Amid ongoing post-Brexit discussions, the Northern Ireland office has dispatched a representative to the US to “build relations” with the Biden administration. Tensions flared last week as Unionist paramilitaries withdrew their support for the Good Friday agreement.
Meanwhile, key Republican actors set about launching a campaign in the US to build support for their cause, and the EU and UK continued to sling mud over a Northern Ireland protocol which has seemingly created more issues than it solved.
Inevitably, with hushed whispers over Northern Ireland comes the murmurings of US unhappiness, whether that be in public with Biden’s condemnation of British negotiating tactics or behind the scenes as he quietly plans whether his first trip as President is to be to the UK or Ireland.
The US has a history with resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland. Indeed, without them the Good Friday Agreement may never have been reached. However, that shouldn’t give any American president the immediate right to meddle in British domestic affairs — especially a president whose loyalties are questionable, to say the least.
The reason Bill Clinton was so instrumental in the peace process in the 1990’s was because he respected and revered the cultures and traditions of both the Protestant and Catholic communities, and they respected him in return.
President Clinton’s trip to Londonderry sparked hope, not angst, as he became a voice of reason and bipartisanship, from the sidelines rather than wading into the middle of the conflict.
Both Bill and Hilary Clinton actively engaged with those who, at grassroots level, sought to build cross-community alliances — dealing first and foremost with people, rather than ideologies — a tact so absent from politics in Northern Ireland. Both Clintons spoke of hope and cross-community relations — rather than cementing divisions and spouting fear.
Biden is no Bill Clinton. He’s a man who, albeit probably jokingly, refused to take questions from the BBC because of his “Irish Catholic” heritage. In recent years, beaming, he’s posed for pictures with Gerry Adams and IRA fugitive turned Sinn Fein US representative Rita O’hare, and he’s made comments about how people “wearing orange” weren’t welcome in his home. This runs in stark contrast to the rhetoric of hope and bi-partisanship on which the Clintons built their image in Northern Ireland.
Of course it’s completely understandable that Biden, as someone of Irish Catholic heritage, would have a soft spot for the Republican movement. But compared to Clinton, who managed to maintain an image of neutrality despite his Irish heritage, Biden seems ill-equipped to keep the peace. His involvement would likely only ruin the US’s legacy of peacekeeping in the region.
Unionist figures within Northern Ireland have already demonstrated their disdain for Biden, going so far as to accuse him of being an “Irish nationalist parrot”. It’s hard to see how the President’s involvement would do anything but inflame tensions far beyond what they are at present. Including Biden in any effort at de-escalation would be deeply misguided.
There is an aspect of the current difficulties in Northern Ireland, of course, that is entirely of Westminster’s own making. Much of the recent angst was sparked by the government’s extension of the grace period for Northern Irish businesses, which is arguably against international law. In doing so, it is responsible for placing the entire Northern Ireland protocol on the brink of collapse.
Of course, every decision has been defended, with politicians repeatedly arguing that it is acting for the good of the Northern Irish populus. If that’s so, then it should be able to deal with the repercussions of those actions, rather than simply allowing the US to come in and clean up their mess.
Downing Street must take care not to let the US meddle in the ongoing Northern Ireland crisis. As tensions have escalated, so has the likelihood of US interventionism — but this must be dissuaded at all costs.