Testimony by Relatives for Justice, Mark Thompson, Brian Gormally and Honorable James F. McKay III at Congressional Hearing on GFA 20 Years Anniversary

Posted By: March 22, 2018

Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe

(U.S. Helsinki Commission) – March 22nd 2018


‘Dealing with the past’: including accountability for past abuses and collusion, the need of surviving family members for justice & closure, and reform of policing


Firstly may I take this opportunity to thank this distinguished Committee, Chairman Senator Wicker, and Co-Chair Congressman Smith, your staff, and all involved in facilitating and convening this hearing.


Dealing with the past in which multiple harms and egregious human rights violations have occurred – not least systemic abuses that had official government sanction – is a perquisite of any post-conflict transformation.


Righting the wrongs of the past – truth seeking and accountability – are an imperative to individual and societal recovery and healing, the restoration of human dignity, and the promotion and protection of human rights.


No one community has a monopoly on the human heartache that was our conflict. We all suffered.


However, in terms of accountable justice there exists a huge deficit for those affected by State violence and collusion and it is no coincidence they face innumerable barriers to justice.


There is powerful resistance to a process that addresses the past in the North of Ireland in an openly transparent, legally compliant, and above all independent way.


This resistance emerges from within the police, the military, some institutions, political unionism, and the British government – who are not neutral.


They all seek to maintain a false narrative of the past – and about their true role in the conflict.  This position necessitates the denial of rights and ultimately accountable justice. Moreover, this position is unsustainable if there is to be meaningful change.


Families actively using the law & courts, asserting their rights, seeking accountability for past violations

Two weeks ago in the Belfast High Court Justice Paul Girvan ruled that former First Minister Arlene Foster acted illegally and with improper political motive when she blocked attempts by the North’s foremost legal representative, the Lord Chief Justice (LCJ) Sir Declan Morgan, to secure funding for legacy inquests into 55 cases involving 97 killings; inquests where families have waited up to four decades to hear.


At the same time in an adjoining courtroom Justice Bernard McCloskey finally removed himself from a hearing in which the former head of RUC special branch, Raymond White, challenged the Police Ombudsman’s powers and findings into the Loughinisland massacre, which evidenced RUC collusion. He delivered a scathing preliminary judgment against the Police Ombudsman, but it was then discovered that he had previously acted for the police when they challenged the Police Ombudsman’s report into the 1998 Omagh bomb in which Nuala O’Loan was highly critical of special branch.


Her criticisms included prior intelligence about the planned attack from an agent within the organisation responsible, which might well have prevented it.


The McCloskey judgment upheld strikingly similar submissions advanced by the same judge when acting for the former head of RUC special branch on that occasion. The case will be held afresh.


As a consequence the Police Ombudsman is unable to publish several major reports into killings involving collusion until the court case concludes. This rearguard action by the former head of special branch is also designed to stall and frustrate accountability.


With appeals and challenges it may take several years to conclude, which is time families don’t have. The current Police Ombudsman, who has the confidence of families, has approximately 15 months left to serve.


More recently in the same High Court the PSNI chief constable, George Hamilton, was found to be in contempt by Justice Ben Stephens for refusing to provide disclosures in a civil case taken by John Flynn in respect to a series of murder bids on Mr. Flynn by the notorious Mount Vernon based UVF – a sectarian criminal gang in which multiple gang members worked for the special branch.


Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan’s report Operation Ballast detailed the activities of this group.


At the same time in the adjacent criminal court families who had loved ones killed by this UVF gang observed as its leading figure, Gary Haggarty, was being sentenced for a series of criminal activities including murder.


Haggarty, a special branch agent throughout his reign of terror, had become an assisting offender in 2009. As an assisting offender Haggarty spent seven years providing evidence on all his activities and accomplices including his special branch handlers who directed his activities, evidence which the court accepted as credible.


Families accepted that Haggarty would get a reduced sentence as an assisting offender but this was mitigated somewhat in that they would also see his special branch handlers in the dock as well as his fellow loyalists as part of this process.


None of this happened despite promises by the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service (PPS) throughout. The matter is now subject to judicial review by the McParland and Monaghan families.


It is suspected that the reasoning behind the deliberate failure to disclose evidence in the Flynn case is to protect the same group of agent handlers within the special branch also involved with Haggarty – shielding them from prosecution.


Policing reform – certainly not when it comes to dealing with the past

These matters bring into sharp focus the independence of the PSNI, where a cabal of former RUC officers who transferred over to the PSNI hold senior positions and now control legacy.


Astonishingly this stranglehold on legacy involves some of the twenty-percent of former RUC who took the incentivised redundancy/retirement package to leave to enable change – but who simply returned as ‘consultants’ and ‘civilian workers’.


Astonishingly in this ‘civilianised’ capacity former RUC within the PSNI are not subject to the oversight powers of the Police Ombudsman – a loophole that the UK and political unionism refuse to rectify.


