Coveney in flurry of D.C. meetings

Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney (foreground) and Irish Ambassador to the United States, Dan Mulhall, arriving at the State Department.

By Ray O'Hanlon

Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, is on Capitol Hill Wednesday for a series of meetings with administration officials and members of Congress that will focus heavily on Brexit.

Coveney is due to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Congressional Friends of Ireland. He will also meet Senators Chris Murphy and Pat Toomey.

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Additional meetings include a get together with the bipartisan Ad Hoc Committee to Protect the Good Friday Agreement, chaired by former House members Bruce Morrison and Jim Smith, with President Trumps' National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, and Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun. Mr. Coveney is also addressing the Aspen Institute during his visit.

While Brexit is a prime topic of discussions Mr. Coveney is also flying Ireland's flag in the context of Ireland taking up a two year United Nations Security Council seat in January.

The Ad Hoc Committee to Protect the GFA, in a statement after its meeting with Coveney said: "The Ad Hoc Committee was briefed today by Irish Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney as part of his two day trip to Washington D.C.

"The Minister provided a detailed briefing on the intense negotiations now taking place and expressed Ireland's clear opposition to the effort by the UK government to breach the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement which is an international treaty.

"He encouraged the Ad Hoc Committee to remain vigilant and noted that the United States has been a powerful ally in making clear that there will be no chance of a UK/US trade deal being approved next year if the UK government continues to undercut the Good Friday Agreement. The Minister was forceful in making the case that Northern Ireland Protocol, which took three years to craft if fully implemented, was designed to protect the Good Friday Agreement."

James Walsh, co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee stated: "The recent decision by the HMG to demand that the language of the Internal Markets bill supersede the Northern Ireland Protocol is unhelpful and is close to an act of bad faith as far as we are concerned. The British government needs to show by its actions that it values the hard won Good Friday Agreement which it was a signatory and remains obligated to fully implement. It is not hard to rekindle doubts among Irish Americans. British actions have led to a strong resurgence of interest among Irish Americans in the peace process and the Ad Hoc Committee has recruited many new members. Building a green wall to protect the GFA is something we know how to do.”

Ad Hoc Co-chair Bruce Morrison stated that the Tánaiste also made clear that the European Union is prepared to get a trade deal done that protects the Good Friday Agreement.

“We were encouraged by the optimistic tone of the Minister regarding the prospects of a trade deal sufficient to alleviate any risk to the NI Protocol. We were even more encouraged that he was confident that even in the absence of a deal, the EU can be expected to enforce the Protocol—a binding treaty under international law—and not be forced to defend the EU single market with any enforcement at the border on the Island of Ireland. The British may think they can shift the obligation to defend the single market to the Irish, but we were assured that any such effort will fail,” said Morrison.

While in the nation's capital Minister Coveney announced a new initiative, the Frederick Douglass Global Fellowships, which will see ten students from minority backgrounds in the U.S. receive scholarships to study in Ireland in the summer of 2021.

The initiative is, in part, designed to celebrate the 175th anniversary - which falls this week - of Douglass’s meeting with Daniel O’Connell.

As part of the initiative launch, Minister Coveney will address a digital event hosted by Georgetown University, the African American Irish Diaspora Network and others.