Under no circumstances can hard border return in Ireland says top US politician

Richard Neal awarded honorary degree by Dublin City University

Under no circumstances can there be a return to a hard border in Ireland, one of the leading political figures on Capitol Hill in Washington has said.

In a speech accepting an honorary degree from Dublin City University on Tuesday, Congressman Richard Neal said the Belfast agreement "remained the path forward".

He said strand two of the accord -between Belfast and Dublin - had “worked splendidly”.

Mr Neal, who is the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means committee in the House of Representatives in Washington, said it was the American dimension that brought about the success of the agreement “and we do not intend to let it falter”.

The Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi attended part of the conferring ceremony.

“Ireland never had a better friend than Speaker Pelosi,” said Mr Neal.

He said the genius of the Belfast Agreement was its ambiguity.

“Today if you want to be Irish in the North you can be Irish, if you want to be British, you can be British and if you want to be Northern Irish, you can be Northern Irish, that is welcome too.”

He said everyone had given up something to reach the accord.

He said the Irish had given up its claim on Northern Ireland under articles two and three of its constitution while the UK relinquished the border that divided the Republic and Northern Ireland.

He recalled in 1989 a bus carrying senior US politicians including the then speaker of the House of Representatives Tom Foley had been stopped and searched by British troops while travelling between Donegal and Derry.

He said today the only thing noticeable on the same journey “ is that your phone pings”.

Unwavering support

Delivering the citation for Mr Neal, who has represented a district in Massachusetts in the US House of Representatives for the past 35 years, Professor John Doyle from DCU's School of Law and Government highlighted his "unwavering support for the peace process and his interest in Irish affairs".

“He has made his mark, not thanks to privilege or connections, but by way of determination, intelligence, hard work, and a passionate belief in public service.”

"While best known in the US for his interventions on economics, health and social security, Richie is best known in Ireland for his long record of support for the peace process and his interest in Irish affairs. Indeed, one of his very first speeches in Congress focused on Northern Ireland. This, of course, is a reflection of Richie's Irish heritage."

"As a long-time advocate of US involvement in the peace process, Richie encouraged President [Bill] Clinton to appoint Senator George Mitchell as an envoy to Northern Ireland. The Senator went on to chair the negotiations that led to the Good Friday agreement."

“Richie’s consistent support for Ireland, is also seen in his engagement with the detail of the Brexit withdrawal agreement and Protocol negotiations.”

“As an Irish-American, Richie has been a steadfast champion for peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland. As a legislator, he has made a major contribution to the task of making America a fairer, more equitable and more caring society for all.”

DCU also awarded honorary doctorates to Barbara Barrett, former US Secretary of the Air Force; and Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent