The British appointment of a minor unionist celebrity as “Northern Ireland’s special envoy to the United States” is the latest evidence that the London government is determined to flout the Good Friday Agreement, and to cause maximum offence in doing so.
Known in the world of rugby as a former winger for the Irish rugby team, Trevor Ringland has previously declared that “nationalists had become emboldened”, a modern take on the old “Croppy lie down” jeer.
Previously an officer in the Ulster Unionist Party and ‘Northern Ireland Conservatives’, Ringland’s role will likely be to counter and undermine the expected appointment by the Biden White House of a new US envoy to the north of Ireland.
The unilateral appointment, the first of its kind, was made in a surprise announcement by British Direct Ruler Brandon Lewis. It follows a number of other recent demonstrations of London’s continuing control over the north of Ireland.
It also comes in the wake of the provocative and unilateral declaration by Lewis last week that the County Down village of Hillsborough is to be renamed as ‘Royal Hillsborough’ after the English royal family.
Sinn Féin’s Francie Molloy accused Lewis of acting like a “viceroy of old” over the decision, while deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill slammed the appointment as “disrespectful” and “arrogant”.
“Brandon Lewis’ decision to unilaterally make such an appointment directly relating to the north’s interests and priorities without consulting the democratically mandated executive smacks of Tory arrogance and disrespect,” she said.
“That is not an acceptable way of doing business.”
The Sinn Féin deputy leader noted the Stormont executive already had a permanent diplomatic mission based in Washington DC.
“It has proven to be effective and we do not need interference from the Tories in how we engage with the US administration, Congress, or the Irish-American community,” she said.
“I consider this announcement to be yet another attempt by this Tory government to undermine devolution, locally elected ministers and our institutions of government... No power-grab or undermining of devolution will be entertained.”
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has yet to appoint a special envoy to Ireland, as has been the custom in recent decades. The last envoy, Mick Mulvaney, resigned from the post in January following the US Presidential election.
Ciaran Quinn, the US representative for Sinn Féin, said Irish American and leading members of Congress have supported the call for a speedy appointment of an envoy.
He warned that the British government “believes itself not bound by agreements or international law” but was “a government of English nationalists that act out of narrow self-interest”.
He said there were immediate threats to the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, and also noted London’s goal of “covering up the actions of its military during the conflict.”
He also said the US “has a role to play in ensuring peace and progress”.
“The appointment of a Presidential Envoy would assist in managing the democratic process of change holding the British government to its obligations and consistently asserting the primacy of politics over the threat of violence.
“It is all our job of all to keep the bike upright and moving forward. Now is the time for the administration to renew our partnership for peace.”