Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

Why goodwill of US cannot just be taken for granted

Rough landing: Richard Haass

Recent decades have seen Northern Ireland and the Republic secure an unprecedented amount of time on Washington's radar. But events in Ukraine and fears of a new Cold War underscore how quickly the luck of the Irish can change regarding the attention of the US capital's top powerbrokers.

"For a country of about six million people, north and south, it is remarkable that it commanded the sort of attention that it did here in America. It always punched above its weight," said Massachusetts congressman Richard Neal in a Belfast Telegraph interview.

"I think after a bunch of [peace process] successes coming during the Clinton years, given what happened on 9/11 here, it was pushed to the back-burner, anyway," added Neal, who co-chairs Congress's ad hoc committee on Irish affairs.

This week, politicians from both sides of the border will descend on America, seeking jobs and investments for constituents back home.

In Washington, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness may also be asked their views on the post-Haass landscape. For his part, Neal isn't worried about the Haass talks' rough landing.

"The idea that we would be arguing about whether or not the Union Jack, or the tricolour, would fly over Belfast City Hall, or Stormont, seems to me to be trivial compared to the engagement that we've had during these three decades ," he insisted.

No American official involved in the Irish peace process expected everything to be neatly wrapped up on April 10, 1998.

It is clear from the involvement of Richard Haass, Meghan O'Sullivan, not to mention the Clintons, Obama, Bush Jr and the parade of US politicians, that there've been plenty of Americans willing to help when asked.

According to the White House, since 2008, Northern Ireland has seen more than $1bn (£601m) in investment from US companies. Investments in the Republic are far larger. In 2013, the US exported $6.6bn (£3.96bn) in goods there, while importing $31.5bn (£18.9bn) of Irish goods.

Since 2009, US investment in the Republic has risen by 25% and currently 14% of all US investment in the EU goes there.

And it's against these economic realities that the outstanding issues of flags and emblems, parades, and how to deal with the Troubles's legacy must compete in the American consciousness.

Accordingly, controversies like the row over the legal status of on-the runs (OTRs) appear as unnecessary distractions from efforts to cement economic and political progress.

As one Washington source with longtime peace process ties put it: "What's frustrating is that [unionists] are upset with the OTRs scheme. But that's the reason why they should be embracing Haass. Because Haass is dealing with these issues that haven't been dealt with before."

Former Connecticut congressman Bruce Morrison, who was key to stoking the Clintons' peace-process interest, said that, this far into the peace process, Stormont's politicians need to be focusing on governing the present and not the past.

"I think people shouldn't support a retreat into these identity battles," said Morrison. "I view it as kind of pandering to the past."

"The international community assisted in the creation of structures for democratic government," he added. "And continued international development should focus on that, rather than on conflicts over identity."

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz