Coveney arrives in Washington amid Brexit concerns

Tánaiste for talks with senior Trump administration officials and Congress members

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has arrived in Washington for talks with senior administration officials and members of Congress, amid increasing concern among the direction of Brexit among senior Irish-American figures.

Mr Coveney, who held meetings in New York on Tuesday as Ireland continues its efforts to secure a seat on the United Nations Security Council for 2020-2021, travelled to the US capital on Wednesday, where he is attending an event at the US State Department on combatting the threat of the Islamic State terrorist group.

Ireland is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, a 70-member body. The event will be addressed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump later on Wednesday.

Mr Coveney is due to hold bilateral meetings with key members of the Friends of Ireland caucus on Capitol Hill where discussions are likely to focus on Brexit.


Last week, Congressman Brendan Boyle introduced a resolution to Congress outlining opposition to the reintroduction of a hard border in Northern Ireland.

The resolution has now been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs for consideration. It notes that the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Belfast agreement in a referendum on May 22nd 1998. It also highlights the fact that the United States is one of the guarantors of the agreement.

New strategy

Mr Coveney will attend a reception in the US Capitol on Wednesday evening to mark the 100th anniversary of the Dáil, hosted by Congressman Richard Neal and New York Republican Peter King. The event will also mark the launch of the Department of Foreign Affairs' new strategy for the United States and Canada.

A cross-party group of Oireachtas members are also meeting with officials this week in Washington.

Led by Cathaoirleach Denis O’Donovan, the new group, called the “Irish-US Parliamentary Friendship Group” is on its first visit to Washington.

Former tánaistí Frances Fitzgerald and Joan Burton, Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Senator Mark Daly are also in attendance.

The step-up of engagement with key figures on Capitol Hill comes as a group of prominent Irish-Americans, including former US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland Gary Hart and five former US ambassadors, wrote to British prime minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this week expressing alarm that the Good Friday Agreement could be jeopardised because of Brexit.

"The recent decision by the Prime Minister and the Parliament to seek to re-open the withdrawal agreement and find an alternative to the Backstop has put the Good Friday Agreement into play. This alarms us," said former Congressman Jim Walsh, the co-chair of a committee set up to protect the Belfast Agreement, noting that the United States is a co-guarantor to the 1998 deal.

Bargaining chip

“The backstop is the insurance policy that protects the Good Friday Agreement and the GFA cannot be used as a bargaining chip as the Brexit advocates search for an alternative arrangement.”

Highlighting the role played by Irish America during the peace process, it notes that pro-Brexit advocates in London have set about diminishing the importance of the Belfast Agreement “almost to the point of dismissing it as irrelevant even though it is a binding international peace agreement.

“This is an enormous mistake and only resurrects old animosities over the constitutional integrity of Northern Ireland and has already resurrected old stereotypes that do an injustice to all the people on the island of Ireland, North and South, who overwhelmingly supported the GFA in a referendum held in May of 1998,” the letter states.

Among the signatories to the letter include the former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley and former governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe, the most recent ambassador to Ireland Kevin O'Malley, and senior officials who were centrally involved in the peace process during the Clinton presidency including Nancy Soderberg who was deputy national security advisor to President Clinton.

Bruce Morrison, who spearheaded the Morrison visa programme, said that peace is not inevitable in Northern Ireland.

“A border defined by customs posts, checks points and infrastructure would reshape the economic, emotional and political landscape and resurrect the memories of the Border when it was militarised during the Troubles,” he said.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent