Congressman Richard Neal speaking at the NCAFP gathering in New York
By Ray O’Hanlon
The Brexit maelstrom might be three thousand miles to the east, but it was the topic of hot discussion on Thursday evening of last week in two U.S. cities less than three hundred miles apart – New York and Washington. D.C.
In New York, Congressman Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and the congressional Friends of Ireland, led a discussion on Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement at an event hosted by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.
The gathering, at the Union Club in Manhattan, was headlined as a George D. Schwab Foreign Policy Briefing.
Also that evening, the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame hosted a discussion in the nation’s capital on “Brexit, Brinkmanship, and the Future of Ireland: The Role of the U.S. in safeguarding the Northern Ireland Peace Process.”
Participants included Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut, Representative Peter King from New York and the top Republican in the Friends of Ireland, Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Mulhall, Andrew McCormick and Amanda Sloat.
The discussion was moderated by Tom Wright of the Brookings Institute.
The evening, which included a reception, is being presented by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies and the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies.
In New York, Congressman Neal delivered a broad assessment of the current political landscape in Northern Ireland since the collapse of devolved government, the constantly evolving situation surrounding Brexit, the potential threat to the Good Friday Agreement posed by Brexit, and the position he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have taken with regard to any future post-Brexit U.S./UK trade deal.
Mr. Neal, whose committee determines the details and passage U.S. trade deals, and Speaker Pelosi, have warned that there will be no approval for a deal if Brexit damages the GFA and the peace process.
“Joined by a distinguished audience, Congressman Neal's remarks were supplemented by comments from many long-time Ireland watchers, and even members of the diplomatic corps in New York,” said a release from the National Committee.
Among the participants in the gathering was NCAFP Vice-Chair Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, a pivotal figure in the Clinton administration’s peace efforts in Northern Ireland.
It was a conference organized by the National Committee in 1994 - with the late Bill Flynn the guiding hand - that resulted in President Bill Clinton granting a first ever U.S. visa to Gerry Adams. That gathering was also attended by John Hume who would later be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the Gandhi Peace Prize.
The NCAFP has lately expressed its concern over the possible damage to the Good Friday Agreement and peace process that might follow Brexit.
The Union Club gathering was formally opened by National Committee Chairman Jeff Shafer, former Under Secretary for International Affairs at the U.S. Treasury Department. It was attended by NCAFP president emeritus George Schwab and trustee John Connorton, who introduced to the room many of the attendees including Irish Consul General in New York Ciaran Madden, and British Consul General, Antony Phillipson.
Congressman Neal delivered his assessment in part as a response to questions posed by NCAFP’s president, Ambassador Susan Elliot, whose diplomatic career included a posting at the U.S. Consulate in Belfast.