By Ray O’Hanlon
The RTE headline seemed to indicate that the Biden administration had pulled a weekend fast one:
It proclaimed: “Former Ireland rugby player appointed US special envoy.”
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
So President Joe Biden had acceded to what so many Irish Americans, and indeed Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, have been asking for these past four months and more.
As reported by RTE: “Former Ireland rugby international Trevor Ringland has been appointed by the British government as the first special envoy to the United States for Northern Ireland. “The announcement was made this morning by Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis.”
Not so much a fast one as selling a dummy because no one saw this one coming.
And if there was all along a race for the try line between The U.S. and British governments, it is the latter that has crossed it first.
Added the RTE report: “Sinn Féin has strongly criticised the move as the Stormont Executive was not consulted or informed before the announcement.
“Trevor Ringland, a solicitor, made 31 appearances in the green jersey and toured New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions in 1983. He also played for Ulster and Ballymena.
“In a statement, Mr Lewis said the appointment ‘reflects the UK Government’s enduring commitment to the peace, prosperity and stability of Northern Ireland.’
“Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie welcomed the move, describing it as ‘a fantastic position and opportunity for Northern Ireland.Trevor has a unique understanding of relationships across communities and business in Northern Ireland. He is a strong advocate for the union and a unionism that is all-encompassing and reaches out across the divide.'”
Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster said in a tweet that she wished Mr. Ringland “every success in this new role.”
She added: “I hope he can help some in the US understand better the views of people in NI and our place within the UK.”
Needless to say here wasn’t total agreement on the onetime winger’s, well, positioning.
Continued the report: “But Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the decision by Mr. Lewis to unilaterally make such an appointment without consulting the Stormont Executive ‘smacks of Tory arrogance and disrespect.’
“That is not an acceptable way of doing business,” she said in a statement.
“The Executive has a permanent diplomatic mission based in Washington D.C. which comprises civil servants under the auspices of The Executive Office.”
In his statement, Northern Secretary Lewis said Mr. Ringland’s role will include working with U.S. firms and investors to build on established links and supports Northern Ireland’s long term economic development.
Ringland himself said he was honored to take up the role on behalf of the UK government.
“I very much look forward to supporting the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in ensuring the UK Government’s policies on Northern Ireland are well represented to the U.S. audiences and playing my part in forging deeper political, social and economic ties between our two countries,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Irish Independent, citing a London Times report, was reporting today that President Biden “is set to warn British Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to renege on commitments made on Northern Ireland during Brexit negotiations.
Stated the report: “Biden is expected to use the pair’s first meeting at a G7 summit later this week in Cornwall to express his wholehearted support for the Northern Ireland protocol.
“President Biden has long been a supporter of the Good Friday Agreement – of which the US is a guarantor – and he is expected to outline how the US views the NI protocol as a key apparatus in maintaining peace upheld by the Good Friday Agreement.
“Mr Biden is expected to tell Boris Johnson that the chances of a significant trade deal between the U.S. and the UK will be impaired should the UK renege on any promises made on Northern Ireland as part of the Brexit deal.
“President Biden is also expected to outline how he expects the EU to adopt a more flexible approach to the implementation of the NI protocol, with diplomatic sources telling The Times that Biden expects the EU to stop being ‘so diplomatic’ on the matter.”
It remains to be seen whether the British government will use the Cornwall G7 gathering as an opportunity to introduce its new Northern Ireland envoy to the visiting American president.