North’s political deadlock set to top agenda at US meeting

Coveney set for talks with US secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington on Friday

Simon Coveney was the key-note speaker at a conference in New York on Thursday organised by Co-operation Ireland and Irish Central to mark the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement.

Simon Coveney was the key-note speaker at a conference in New York on Thursday organised by Co-operation Ireland and Irish Central to mark the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement.

 

The political impasse in Northern Ireland is expected to be top of the agenda when Tánaiste Simon Coveney meets US secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington on Friday.

The meeting – part of a three-day trip by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs to the United States – takes place amid renewed calls for a US special envoy to be appointed to Northern Ireland.

A cross-party group of members of the US Congress urged the Trump administration to appoint a special envoy to the region in a statement released on the eve of the meeting.

“With the breakdown of cross-Border talks in Belfast last week aimed at restoring the powersharing institutions, we once again urge President Trump to name a new Special Envoy to Ireland at the earliest opportunity,” noted the statement, signed by 22 members of Congress – both Democrat and Republican.

The first US special envoy to Northern Ireland, Senator George Mitchell, was appointed in 1995. Successive appointees, including Richard Haass and Gary Hart, have played a central role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Congressman Richard Neal, a key figure in US efforts to establish the peace process two decades ago, said last September that he had received assurances from President Trump that the position would not be eliminated, amid signs that the post was to be abolished as part of cutbacks at the US State Department.

Landmark accord

The bipartisan group of Congressmen renewed its call to the president, stating that “now is the ideal time” to name an envoy.

As the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement approaches, Mr Coveney was the key-note speaker at a conference in New York on Thursday organised by Co-operation Ireland and Irish Central to mark the 20th anniversary of the landmark peace accord.

Addressing attendees, which included political figures from the Northern Ireland Assembly as well as former senator George Mitchell and Bruce Morrison, Mr Coveney paid tribute to the central role played by Irish Americans in the peace process.

“At critical moments – when Garret Fitzgerald and Margaret Thatcher were working slowly towards the Anglo-Irish Agreement; when John Hume’s vision for peace and reconciliation was not yet widely embraced – America’s engagement helped lay foundations for profound change in Northern Ireland,” he said. “Successive political generations here in the US made it their mission to understand and to positively influence the political situation in Northern Ireland.”

Solid relationship

Mr Coveney also addressed the current stalemate in Northern Ireland, but he rejected suggestions that relations between London and Dublin were strained, noting that intensive contacts and meetings that have taken place between senior figures in the Irish and British government over the past month.

“If you only read the headlines or tweets some days, you would be forgiven for thinking that the British and Irish governments were barely on speaking terms. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “Like all relationships, there are disagreements and tensions.”

He reiterated his criticism of recent “glib” commentary by some who claim that that Belfast Agreement has failed. “That is simply not true. And that kind of reckless talk, ignorant of the history and evolution of peace in Northern Ireland, cannot go unchallenged,” he said.