Congressman Richard Neal
By Ray O’Hanlon
32 members of the U.S. House of Representatives – one for every Irish county – have signed on to a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging the retention of a U.S. envoy to Northern Ireland.
The letter, with the names of the co-chairs of the Friends of Ireland group atop it, states the view that it would be a “serious mistake” to eliminate the position.
With longtime congressional North veterans such as Reps. Richard Neal, Peter King and Joe Crowley signing on, the letter urges Tillerson’s “genuine consideration” in the matter of an envoy.
The letter states: “As members of Congress who have been involved in the effort to bring peace and reconciliation to the island of Ireland for more than two decades, we believe it would be a serious mistake to eliminate the position of Special Envoy to Northern Ireland at this time and we respectfully urge your genuine reconsideration.
“As you know, the role the United States played in the North of Ireland during the peace process was indispensable in helping to end the longest standing political dispute in the history of the western world. And that success was achieved in no small part because of the bipartisan work of Congress and the skilled diplomacy of successive special envoys appointed by Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama.
“By any standard, the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 represents one of America’s most successful foreign policy accomplishments in recent memory.
“It is also true that the GFA, which marks its 20th anniversary next year, established a blueprint and process for change that has not been fully implemented.
“The peace process is not over – it continues to require nurturing and support from the United States, especially since the devolved government in Belfast has been suspended since January, and the prospects of a return to direct rule from London cannot be ruled out.
“As well as recurrent political instability, furthering reconciliation and overcoming deep-rooted divisions remain as fundamental challenges for the peace process.
“Critical issues like the Irish language and the past remain unsolved. Given the current impasse, it is imperative that the United States continues to have a designated representative that remains engaged in the North with the five main political parties, and the Irish and British governments, to encourage fresh talks and help break the deadlock.”
The letter to Tillerson continues: “Of equal concern is Brexit and the implications it could have on the stability of the peace process.
“Any attempt to reestablish a hard border would be a mistake, endangering one of the most transformative gains of the peace process, which has facilitated normalization, reconciliation, and economic opportunity on the island of Ireland.
“A return to the days of checkpoints, visas or custom patrols along the 320-mile border would be a great step backwards. The political institutions, citizenship, rights and other provisions of the Good Friday Agreement also need to be protected from the upheaval of Brexit. The nearly 40 million Americans of Irish descent have begun to speak out on this issue, and they also believe it would be wrong to abolish the special envoy position at a time when Brexit negotiations are just beginning. The consequences are just too significant.
“These are the types of issues that previous envoys were able to effectively address – talking to both traditions, communicating with the Dublin and London governments, helping overcome complex impasses, and sending a strong message around the globe that the United States remains invested in the future of the North. Previous administrations have recognized the need for someone dedicated to the peace process, appointing not just envoys but some of America’s most seasoned leaders on both sides of the aisle including Senator George Mitchell and those that followed.
“This proposal deserves genuine reconsideration on its merits. Securing a special envoy for the North – instead of just Ambassadors to Britain and Dublin – has been a long- standing priority for the Irish American community and those interested in peace worldwide for good reason.
“We urge you to reexamine this proposal, reverse the decision, and appoint someone of the highest caliber and ability to be the Special Envoy.”
In addition to Neal, Crowley and King the bipartisan letter is signed by Reps. Tom O’Halleran,
Patrick Meehan, Michael Capuano, Gerald E. Connolly, James P. McGovern, Peter Welch, William Keating, Joseph P. Kennedy, III, Brian Higgins, Sean Patrick Maloney, Frank Pallone, Jr., Brendan F. Boyle, Stephen F. Lynch, John Conyers, Jr., Tom Suozzi, Seth Moulton, Bill Pascrell, Jr., Tim Murphy, Eliot Engel
Katherine Clark, Mike Doyle, John B. Larson, Albio Sires, Paul D. Tonko, Kathleen M. Rice, Joe Courtney, Daniel T. Kildee, John Lewis and Josh Gottheimer.