US poised to unveil resolution backing Belfast Agreement

Move shows Capitol Hill supports peace process and opposes anything threatening it

 President Joe Biden:  The draft resolution states the reintroduction of “barriers, checkpoints or personnel on the island of Ireland”, including through the invocation of article 16, “would threaten the successes of the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement”.  Photograph: Mandel Ngan

President Joe Biden: The draft resolution states the reintroduction of “barriers, checkpoints or personnel on the island of Ireland”, including through the invocation of article 16, “would threaten the successes of the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement”. Photograph: Mandel Ngan

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The US Senate is preparing to unveil a resolution outlining support for the Belfast Agreement, the latest indication of bipartisan backing on Capitol Hill for the Northern Ireland peace process.

The development comes ahead of next week’s meeting between Taoiseach Micheál Martin and US president Joe Biden, which is taking place online rather than in Washington due to the pandemic.

The resolution, a draft of which has been seen by The Irish Times, expresses support “for the full implementation” of the agreement and subsequent efforts “to support peace on the island of Ireland”.

It also states that any new or amended trade agreements between the US and UK should take into account that the conditions of the Belfast Agreement are met.

Protocol contention

There is also mention of the Northern Ireland protocol – currently the subject of fierce contention between London and Brussels, following Britain’s move to unilaterally delay the introduction of customs checks between the North and Britain.

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It is expected that the resolution will be brought before the Senate early next week, in advance of St Patrick’s Day.

Noting that the protocol was intended “to protect the peace forged” under the Belfast Agreement, the draft resolution explicitly states that the reintroduction of “barriers, checkpoints or personnel on the island of Ireland”, including through the invocation of article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, “would threaten the successes of the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement”.

Brexit tensions

The resolution is being proposed by Democrat senator Bob Menendez, the chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, one of the most senior positions in Congress, and Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine who has been a long-standing supporter of Ireland in the Senate.

There has been a renewed focus in Washington on tensions in Northern Ireland over Brexit with EU commissioner Marcos Sefcovic and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney this week briefing the Friends of Ireland caucus on Capitol Hill about Britain’s move to delay the custom checks.

Separately, the British government is to send a senior official from the Northern Ireland office to Washington in an effort to set out the British perspective on the latest Brexit developments.

The prominence of Irish issues on Capitol Hill comes as Washington prepares to mark St Patrick’s Day next week. Mr Martin will hold his first bilateral meeting with Mr Biden on Wednesday, while the annual Speaker’s Lunch on Capitol Hill is being replaced with a virtual event.

Speaking last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Mr Biden is “unequivocal” in his support for the Belfast Agreement, following London’s surprise move to extend the grace period for post-Brexit checks on some goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain.

“It has been the bedrock of peace, stability and prosperity for all the people of Northern Ireland,” Ms Psaki said of the agreement when asked about the dispute over the operation of the protocol.

Under the protocol, checks should commence in April on some goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland. However, in a unilateral move, the British government said it would extend the grace period, a decision that has escalated tensions between London, Brussels and Dublin.

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