The US administration has been urged to reverse a decision to abolish the post of special envoy to the north of Ireland.
The US State Department confirmed earlier this month that the post had been “retired” and its responsibilities assigned to the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.
The first US special envoy to was Senator George Mitchell, who was appointed in 1995, while Richard Haass undertook the role during George W Bush’s administration. The involvement of the US government in the north of Ireland has diminished substantially in recent years in line with the normalisation of British rule.
The last person to hold the post was Senator Gary Hart but he was not replaced following Donald Trump’s election victory. Senator Hart condemned the proposal to abolish the diplomatic role as “a sad, even tragic, decision”.
Now 25 members of the US Congress have written to the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to reconsider abolishing the post. It has been signed by Republicans as well as Democratic members of Congress.
The letter notes that “40 million Americans of Irish descent have begun to speak out on this issue” and describes the 1998 Good Friday Agreement as “one of America’s most successful foreign policy accomplishments in recent memory”.
The letter highlights the threat Brexit poses to the peace process after the Westminster parliament passed legislation to allow British negotiators breach the 1998 peace deal. Sinn Fein is seeking to rescue the agreement by making it a protocol of the Brexit withdrawal treaty.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians has urged members of Congress who take an active interest in Ireland to oppose Tillerson’s plans.
It described the proposal to scrap the north envoy as “appalling” and wants US Congress members to “push back”.
The AOH has sent letters to the members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the Congressional Friends of Ireland caucus asking them to voice their objection, said a statement.
“Nearly twenty years ago, the historic Good Friday Agreement ended ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, proportionately one of the deadliest conflicts in world history.
“All parties to the conflict have acknowledged the leadership of United States Special Envoy to Northern Ireland George Mitchell was pivotal in reaching that historic accord,” said AOH National Political Education Chairman, Neil F. Cosgrove.
“The Good Friday Agreement is a landmark in U.S. Diplomacy and prima facie evidence of American leadership in the cause of peace and justice.
“It is therefore shocking that Secretary of State Tillerson has announced plans to eliminate the position of Special Envoy to Northern Ireland while many objectives of the Good Friday Agreement are yet to be realized and at a time when the Agreement, and the peace it fostered, is at risk,” Cosgrove stated.
Continued Cosgrove: “Apparently, Secretary Tillerson, and many in the government on both sides of the aisle, have confused the transitory peace which is a cessation of violence with the much greater vision of a permanent peace articulated in the Good Friday Agreement; a peace based on ‘parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment.’
“Twenty years on, we are still far from the goal of true peace. We need only look at recent actions targeting those who wish to express their identity through the Irish language and reports that the Catholic community of Northern Ireland faces disproportionate hurdles in accessing housing to see that the Good Friday Agreement aspiration of ‘parity of esteem’ has yet to move from paper to practice.
“In the nearly twenty years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland has yet to materialize and attempts to address the legacies of the past with justice have continually met with obstruction.
“The most tangible symbol of the Good Friday Agreement, the power shared devolved Northern Ireland parliament, is currently in collapse with no sign of restoration.
“Brexit, which the communities of Northern Ireland as a whole rejected, threatens economic upheaval to a fragile Northern Ireland economy and a return to “hard borders” in Ireland both physical and psychological.”