Ireland’s peace not yet complete
By Sean V. Hughes, Ancient Order of Hibernians
The Hill’s Congress Blog
For more than a decade we observed a number of Irish Leaders from all political parties at the annual gathering at the White House to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. This year President Obama will continue to do what President Bush and President Clinton did by taking a picture with a bowl of shamrocks and telling the world that this is an example of what peace looks like. However, they omit that the peace progress from the 1998 Good Friday Agreement has somewhat stalled.
The Good Friday Agreement has yet to be fully implemented on both sides. For example the Good Friday Agreement specifically says “all parties will recognize the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland”. However, when the majority of the Belfast City Council voted 29-21 on December 3, 2012 in favor to lower the Union Jack, with the exception of 17 holidays to be in compliance with all other British controlled buildings the unionists rioted and continued to do so for months. The multiple riots injured a number of police officers, staffers and caused hundreds of dollars of property damage during their protests. Members of the city council who took that courageous vote were barricaded in their office for hours for safety at the completion of the session. Additionally, very few if any arrests occurred.
Boston College was chosen as an archive for the “troubles” and now holds oral history stories from the Provisional Irish Republican Army and the Ulster Volunteer Force of how each side handled numerous situations. All of these interviews were obtained with a promise to those who were being interviewed that what was said would not be turned over until after their deaths.
However, when the British government became aware of these interviews and asked the U.S. Attorney General Holder to subpoena Boston College to obtain some of the interviews, the Justice Department obliged. The subpoena requested information concerning only two former PIRA members, no UVF members. Many people believe this is a first step by the British government to open an investigation into the men and women who have disappeared during the “troubles.”
This issue has gone through the Federal Courts and is now waiting to be argued at the United States Supreme Court this spring.
Thankfully, a number of members including: Sens. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Menendez (D-N.J.), Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Cardin (D-Md.), Casey (D-Pa.), Reps. Pascrell (D-N.J.), Pallone (D-N.J.) Crowley (D-N.Y.), Neal (D-Mass.), Doyle (R-Pa.), Sires (D-N.J.), Murphy (R-Pa.), and former Sens. Brown (R-Mass.), Kerry (D-Mass.), Former Reps. Critz (D-Pa.) and Rothman (D-N.J.) all sent letters to then Secretary Clinton asking her to review the request by the British government and consider the strong impact this will have on the already shaky peace process in Northern Ireland.
There is a grass-roots effort by Irish-Americans who have successfully convinced several legislative bodies, including the city councils of San Francisco, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Syracuse, N.Y., to pass a resolution encouraging the English and Irish governments to take immediate action to fulfill the agreement. This effort also requests the Irish government to do an economic analysis of a united Ireland, outline steps to restore the Irish nation and publicly report its findings and plans.
These resolutions respectfully suggest the Irish government move, without delay, to further the peaceful healing of the Irish nation by granting “speaking rights” to duly elected Northern members in the Irish Parliament and expanding the voting rights for the Irish president to the citizens of the six counties of Northern Ireland.
It has been almost 15 years that the Good Friday Agreement was negotiated by former Senator George Mitchell and agreed upon by all parties. A lot has been accomplished working toward peace; however, there still is a lot of work to be done to accomplish peace by both the Irish and British Governments. Hopefully, when future presidents partake in the ceremonial bowl of shamrock photo on St. Patrick’s Day the president can say “This is a true picture of equal rights, leadership, justice and hard work that led to peaceful resolution that the world will follow and use as their example.”
Hughes is an officer for the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which is the largest Irish Catholic Fraternity in the United States.