Taken together with the overall position of the PSNI on legacy this has had a corrosive effect on nationalist confidence in policing, which is now, at an all time low.


The 2009 offer to Haggarty it was revealed came – strangely or not – from MI5, the PSNI (HET) and the PPS. The blurring of boundaries and interference in due process calls into question the very institutions of justice. Of course this is not new.



The trial of British Army Force Research Unit (FRU) agent Brian Nelson in 1992 saw the then British Attorney General (AG), Patrick Mayhew, direct the prosecution case against him following interventions by the UK government in a bid to prevent Nelson from taking the witness stand and disclosing his full activities including murder. A deal was struck with Nelson and 20 counts were removed from the indictment including two for murder.


In 1988 the same Attorney General told the British parliament that it would not be in the public interest to proceed with prosecutions against RUC officers, from a specialist unit known as E4A, involved in a series of shoot-to-kill incidents of unarmed republicans.


The collusive activities of the FRU and RUC special branch were the subject of three major enquiries by the UK’s most senior police officer at the time, Sir John Stevens, from September 1989 to April 2003.


His enquiries found collusion and he recommended that 25 members of the FRU and special branch be prosecuted. This was never acted upon.


Sir John Stevens later told a British Parliamentary Committee that of the 210 people he arrested during his enquiries 207 were agents working for the State.


And so we see the pattern where accountability is thwarted and prevented when involving State killings, its agents operating inside illegal paramilitaries involved in murder, and those agent handlers directing and protecting them.


It is about protecting British State conflict policies and practices of wrongdoing on a massive scale that uncovered would completely tilt the conflict narrative.

It is about protecting the reputational damage this would inflict on the UK. It is all about where this leads to in London and importantly – to whom.


It is precisely why there exists so much opposition to addressing the past.


Moving the goal posts – British bad faith

The pattern of insulating and protecting against such situations of exposure can also be seen across a range of institutions and proposed mechanisms. Take for example the agreement reached in December 2014 at Stormont House to address the legacy of the past. Post the agreement the UK government arbitrarily inserted a ‘national security’ veto into draft legislation enabling the retention and non-disclosure of information in any case they deemed necessary.


Charlie Flanagan TD, who as minister negotiated the agreement on behalf of the Irish government, described this as ‘a smothering blanket’ that was ‘unacceptable’.


More recently in correspondence to RFJ the British Secretary of State for the North said that any consultation on the implementation of any proposed mechanism to address the past would also include a ‘statute of limitations’ for British soldiers – an amnesty. This would be unacceptable.


The ‘lack of resources’ excuse exposed

One of the main arguments proffered for systemic delays in addressing legacy is a lack of resources and funding. This has dramatically impacted the office of the Police Ombudsman and the inquest courts with budgetary cuts despite the increasing caseload.


It is no coincidence that these also happen to be the only functioning mechanisms that have the potential to deliver for families. Now their capacity is hampered.


By contrast the PSNI and other agencies have paid out tens of millions of pounds in a range of civil cases in order to forgo having to disclose information about collusion.


It is in this overall context that resistance by the UK, supported by political unionism, to addressing the legacy of the past in a meaningful, constructive, independent and legally compliant way must be viewed.


Families using the international courts to assert their rights

As a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) the UK are legally obligated to conduct thorough and independent investigations in accordance with Article 2 of the Convention, the Right to life.


Under the Convention States must take measures where life is potentially under threat ensuring safety, and where life is taken then they must ensure investigation meets the above standards.


In truth the UK, through its ‘security’ and intelligence agencies, issued threats to citizens, denied them protection, and assisted in every conceivable way those they then sent to kill them.


That is the conclusions of the Stevens Enquiries, the De Silva Review and the Police Ombudsman. It is why former UK Prime Minister David Cameron apologised to the Finucane family.


In short Article 2 must govern and be at the heart of any future mechanism to address the past.


This legal obligation – it would appear – has proven hugely problematic for the UK authorities – hence the ‘national security’ veto, the proposed statute of limitations, and general circling of the wagons.


This is best illustrated in in the powerful European body the Committee of Ministers to the Council of Europe (CoM/CoE).


Following the May 2001 European Court on Human Rights ruling in the McKerr group of cases, where the UK domestic investigative procedures were unanimously found to have been deliberately prohibitive to establishing the facts and holding to account the perpetrators in respect to State killings including collusion, the Court passed the judgment to the CoM/CoE for supervision.


The role of CoM/CoE is to assist the offending State to remedy the violations by way of ensuring that proper investigative procedures, legally compliant with the Convention, are put in place.


Since May 2001 the CoM/CoE has refused to sign off on their supervision of the UK having not been satisfied that the UK, through its action-plans, has fulfilled its legal obligations.


The need for surviving family members for justice enabling them to move forward

Families want truth, the right to know who precisely were behind the murders of their loved ones.

