Leading Hibernians, joined by Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice, secured crucial Senate, House, and Irish Oireachtas support against the planned British Amnesty bill last week in Washington. The emergency lobby took place as Britain moves to rush through an amnesty bill despite overwhelming opposition across Ireland. A key public statement by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, a new House Foreign Affairs Committee initiative, and backing for an Irish government case against Britain in the European Court of Human Rights, wereamong results which made the week one of the most importantlobbying missions by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in memory.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer agreed to meet three leading AOH members, President Danny O’Connell, Vice-President Sean Pender, and Freedom for all Ireland Chair Martin Galvin, accompanied by Mark Thompson for an emergency briefing on the British Northern Ireland Troubles Legacy and Reconciliation Bill. A visiting Irish Oireachtas Good Friday Agreement Committee, comprised of elected Senators, Members of Parliament, and Dail representatives, requested to attend and support the call for legacy justice. The Chair of the GFA Committee Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd, and Sinn MP John Finucane were added as attendees.
Mark Thompson, presented a briefing document on the British legislation and a copy of the Good Friday Agreement, then described the ‘heartbreak, cutting across generations, felt by thousands of victims RfJ represents, who have spent decades seeking truth about the murder of their loved ones, and now see the British government taking away all of their rights to justice enshrined under the European Convention of Human Rights and Good Friday Agreement.
Martin Galvin said that ‘American opposition in the Senate and House is believed to be the one thing which has delayed passage of the amnesty bill thus far and a strong statement from the Senate Majority Leader could make a crucial difference’.
Danny O’Connell noted that ‘all parties in the north, nationalist and unionist agree on very little but they are all opposed to the British amnesty bill’ while Sean Pender added that ‘all these victims want is the truth which has always been on their side.’
John Finucane MP said ‘These proposals are about protecting those in the corridors of power at Whitehall and Westminster.’
Fergus O’Dowd TD added the ’bill was opposed by all groups and communities in the north with whom the GFA Committee had spoken and by leading political parties in the south’.
That afternoon Senator Schumer responded with issued a strongly worded statement which said in part:
“I was pleased today to meet with Irish American leaders from AOH and leading Irish human rights advocates and elected representatives — including elected representatives John Finucane and Fergus O’Dowd — on a number of matters, including the unwelcome and unjustified amnesty legislation and the recently proposed legislation to unilaterally undermine the already negotiated and agreed upon Northern Irish Protocol.
“The proposed amnesty legislation would severely undermine both the system of engagement and institutions of justice set forth in the Good Friday Agreement and the Stormont House Agreement, which gave victims access to pursue truth and justice. The proposed amnesty legislation is unilateral and unwelcome by virtually all parties, as well as unjustified by the facts and history. I sincerely hope it will not gain support because it would serve to derail truth, reconciliation and justice for so many victims and would hurt, not help, the ongoing intent of the Good Friday Agreement to promote and preserve peace, mutual respect and shared prosperity.
Mark Thompson and the AOH members also gave an hour long briefing to Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff membersand held meetings with State Department officials to consider follow-up plans to Senator Schumer’s statement.
House Foreign Affairs
The AOH and Mark Thompson then held a series of briefings on the Amnesty bill with key members of the House of Representatives. Congressman Bill Keating the Chair of the Hose Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe suggested given the emergency timeframe, he might be able to arrange a special briefing where members could hear from witnesses and then make their own statements in opposition to the bill. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican on the Committee agreed to support this initiative.
The delegation then held a series of key meetings with Democrats Brendan Boyle, David Cicilline, and Jamal Bowman, and Republicans Chris Smith, Mike Kelly and Burgess Owens to ask support and participation in a House Foreign Affairs briefing.
Other briefings were held with House Foreign Affairs Committee staff and with key staffers for Congressman Richie Neal and Brian Higgins.
Good Friday Committee
AOH members, with Mark Thompson also met members of the GFA Committee delegation including Fergus O’Dowd TD, Peadar ToibinTD, John Finucane MP,Rose Conway-Walsh TDand Senator John McGahon
During this meeting Danny O’Connell asked the GFA Committee to recommend that the Irish government consider taking Britain to the European Court of Human Rights over the planned amnesty bill. An Irish government case at the European Court, could represent victims across the 32 counties and spare victims’ relatives’ years of delays exhausting local remedies in Crown and Appellate courts, before European Courts could consider the case.
Fergus O’Dowd, the Committee Chair said he would back such a move and recommend it to the full GFA Committee for approval.