The St. Patrick’s season this year is filled with promise of the long-awaited breakthrough in the search for peace in Ireland.
The advent of a new British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, and his honorable negotiations with the Ulster unionists to settle the matter of the Northern Irish Protocol is exactly the boost the process needed.
Now comes St. Patrick’s Day, and with it a host of politicians from Ireland, the UK, and the US, all with one focus – to increase the likelihood of restarting the Northern Ireland Assembly and finally bringing politics back to the fore.
The holiday events include the annual Irish party at the White House on March 17 which this year will be attended by all the political party leaders in the North, including Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) head Jeffrey Donaldson. This is an extremely positive development.
Biden’s work on behalf of peace in Ireland has been overshadowed by larger global events, but this appears to be his opportunity to make his historical mark on the country of his ancestors that he loves and cherishes so much.
Biden is expected in Ireland in April for events marking the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. In the North, he will likely meet King Charles, Sunak, unionist and nationalist leaders, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who are expected to take part in the commemoration. All of them will be training their sights on finally ending the Brexit Protocol dispute and kickstarting democracy again.
There is also a lesson the DUP should pick up on in the Sunday Times of London this past weekend. A profile on Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the UK Labour Party, revealed that Ireland was his favorite country, that he has spent considerable time there on vacation, and that he was surrounded by members of Irish ethnic origin in his shadow cabinet.
The DUP needs to understand that if they don’t deal with Sunak on the new deal he forged, the Windsor Framework, to settle the Brexit Protocol, Starmer looks almost certain to lead the Labour Party to victory in the next UK general election. This would likely leave unionists with a far more Irish-orientated prime minister who would push for necessary change.
When you compare Starmer to Boris Johnson, for instance, there is no question that Starmer carries considerable more gravitas and weight on issues such as Ireland where he once served on a human rights commission.
There is also the clear message of interest in a Brexit deal by King Charles, who took flak for meeting the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last week at Windsor after she and Sunak signed off on the new framework. Charles clearly signaled that he wishes to see the Brexit issue settled sooner rather than later.
It was an honour and a pleasure meeting His Majesty The King, Charles III, at Windsor Castle.
We discussed the joint challenges the EU and UK face as historic partners, and our joint duties:
unwavering support for Ukraine and fighting global climate change. pic.twitter.com/8qos5Bzv35— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) February 27, 2023
We have been at this point before, but never have so many created the kind of opportunity for finally nailing down the Good Friday Agreement. Of course, it’s a foolish person who would predict a positive response from the unionists, but even they, in their blindest moment, must surely realize that at this point the tide of history is against them.
St. Patrick’s Day is rightly celebrated as a joyous occasion for the Irish everywhere. But this year, it may become the opening act of the kind of political dialogue and agreement that has so long been sought in the North. Let us hope that is the case.
*This column first appeared in the March 8 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.