By Ray O’Hanlon
As he flies to Europe Wednesday on his first big overseas trip President Biden will be carrying with him heavy expectations from multiple quarters and with regard to multiple issues.
One of them is the expectation that he will defend the Good Friday Agreement amid the chaos resulting from Brexit, and the tensions arising from the Irish Sea Protocol.
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Air Force One will likely be flying over the Irish Sea on its way to England where the G7 summit is taking place.
There will be no visible line in that water mass – but it’s there nevertheless.
Following the president across the Atlantic will be words from the Ad Hoc Committee to Protect the GFA, a bipartisan grouping of Irish American leaders that issued a statement just prior to the presidential departure for Europe.
In its statement, the committee called on President Biden to stand up for the Good Friday Agreement and assert American leadership.
The statement opened with: “As President Biden prepares to attend the G7 meeting in the UK and to hold bilateral discussions with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Northern Ireland, the Ad Hoc Committee calls on the President to stand up for the GFA and assert American leadership.”
Former Republican congressman James Walsh, a co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee stated: “The President should use this opportunity to inform the Prime Minister that he will be appointing a Presidential Envoy to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to protecting the GFA.
“Twenty three years after the signing of the Agreement significant gaps remain: A Civic Assembly has never been stood up, little progress has been made in creating a Bill of Rights and we remain deeply concerned that the various strands of the GFA (East/West & North/South) are being disregarded or willfully boycotted in protest over the Protocol.
“The civic, business and human rights communities in Northern Ireland tell us that they increasingly look to the United States for leadership to protect the GFA.”
Walsh continued: “We have been in touch with senior officials at the White House and have conveyed our views. We are increasingly concerned that the GFA is becoming collateral damage as a result of Brexit and the ongoing disputes over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“The 25TH Anniversary of the GFA will take place in 2023 and the four major parties that guarantee its success ( the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States as well the European Union) must be in a position together to demonstrate that they have fulfilled its many promises to all the people of Northern Ireland; that is not the case today.”
Former congressman Bruce Morrison, a Democrat and the other co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee said: “A precondition of a Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and the UK is totally dependent on fulfilling the GFA in all its dimensions. The short-term politics of placating opponents of the Protocol is ultimately a long-term disadvantage in seeking approval of a FTA in the Congress.
“Failure to fully implement the GFA could create an insurmountable obstacle to getting a FTA through the Congress. We urge good faith action on the remaining unfulfilled goals of the GFA. We encourage the President to be emphatic in his request that the Prime Minister fulfill his obligations under the GFA.”
“We encourage the President to be emphatic in his request that the Prime Minister fulfill his obligations under the GFA.”
Morrison continued: “The Congress has made it absolutely clear that it will not tolerate backsliding when it comes to fulfilling the GFA. A recent House Foreign Relations Committee hearing coupled with a recent bipartisan Senate Resolution make it abundantly clear that the Congress is unified on this issue. The Senate Resolution was also quite specific in encouraging full and prompt implementation of the Protocol and addressing legacy issues.”
According to its release, in the last six months the Ad Hoc Committee has met with the leadership of almost all the political parties in Northern Ireland as well as leaders of the business community and civic society.
“Mostly recently we met with community workers on the frontline including Loyalists trying to keep the peace at the interface,” the release said.
And it added: “Irish America has never been more mobilized and organized since the 1990s when urging President Clinton to give Gerry Adams a visa. The issue of legacy is a dominating issue along with protecting the peace process.
“The recent conclusions of the Ballymurphy inquest makes it clear that the New Deal New Approach (NDNA) initiative to address legacy should be fully implemented. The current effort by the UK government to end inquiries into the legacy of the Troubles lacks support across the communities of Northern Ireland and will not work.”
The committee’s call for a U.S. special envoy follows repeated calls from Irish American leaders for such an appointment in recent months. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that President Biden was “mulling” the envoy option.
The Ad Hoc Committee was formed over two years ago by leading American political leaders and diplomats who have a long established history of supporting the peace process in Northern Ireland.
The group includes five former U.S. ambassadors as well as leaders of Irish American organizations. The committee is bi-partisan and co-chaired by James Walsh and Bruce Morrison. It can be followed on Twitter at @HocGfa