Ad Hoc group forms to protect GFA

Theresa May and Leo Varadkar. photo


By Irish Echo Staff

An Ad Hoc Committee to Protect the Good Friday Agreement has been established by a group of leading Irish Americans.

And the committee has sent a letter to British Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar outlining their concerns regarding the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, this in the context of the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

The committee is bipartisan and reflects the broad spectrum of Irish America, said a release.

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“The recent decision by the Prime Minister and the Parliament to seek to re-open the withdrawal agreement and find an alternative to the Backstop has put the Good Friday Agreement into play. This alarms us,” said a statement from the committee which is co-chaired by former members of Congress James Walsh, a Republican, and Bruce Morrison, a Democrat.

“The Backstop is the insurance policy that protects the GFA and the GFA cannot be used as a bargaining chip as the Brexit advocates search for an alternative arrangement,” said James Walsh.

“The United States led by President Clinton and former Senator George Mitchell worked tirelessly to bring the GFA about and many of us have continued to work and support the peace process during the last twenty years.

“Political leaders who support Brexit seem to have little knowledge of Northern Ireland and are continuing to play down the role of the GFA in maintaining the peace in their effort to leave the E.U.”

Walsh added: “The majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to Remain. Business leaders and even Unionist farmers have made it quite clear that they want to keep the Backstop in the withdrawal agreement but no one in London seems to be listening to them. A hard border will divide an already divided society even more. The GFA has kept the peace in Northern Ireland for over 20 years and it must be protected at all costs.”

The Ad hoc Committee includes two former U.S. Senators, five former U.S. Ambassadors and leaders of prominent Irish American organizations such as the American Ireland Fund and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Those signing the letter include the most recent U.S Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley, Brian O’Dwyer, Grand Marshal of the this year’s New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, John Fitzpatrick, Chair of the American Ireland Fund, former U.S. Senator Gary Hart, who acted as the Special Representative for Northern Ireland for then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, former Lt. Governor of Maryland Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, former Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe, former Governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley and foreign policy experts Nancy Soderberg and Jake Sullivan.

Former Congressman and committee co-chair Bruce Morrison said: “pro-Brexit advocates have been diminishing the importance of the GFA almost to the point of dismissing it.

“This really is short sighted and the ongoing debate is only resurrecting old animosities and stereotypes. The people of Ireland, North and South overwhelmingly supported the GFA in the 1998 referendum. They know what is at stake.”

Morrison added: “Peace is not inevitable in Northern Ireland. Stormont has already been mothballed for close to two years and the dissidents still have a capacity to cause trouble.

“A border defined by customs posts, checks points and infrastructure would reshape the economic, emotional and political landscape and resurrect the memories of the border when it was militarized during the Troubles.”

Ambassador Kevin O’Malley noted that Prime Minister May had reaffirmed her support for keeping the border open, protecting the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and arriving at an agreement that "commands broad support" from the people of Northern Ireland.

“That would be a trifecta of a win given the fact that the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to Remain and support the Backstop while the DUP views the Backstop as ‘toxic,’” said O’Malley. “We hope she can square the circle. We really do. We will be watching closely and working with our colleagues in the U.S. Congress to do all we can to protect the Good Friday Agreement."

Leaders of the Ad Hoc committee, said the statement, were seeking to meet with both the Irish and British ambassadors in Washington and senior U.S. State Department officials to make the case that Irish America was “mobilized and vigilant.”

The committee would be working closely with the U.S. Congress “to support and protect the Good Friday Agreement,” the statement concluded.

The full text of the letter and list of signatories is carried in this week’s issue of the Irish Echo. More on Grand Marshal Brian O'Dwyer at