Hibernians urge retention of U.S. North envoy

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson


By Ray O’Hanlon

The Ancient Order of Hibernians is urging members of Congress who take an active interest in Ireland to oppose plans by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to scrap the position of a U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland and the peace process.

Tillerson has proposed sweeping cuts at the State Department, not just with regard to State Department staff members and diplomats, but also to the ranks of U.S. special envoys assigned to a number of countries, regions and global issues, including Northern Ireland.

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Tillerson’s plans for eliminating and downgrading envoy positions were contained in a letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Senator Bob Corker, and first reported by CNN earlier this week.

Corker, a Tennessee Republican, is broadly supportive of the cuts and eliminations.

The AOH, however, has described the proposal to scrap the north envoy as “appalling” and wants Congress members to push back against the Secretary of State.

The order has sent letters to the members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the Congressional Friends of Ireland caucus asking them to voice their objection to any plan to eliminate the role of Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, said a statement.

“Nearly twenty years ago, the historic Good Friday Agreement ended ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, proportionately one of the deadliest conflicts in world history.

“All parties to the conflict have acknowledged the leadership of United States Special Envoy to Northern Ireland George Mitchell was pivotal in reaching that historic accord,” said AOH National Political Education Chairman, Neil F. Cosgrove.

“The Good Friday Agreement is a landmark in U.S. Diplomacy and prima facie evidence of American leadership in the cause of peace and justice.

“It is therefore shocking that Secretary of State Tillerson has announced plans to eliminate the position of Special Envoy to Northern Ireland while many objectives of the Good Friday Agreement are yet to be realized and at a time when the Agreement, and the peace it fostered, is at risk,” Cosgrove stated.

Continued Cosgrove: “Apparently, Secretary Tillerson, and many in the government on both sides of the aisle, have confused the transitory peace which is a cessation of violence with the much greater vision of a permanent peace articulated in the Good Friday Agreement; a peace based on ‘parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment.’

“Twenty years on, we are still far from the goal of true peace. We need only look at recent actions targeting those who wish to express their identity through the Irish language and reports that the Catholic community of Northern Ireland faces disproportionate hurdles in accessing housing to see that the Good Friday Agreement aspiration of ‘parity of esteem’ has yet to move from paper to practice.

“In the nearly twenty years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland has yet to materialize and attempts to address the legacies of the past with justice have continually met with obstruction.

“The most tangible symbol of the Good Friday Agreement, the power shared devolved Northern Ireland parliament, is currently in collapse with no sign of restoration.

“Brexit, which the communities of Northern Ireland as a whole rejected, threatens economic upheaval to a fragile Northern Ireland economy and a return to "hard borders" in Ireland both physical and psychological.

“The recent alliance between Prime Minister May’s Tories and Northern Ireland’s DUP cast more than reasonable doubt on the United Kingdom’s ability to govern with ‘rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions’ as called for by the Good Friday Agreement.”

Perseverance, stated Mr. Cosgrove, was a deeply held American virtue.

“Americans take pride in staying the course until the job is done. It is for this reason that the proposal to eliminate the position of Special Envoy to Northern Ireland while the promise of the Good Friday Agreement has yet to be achieved is appalling,” he stated.

“The Hibernians cannot think of a scenario or time when U.S. leadership as embodied in a Special Envoy is more needed, especially given the unimaginable consequences of a failure of the Good Friday Agreement.

“Having started the journey by helping to map out the route now is the wrong time for the U.S. to signal it is taking the off ramp on the road to peace in Northern Ireland before the journey is completed.

“The Hibernians call on the members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the Congressional Friends of Ireland Caucus to oppose any plan to eliminate the role of Special Envoy to Northern Ireland and call on Secretary Tillerson to immediately put forth a candidate who can help deliver on the promise of the Good Friday Agreement and finish the job Senator Mitchell began.”