May 4, 2021
The Honorable William Keating
2351 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Re: May 5, 2021 Hearing on “Reaffirming the Good Friday Agreement.
Dear Congressman Keating:
We write to you as members of the National Board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, with membership in all fifty states the largest Irish American organization in the United States, concerning your May 5, 2021 hearing on “Reaffirming the Good Friday Agreement.” Given the currents taking place in the north of Ireland, we do not believe that your hearing could be more timely or more needed, and we commend you for convening this hearing.
The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) is a seminal triumph in the history of diplomacy, reaffirming that peaceful negotiation can prevail no matter how long or bitter the conflict. It is a beacon of hope that shines beyond the shores of Ireland to other nations still mired in the morass of sectarian strife. It has allowed a generation to grow up in a peace that was unimagined before the GFA was signed. The U.S. can take just pride in its role in helping to facilitate the agreement, reaffirming itself as a leader in the cause of peace. As Americans, we can not see that legacy tarnished, or the chance for a lasting peace squandered.
The recent turmoil in Northern Ireland amongst hardline members of the Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist (PUL) community and their primary political party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), resulting in the resignation of their first minister Arlene Foster are causes for grave concern. The root cause is the United Kingdom’s decision to pursue Brexit without pausing to consider Brexit’s impacts on their signed commitments under the GFA. The DUP was ardent in their support of Brexit, even though the community of Northern Ireland they represent rejected it by 56%; the DUP played a pivotal role in the downfall of former Prime Minister Theresa May by thwarting her attempts to pursue a softer Brexit.
The current upheaval in the DUP is a testament to the old aphorism “be careful of what you wish for, lest you get it.” Now, the DUP, the only major party not to support the Good Friday Agreement, disingenuously claims that the “Northern Ireland Protocol” of the Brexit withdrawal agreement violates the Good Friday Agreement. The “Northern Ireland Protocol” is a mitigation solely necessitated by the Brexit the DUP campaigned for, a Brexit that violated the foundational Good Friday principle of consent. It is ironic that a DUP which has strenuously fought against the implementation of the most innocuous provision of the Good Friday Agreement, support for those who wish to express their Irish identity through the medium of the Irish language, is now sounding alarms over their perception that their Brexit poses to their identity. It would be farcical if it were not for senior DUP leaders, such as Mr. Sammy Wilson, MP, exploiting these fears to incite their base with statements such as “We will fight guerrilla warfare against [The Northern Irish Protocol] until the big battle opportunity comes.” We have seen all too well and all too recently in our own country the effects such inflammatory speech by a political leader can have. Such statements have resulted in the recent photos of youths throwing petrol bombs on the streets of Belfast, images that we had prayed were consigned to history.
The Good Friday Agreement has stood as a breakwater against this rising tide of violence and invective. However, we cannot be complacent. We must acknowledge that the stones of that breakwater have never been properly cemented by the full implementation of the GFA by the British Government. In addition to failing to bring forth the committed support for the Irish language, two decades on, there is still no promised bill of rights for the people of Northern Ireland. Most
egregiously, the U.K. government has consistently dissembled and prevaricated on dealing with its role in the legacy issues of the Northern Ireland Conflict. The north of Ireland can not move forward shackled to the far too numerous ghosts of the past crying for justice. Rather than cementing the agreement, recent attempts by the British Government to shield the activities of their agents and proxies in Northern Ireland during the conflict threaten to undermine its foundation by creating a specially protected class in contradiction to all civilized norms of law.
At this time of volatility and uncertainty in Northern Ireland, we must recommit to the complete implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. History shows that peace in Ireland only advances when the United States signals it is a U.S. priority. The United States must send such a signal now. We respectfully ask Congressman Keating that your subcommittee send a recommendation to the President calling for the appointment of a Special Envoy to Northern Ireland who can finish the noble work Senator Mitchell started nearly a quarter-century ago.
Daniel J. O’Connell, Neil F. Cosgrove
Nation President, Ancient Order of Hibernians Political Action Chair
CC: Members of the Subcommittee on Europe, Energy, the Environment, and Cyber