by Peter Kissel
In a letter to President Biden on August 5, 2022, Congressman William Keating (D-MA), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Europe, requested the President “to appoint a Special Envoy to continue the historical role of the U.S. in facilitating compromise and negotiations in Northern Ireland and to ensure peace and stability remain in Northern Ireland.” A bipartisan coalition of thirty-five Members of Congress joined the request by signing on to the Keating letter.
Almost two years into the Biden Administration, there is still no Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, and there are no indications that an appointment is forthcoming (Keating has not received any response to his letter). Due to the critical situation in NI on several fronts, it is urgent that an Envoy be appointed without further delay.
The situation in Northern Ireland at this time is critical for a number of reasons. The DUP has refused to enter Government since the May elections in which Sinn Fein became the leading party for the first time since Partition in 1922. As a result, there has been no functioning Executive or Assembly in Stormont for six months, and thus the citizenry have been deprived of a duly elected, democratic parliament since then. This in turn is causing an inability to appropriate funds for basic public services or to initiate actions that can improve the quality of life in the North.
Hard line Unionists are also using the Northern Ireland Protocol to further divide people along sectarian lines. They have falsely portrayed the Protocol as harmful to the Northern Ireland economy and commercial enterprise. In fact, the opposite is true – the Protocol has been a boon to Northern Ireland business. The economy is now performing better than it has in decades, and better than most other regions of the UK.
Nefarious British Government actions also compel the need for a Special Envoy. The Westminster Parliament has introduced legislation that would allow the UK to unilaterally scrap the Protocol, which is an integral part of the EU-UK trade agreement. Although the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, has recently stated that she prefers a negotiated solution, she has not backed off her threats to enact the legislation if the UK does not get its way in talks. The DUP has made clear that it has no intention of returning to government unless they are totally satisfied that the Protocol has been effectively neutered. That will not happen, as the EU has been insistent that the European single market is sacrosanct, and that a commercial barrier on the island of Ireland will not be acceptable.
In addition to the above threats to the peace, the British Government has also introduced legislation that will provide total amnesty to all soldiers and others for killing citizens in the North. This legislation is opposed by all political parties in Northern Ireland – Unionist, Nationalist, and non-aligned.
Special Envoys have provided critical assistance and guidance at many times when tensions in Northern Ireland were high. Senator George Mitchell was the first Special Envoy, appointed by President Clinton in 1997 when violence was still routine. Mitchell guided the difficult negotiations between the opposite sides that resulted in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the ensuing peace. Richard Haass chaired the multiparty negotiations that provided the foundation for the 2014 Stormont House Agreement between Ireland and the UK. Subsequent Envoys included Mitchell Reiss and Paula Dobriansky. Gary Hart was appointed Special Envoy in 2014 and guided the process that culminated in the Stormont House Agreement. Unfortunately, the position has been vacant since Mick Mulvaney resigned in January 2021 at the start of the Biden Administration.
These appointments have affirmed the continuing role of the US in Ireland’s peace process and constitute an integral part of our foreign policy. The current Administration’s failure to appoint an Envoy is perceived as an abandonment of our historic mission and policy, and undermines the important influence of the US in shaping affairs in NI.
A Special Envoy is mandated to assist in a return to normal government and assuring the continued peace. With the Northern Ireland government paralyzed and commentators expressing concern about a possible return to violence, the need for a Special Envoy should be as apparent to the Administration as it is to Congressman Keating and his bipartisan colleagues.
* Peter Kissel is the National President of the Irish American Unity Conference and a member of the American Brexit Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee for the Protection of the Good Friday Agreement. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the IAUC, visit www.iauc.org.
by Peter Kissel