US politicians urge Biden to appoint Northern Ireland envoy

Bipartisan group of US Congress writes to president amid concerns over peace deal

The letter  sent to US president Joe Biden was signed by 25 members of Congress including several prominent Irish-Americans. Photograph: Nicholan Kamm/AFP via  Getty Images

The letter sent to US president Joe Biden was signed by 25 members of Congress including several prominent Irish-Americans. Photograph: Nicholan Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

 

A bipartisan group of US Congress members has written to President Joe Biden, urging him to appoint a special envoy to Northern Ireland.

The letter, a copy of which has been seen by the Irish Times, says an envoy should be appointed “in order to continue to support the peace process during this critical time.”

“We believe this decision would not only demonstrate America’s enduring commitment to peace in Northern Ireland but would directly encourage regional peace and stability,” the letter states.

The intervention comes as Mr Biden prepares to name several ambassadors, including the next ambassador to Ireland, in the coming weeks.

Congressman Bill Keating, who chairs the House foreign affairs sub-committee which oversees Europe and has led the initiative, told The Irish Times that he believed the appointment of a special envoy to Northern Ireland was vital at this time.

“I think it is recognised that the peace agreement would not have occurred without the participation of the United States. We feel that we’re a part of that Good Friday Agreement as a country, and we want to make sure that the agreement, and the peace that was achieved against all odds, continues. But there is concern that it is now in jeopardy.”

Pointing to last week’s hearing on the Belfast Agreement convened by the sub-committee on Europe, Energy, the Environment, and Cyber, he said that the hearing had confirmed that a US special envoy is needed. “This would be a time where the US involvement could be helpful and critical,” the Massachusetts congressman said.

“The uptick in violence in Northern Ireland has been a great concern,” he said. “There are people that weren’t even born when the original agreement was signed but are getting caught up.”

‘Unilateral action’

The letter which was sent to Mr Biden on Wednesday was signed by 25 members of Congress including several prominent Irish-Americans such as Richard Neal, Brendan Boyle, Dan Kildee and Mary Gay Scanlon.

It comes as Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and Britain’s EU negotiator David Frost briefed several members of Congress on Tuesday. According to people on the call, among the issues that were raised from the US side was concern about unilateral action by the British government, both in relation to the Northern Irish protocol, and reports that British soldiers who served in Northern Ireland would be given legal protection through new legislation at Westminster.

The letter that has been sent to Mr Biden as he prepares to name his pick for various ambassadorial positions sets out in detail the rationale for appointing a special envoy to Northern Ireland, noting the role previous envoys like Senator George Mitchell, had played in securing peace.

Outlining America’s role in the signing of the Belfast Agreement, the letter also warns about renewed instability in the region, prompted in part by the Northern Ireland protocol.

“Twenty-three years later, peace and stability in the region have recently been challenged by the cumulative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, tensions related to Brexit, as well as enduring local economic and social issues.” It continues: “Unfortunately, in late March and early April of this year, Northern Ireland saw a spike in unrest and violence that many be attributed in part to the implementation of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol, a key tenant of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.”

The recent outbreak of violence, though condemned by all the major political parties, shows that “uncertainty and serious potential for violence in the future have not abated,” it adds.

Mr Keating also noted the role women have played in achieving peace in Northern Ireland, a role that should be recognised in any future appointment. Among those who testified at last week’s hearing on Capitol Hill were Professor Monica McWilliams of Ulster University and former deputy speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly Jane Morrice, along with Mitchell Reiss, former special envoy to Northern Ireland.

“We also ask that you task any future Special Envoy for Northern Ireland with a mandate to encourage the inclusion of women and ensure that their voices are heard and that they are represented at the table,” the letter states.

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