Leading Irish-Americans urge PM and Taoiseach to protect Good Friday deal
A group of influential Irish-Americans has written to the Prime Minister and Taoiseach urging them to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement.
The 40 signatories include former US Senator Gary Hart, an ex-special envoy to Northern Ireland, and Nancy Soderberg, who was a key adviser to President Bill Clinton during the years when the 1998 peace accord was being negotiated.
Some unionists have claimed that Theresa May's deal with the EU would amount to a breach of the agreement.
The US group has now written to Mrs May and Leo Varadkar outlining their concerns.
Members have established the Ad Hoc Committee to Protect the Good Friday Agreement, which is bipartisan and claims to reflect Irish America.
Former member of Congress James Walsh, a co-chair of the committee, said members had been "alarmed" by developments.
"The decision by the Prime Minister and Parliament to seek to reopen the agreement and find an alternative to the backstop has put the Good Friday Agreement into play," he said.
"This alarms us. The backstop is the insurance policy that protects the Good Friday Agreement, which cannot be used as a bargaining chip as the Brexit advocates search for an alternative arrangement.
"The United States, led by President Clinton and former Senator George Mitchell, worked tirelessly to bring the Good Friday Agreement about.
"Many of us have continued to work and support the peace process during the last 20 years.
"Political leaders who support Brexit seem to have little knowledge of Northern Ireland and are continuing to play down the role of the Good Friday Agreement in maintaining the peace in their effort to leave the EU."
In its letter to Mrs May and Mr Varadkar, the committee states: "We are writing to you as co-guarantors of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement to encourage you to do everything within your power to protect the Good Friday Agreement as the UK and the European Union continue their negotiations regarding the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union.
"Twenty years ago, the United States, led by President Clinton, mounted a diplomatic effort to broker and secure the peace process in Northern Ireland which, after two years of negotiations chaired by Senator George Mitchell, led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
"As Americans, we worked to support the negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement and the challenging steps of implementation."
The letter states that "pro-Brexit advocates in London have set about diminishing the importance of the Good Friday Agreement almost to the point of dismissing it as irrelevant even though it is a binding international peace agreement".
It adds that this "is an enormous mistake" and will resurrect "old animosities over the constitutional integrity of Northern Ireland".
Among those signing the letter is Mr Hart, a Democrat who ran for the US presidency in 1984 and 1988. He served as US envoy between 2014 and 2017.
Other signatories include Ms Soderberg, who was former Deputy National Security Advisor to President Clinton; Kevin O'Malley, the US Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland from 2014 to 2017; and John Fitzpatrick, the chairman of the American Ireland Fund.
Mr O'Malley referred to the Prime Minister's visit to Northern Ireland this week.
He said: "The Prime Minister is giving a speech in Northern Ireland reaffirming her support for keeping the border open, protecting the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and arriving at an agreement that 'commands broad support' from the people of Northern Ireland.
"That would be a trifecta of a win given the fact that the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to Remain and support the backstop while the DUP views the backstop as toxic.
"We hope she can square the circle. We really do. We will be watching closely and working with our colleagues in the US Congress to do all we can to protect the Good Friday Agreement."
Former Congressman Bruce Morrison, who co-chairs the ad hoc committee, said "pro-Brexit advocates have been diminishing the importance of the Good Friday Agreement almost to the point of dismissing it".
He added: "This really is short-sighted and the ongoing debate is only resurrecting old animosities and stereotypes.
"The people of Ireland, north and south, overwhelmingly supported the Good Friday Agreement in the 1998 referendum. They know what is at stake."
Leaders of the ad hoc committee will seek to meet with both the Irish and UK ambassadors in Washington DC and senior US State Department officials to make the case that Irish America "is mobilised and vigilant".
They also pledged to work closely with colleagues in the US Congress "to support and protect the Good Friday Agreement".