President Biden. White House Photo
As America opens a new chapter with the election of President Biden and Vice President Harris, our appeal to the administration is for the appointment of a Northern Ireland Peace and Economic Envoy at the earliest possible opportunity.
Not since JFK has the U.S. been blessed with a president so in tune with Ireland.
As President Biden himself has said, “Ireland is written on my soul.”
And this is no nostalgic bond with Ireland for President Biden understands and appreciates the enormity of the issues at the heart of the peace process better than anyone.
He realizes the peace secured with American assistance in the 1990s is a great gift for Irish America, and has resulted in thousands of lives saved.
Indeed, when the British government threatened the peace with a hard Brexit, even after a majority in the North of Ireland had voted to stay in the EU, President Biden didn’t mince words: “We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit. Any trade deal between the U.S. and U.K. must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”
And that robust response, echoed by Irish American leaders, to those who would play fast and loose with the hard-won peace resulted in a Brexit deal which protected the Good Friday Agreement “in all its parts” and ensured there would be no return to a border between North and South.
Yet, there can be no denying that the double whammy of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit have dealt a harsh blow to the Northern Irish economy which experienced a 13 percent contraction in 2020.
And any reversal of the economic progress in the North of Ireland – today home to American blue-chip companies like Citi, Allstate, Liberty Mutual and Spirit Aerosystems which underpin the peace with jobs — will only play into the hands of the still-active loyalist paramilitary groups and their dissident counterparts.
So once again we look to an American President to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the peacemakers and bridge-builders who wish to ensure that the North’s march towards peace and prosperity continues.
The swift appointment of a Northern Ireland Peace and Economic Envoy by President Biden would be welcomed by all people of good will. An engaged and energetic envoy could identify opportunities arising from this new dispensation where the North of Ireland is within the EU Single Market and the EU Customs Union, yet enjoys unfettered access to British markets.
This region is a global exemplar of peace-making. Could it also become a global economic powerhouse?
The constitutional future of the North of Ireland is now being debated by all sides. Recently, the Irish government established a Shared Ireland Unit to encourage cross-border cooperation.
The EU has said that if, in a referendum as legislated for in the Good Friday Agreement, the people of the North vote for a United Ireland, it would be welcomed back into the European family immediately.
A U.S. Envoy would play a key role in ensuring this discussion takes place in a positive and respectful fashion, stressing the gains that have been made over the past two decades and supporting the most recent New Decade, New Approach Agreement which restored the power-sharing government at Stormont in January, 2020.
As America opens a new chapter, therefore, our appeal to President Biden is to make the appointment of a Northern Ireland Peace and Economic Envoy a top priority of his administration.
Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Publisher