A screen grab montage from an Irish Embassy Twitter feed shows moderator Caitriona Perry, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, and Congress members Peter King (bottom left) and Richard Neal.
By Irish Echo Staff
Georgetown University, University College Dublin, and Queens University Belfast this week jointly hosted a virtual gathering on the theme of “Bridging the Atlantic.”
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The event was the second of its kind, a physical gathering having taken place on the campus of the Washington, D.C.-based Georgetown a year ago.
This year’s lineup for the conference, which took place on Tuesday, November 17, included remarks from former president Bill Clinton and a panel discussion featuring Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, and U.S. House of Representatives members Peter King and Richard Neal in what was likely their final appearance together as co-chairs of the Friends of Ireland on Capitol Hill.
Caitriona Perry of RTE, a former Washington correspondent for the Irish national broadcaster, was moderator.
Congressman King, a Republican, and Congressman Neal, a Democrat, have found themselves in opposing camps on Capitol Hill over the years but they told participants that when it came to Ireland they were always on the same page. Both are former Irish Echo Irish Americans of the Year.
Congressman King is retiring from the House of Representatives at the end of the current lame duck session. In terms of sheer longevity, his record on involvement in issues of Irish American concern is virtually unmatched, and predates his membership of Congress.
Former president Clinton told the virtual gathering that the EU-UK negotiations on a post-Brexit trading arrangement were creating “tremendous uncertainty” in Northern Ireland.
He said the peace achieved two decades ago was something that “everyone should hold in their minds and hearts as we continue to work to the remaining challenges.
“I know that even today not all the problems in Northern Ireland have been solved, that the gridlock of recent years has taken a heavy toll, and that the ongoing Brexit negotiations are creating tremendous uncertainty.”
Looking back on his first visit to Belfast twenty five years ago he said: “When I think back to all the hopeful faces I saw on that trip 25 years ago, and the pleas of the children whose only Christmas wish was for the bloodshed to end, it is so important to step back and remember that the peace we achieved through the Good Friday Agreement has held.”
Clinton said he hoped that the bonds between the U.S. and the UK would “be strengthened” and that peace and democracy in Northern Ireland would “continue to hold.”
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, according to an Irish Times report, said he believed the incoming U.S. president, Joe Biden, would “continue to allow extraordinary access” to the White House for Irish politicians.
Mr. Coveney said Mr Biden’s intervention during the presidential campaign, warning about the risk of Brexit to the peace process, was a “reminder to Irish people” that he is “emotionally connected to Ireland” and “understands and feels a relationship with the peace process.”
“We are looking forward to seeing how we can maximize the potential of that relationship,” Coveney said.
Mr. Coveney, according to the Times report, said the UK government did not like the statements of support for Ireland from Mr Biden and politicians on Capitol Hill and were concerned by them. He dismissed claims by hardline Brexiteers that Mr. Biden was no friend of the UK as “complete nonsense.”
Congressman Neal, who chairs the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, and in that role will have a decisive say in the securing of any future UK/U.S. trade deal, said he expected Mr. Biden to “embrace the tenets of the Good Friday Agreement.”