A group of influential Irish Americans has directly appealed to Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to end the stalemate jeopardizing the Peace Process.

Thirteen individuals, including former politicians, diplomats and key figures in the US’ involvement with the Peace Process, signed and sent a letter urging the Northern Ireland government to act, warning that “a stalemate without violence is still a stalemate.”

They call for real reflection on the Peace Process – “how far it has come, how much remains unfinished and how much remains at risk.”

While praising Northern Ireland’s many achievements since the milestones of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the establishment of the Stormont Executive in 2007, the letter raises the major concern that “compromise, the foundation of the agreement, has become almost impossible as the smallest issues go unresolved.”

This lack of willingness to compromise, they write, was the obstacle that prevented last year's all-party talks chaired by former U.S. Special Envoy Richard Haass and former State Department official Megan O'Sullivan from making any progress on the questions of flags, symbols, parades and the processes to resolve grievances from the Troubles.

“Children growing up without a vision of a shared cross-community future can too easily learn the ways of conflict again,” they caution.

The authors of the letter, including former congressmen Bruce Morrison and James Walsh, the previous US Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney, former US Envoys to Northern Ireland Paula Dobriansky and Mitchell Reiss, and IrishCentral’s founder Niall O’Dowd, pledge their help going forward and promise to help keep the attention of the world tuned to Northern Ireland, just as they did in the years leading up to the Good Friday Agreement.

Read the letter in full below:

Dear First Minister Robinson and Deputy First Minister McGuinness,

Several weeks ago, the Reverend Ian Paisley Sr. passed away at the age of eighty-eight. His passing was a milestone and a cause for reflection on the Irish Peace Process—how far it has come, how much remains unfinished and how much remains at risk. Ian Paisley cast an enormous shadow over Northern Ireland for most of his adult life. For 40 years he was known for his oft-bellowed response to pleas for compromise and cross-community accommodating—“No, Never.” Then came 2007, the time Paisley said “yes” to a Stormont Executive with himself as First Minister for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Martin McGuinness as deputy First Minister for Sinn Fein.

Nine years after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 created the framework for the end of “The Troubles” that had plagued Northern Ireland for 30 years; the man who said “no” then was now making a cross-community devolved government possible. But now as the Rev. Paisley era comes to an end, the hard-earned Peace Process appears stalled again. Is Northern Ireland to slip back to the days of “never” . . . or move forward with compromise and accommodation?

As Americans, we worked, on many levels, to support the negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and the challenging steps of implementation thereafter. Democratic and Republican Presidents appointed skilled envoys to support the process; U.S. House and Senate members of both parties presented a united front, always speaking with one voice, as we hosted political leaders here, on neutral ground, and huddled with them in the Republic of Ireland, England and Northern Ireland. It was one of America's most significant foreign policy successes in recent times. The Irish American Diaspora helped to lay the foundations for peace and justice.

We are now twenty years on since the historic IRA and Loyalist cease fires paved the way for the four years of negotiating and compromise, which led to the peace agreement. Policing and the administration of justice have been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont. Sectarian violence is now the exception and crime statistics overall are lower than anywhere in the U.K. Many communities at the local level are building bridges and last year Derry/Londonderry was Europe's City of Culture, embracing all of its traditions and art forms.

However, a stalemate without violence is still a stalemate. And children growing up without a vision of a shared cross-community future can too easily learn the ways of conflict again. Last March, the annual Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report noted with concern that a “culture of endless negotiations has become embedded and, without a vision of a shared society to sustain it, the peace process has lost its power to inspire.”

Twenty months ago the Belfast City Council, now with a Nationalist majority, voted to limit the days that the Union Jack would fly over Belfast City Hall, based on practices elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Old wounds seemed to open for all to see. The tension has been reflected at Stormont where progress on legislation has bogged down and the regular business of government slowed to a crawl. Compromise, the foundation of the agreement, has become almost impossible as the smallest issues go unresolved.

Recognizing the significant logjam, both of you acted together to break the stalemate by inviting former U.S. Special Envoy Richard Haass and former State Department official Megan O'Sullivan to review the flash-point issues of identity (flags, symbols, parades and the processes to resolve grievances from the Troubles.) After six months of work, over 100 meetings and testimony from hundreds of aggrieved family members, community leaders, police and public officials, a thorough and thoughtful report was provided to the political leaders for discussion and implementation.

Agreement, unfortunately, could not be reached. Attempts were made to continue the dialogue, but each time the talks have fallen apart. In the aftermath of these failed negotiations, Richard Haass stated "Our experience in Northern Ireland suggests that those who believe that they can ensure that each and every element of this agreement is to their liking—and still secure five party consensuses—are unrealistic in the extreme.”

The stalemate continues and, as time passes, the peace process continues to lose its power to inspire and is diminished by its critics. As Americans who have invested much time, energy and passion into this process, we urge the leadership of Northern Ireland to go back to the table and hammer out a compromise with a clear recognition that all sides will have to give up certain prerequisites to do a deal that moves Northern Ireland beyond the current stalemate and creates a vision of a shared society for the generations to come.

The Peace Process began with small confidence-building measures. Opposing political leaders actually found ways to help their rivals deliver their constituents through cooperative action, both private and public. This shared enterprise of building cross-community confidence is needed again.

Creating a vision of an integrated and pluralist society that lets go of historic wrongs is no easy task, but it is a goal that must be pursued now. Nelson Mandela, the great South African statesman, had a seemingly boundless capacity for reconciliation. His desire to see the people of South Africa, all of them, create their own future trumped everything else. This capacity for reconciliation is at the root of creating the future that Northern Ireland deserves.

During the Peace Process, even at its darkest hour, Unionist and Nationalists alike recognized and appreciated the American role. They thanked us for shining a bright light on the process and keeping the outside world focused on the developments. The light is back on and we pledge our help going forward.

Sincerely,

Hon. James T. Walsh

Former Member of Congress

Former Chairman, Congressional Friends

of Ireland Committee

 

Hon. Bruce A. Morrison

Former Member of Congress

Former Co-Chair, Ad Hoc Congressional

Committee on Irish Affairs

 

Hon. Kris Balderston

Former Special Representative for Global Partnerships (2009 -2012)

The Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships

U.S. Department of State

 

Hon. Paula J. Dobriansky

Former President’s Special Envoy to Northern Ireland (2007-2009) 

Former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs

U.S. Department of State

 

John Feehery

President, Quinn Gillespie Communications

 

Hon. Kitty Higgins

Former Assistant to the President and Secretary to the President’s Cabinet

Deputy U.S. Secretary of Labor

 

Niall O’Dowd

Founder IrishCentral.com

Founder, Irish Voice Newspaper

 

Paul Quinn

Board Member, American Ireland Fund

 

Hon. Mitchell Reiss

Former President’s Special Envoy to Northern Ireland (2003 -2007)

U.S. Department of State

 

Hon. Richard W. Riley

Former U.S. Secretary of Education (1993 -2000)

 

Hon. Daniel M. Rooney

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland (2009-2012)

 

Mark Tuohey

Board Member, American Ireland Fund

 

Carol Wheeler

Founder, Washington Ireland Program

Letter from prominent Irish Americans to Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and First Minister Peter Robinson (pictured above) warns “a stalemate without violence is still a stalemate.”Photocall Ireland