author of Counterinsurgency and Collusion in Northern Ireland. The British government repeatedly claimed that it was opposed to amnesty for killings by British military, including in a formal letter by then Ambassador Kim Darroch to Members of Congress on May 18,2018.An amnesty in the form of statute of limitations was overwhelmingly opposed by those who responded to the British government Consultation on legacy, announced earlier this month. However this policy was summarily discarded by the new Tory leader. Legacy mechanisms were agreed and published by the British government as part of the Stormont House Agreement of 2014. These mechanisms, which include a Historical Investigations Unit into Troubles killings, have never been implemented. Many nationalists believe that the HIU would bring charges against crown forces for killings or collusion with loyalists in murders.
C -Julian Smith, named six county secretary snubs Derry nationalists-
Julian Smith replaced Karen Bradley as Britain’s six county secretary. He was met by Bloody Sunday and Irish language protestors as he arrived in Derry for his first day in the new post. Smith who had been applauded on the stage as a “friend of the party” at the Democratic Unionist Party conference 2017, had been a key figure in keeping the DUP MPs propping up Theresa May. He visited a number of unionist landmarks, including the Apprentice Boys of Derry Siege Museum, the Apprentice Boys Walker’s Monument and the city walls. He avoided nearby nationalist sites such as the Bogside, Museum of Free Derry or Free Derry corner. Smith then said he would speak with all political parties in the north and treat them equally. However he is viewed as the DUP’s choice for the post, carrying out policies set by Boris Johnson who seems willing to sacrifice Irish interest for Westminster political gains. Meanwhile talks to restore the devolved Stormont Assembly, which has not sat since January 2017 continue. There is no agreement on key issues including an Irish Language Act, implementing legacy mechanisms, the Renewable Heat Initiative and social issues. Last year a DUP-Sinn Fein agreement fell apart on Valentine’s Day, when the DUP reneged on a compromise proposal allowing an Irish language Act along the lines of Scotland and Wales.
D -Bonfire threats by loyalists force City Council retreat-
July is not only marked by triumphal Orange parades across the north but also by hundreds of huge July 11th night bonfires. Many of these bonfires are topped off with posters of nationalists, KAT signs( meaning kill all Catholics), or Irish symbols which are publicly burned to cheers and sectarian songs as part of the celebrations. This year the most sinister example was a bonfire built in the parking lot of a Belfast City Council owned leisure center at Avoniel. When local residents called for the bonfire materials to be removed from the city owned property, a crowd connected to the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force formed a barricade at the entrance to the parking lot. They made threats to staff and forced the facility to be closed. Belfast City Council made a formal complaint to the PSNI constabulary about “aggravated trespassing” and hired contractors to remove the bonfire materials. The names of the contractors were leaked to loyalists. Threatening graffiti naming the contractors was painted on the walls, with slogans like contractors “attack loyalism at your own risk!” Instead of enforcing the City’s right to remove the materials, constabulary warned there was a risk of “serious violence” using firearms if council workers made any attempt to dismantle the bonfire. Belfast City Council then gave up efforts to remove the bonfire.
AOH BUILDING CONGRESSIONAL SUPPORT FOR FFAI
This past week anyone reading the daily papers in the north, the nationalist IRISH NEWS or the unionist BELFAST TELEGRAPH or anyone reading the Irish American papers, the IRISH ECHO and IRISH VOICE, read about AOH supporting victims’ families in the north by getting a major Congressional letter on legacy justice to the British Ambassador. We got many phone calls and email messages from Ireland, thanking the AOH, and telling us that American Congressional initiatives have a major impact on the British and are a morale boost for those fighting for justice.
The AOH got word on Friday afternoon that Congressman Peter King agreed to take the lead. Over the weekend we were able to get five more co-signers, including important committee chairs. The AOH was able to accomplish this because AOH members in local districts have contacted representatives and said Irish Americans in their constituency wanted them to take a stand and support us on the key issue of legacy justice.
We want to build up a network of Congressmen, who are aware of key FFAI issues and the importance of Irish issues to voters in their district. Brothers living in Congressional districts across the country, are a key part of building that network.