It is not acceptable that the State, rather than meet its legal obligations to investigate, would prefer to first deny the truth, then when evidence is revealed delay processes to secure justice and accountability all in the hope that relatives might simply die off – which is happening. But other relatives are picking up the baton, continuing the fight, newer generations, and so families will never give up.


As I said at the outset accountability for human rights violations are central to healing and recovery; it enables the victim to recover that sense of disempowerment often associated with a wrong committed – righting that wrong is therefore ethically, morally and above all legally imperative not least when the finger – the evidential trail – points and leads directly to those in power – the police, military and government – who carry the duty to protect and prevent wrongdoing but who instead engaged in the practice of murder and cover-up.


In such situations the necessity to ensure justice and accountability is, arguably, all the more.



Implicit in this testimony – there has been no police reform when it comes to dealing with the past – only obfuscation.


Implicit – families are actively to the fore in public discourse, engaged in litigation and other forums seeking truth and accountability for past violations – having to challenge a State standing in their way.


This work by families is about historic clarification, the dignity of truth, and healing.


The families we are humbled to work with – the families engaged in all this work – are the real heroes of the Irish peace process.


Finally I want to put on record the crucially important international forum these hearings provide to families and NGO’s engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights.


These hearings, even twenty years after the peace accord, are necessary in assisting and encouraging a rights based approach within the context of our still developing peace process.


A lot has been achieved but the reality is we are not there yet. Your influence, vigilance and scrutiny therefore have real meaning and impact in the work still to be completed.


In particular I want to acknowledge Congressman Smith for his consistent and dedicated work over two decades in seeking to consolidate and build upon the peace process.


Thank you – Go raibh maith agaibh




By Brian Gormally


The Good Friday Agreement at 20; Achievements and Unfinished Business

Evidence from the Committee on the Administration of Justice (Belfast)

to the

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe United States Congress

22 March 2018


The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) is honoured to be giving evidence to this Commission on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement. This Agreement, and the subsequent agreements of different kinds designed to implement it, has given us 20 years of relative peace; following a disastrous, thirty year violent political conflict that is something genuinely worthy of celebration. CAJ is an organisation devoted to the protection and promotion of human rights. Since we know that violent conflict always involves a bonfire of human rights, protecting and promoting the peace settlement is our top priority.


The peace agreement was designed to create a political and geographical space which could be shared by those with different national aspirations and allegiances. To do this it recognised the right of the whole people of the island of Ireland to self-determination and the right of the people of the North to vote to join a united Ireland. It declared that it was the “birthright” of those born in Northern Ireland to be Irish or British or both and established a form of government that would mean that one community could not dominate the other. To underpin all of that, however, was an infrastructure of proposed legislation and institutions which would guarantee that the Northern Ireland of the future would be a rights based society.


CAJ, along with others, made substantial efforts to ensure human rights were mainstreamed into the peace settlement and the Agreement itself. There was considerable success. A cursory search of the text of the Agreement shows that the words ‘right’ or ‘rights’ appears 61 times. The then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson noted “…the Good Friday Agreement is conspicuous by the centrality it gives to equality and human rights concerns.” The range of subsequent international Agreements between the two sovereign governments to implement and take forward the settlement also contained a number of human rights commitments (although unfortunately no dispute resolution mechanism to assist implementation).


The commitments to protecting human rights in legislation included a promise to incorporate the European Convention of Human Rights into domestic law, a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland including additional rights, a Single Equality Act, an Irish Language Act and a duty to be placed on public authorities to consider the equality impacts of any policy. In addition, a series of Acts would be required to implement the recommendations of the “Patten Commission” on a thorough reform of policing. Institutionally, the Agreement established a new Human Rights Commission with extensive investigative and legislative oversight power and an Equality Commission to enforce the public equality duty.


CAJ has long pressed for enforcement to ensure that the elements of the peace settlement which do protect human rights are, and continue to be, implemented. It is important to stress that these provisions were not mere manifesto commitments by governments now out of office but rather provisions which were enshrined into bilateral (UK-Ireland) treaties and international agreements between them which are binding in international law.


The reality is that, while huge advances have been made and society in the North is now very different to that of 20 years ago, there are outstanding commitments and unfulfilled promises which weaken the peace process. Concern has been expressed by CAJ and other human rights organisations for some years that there has been and continues to be persistent attempts at a ‘rollback’ by the state, or elements within its institutions, of the human rights provisions of the Agreements. This includes commitments made as part of the settlement which have never been implemented and areas where institutional and policy gains were made which are now being undermined.


There are unimplemented commitments to legislate for a Bill of Rights and Irish

Language Act and to introduce an anti-poverty strategy; the statutory equality duties have not been properly implemented and there are unfulfilled commitments to repeal emergency law. There is even a threat to the European Convention on Human Rights and its incorporation into Northern Ireland law. Some commitments like the ‘right of women to full and equal political participation’ and to supporting young people from areas affected by the conflict have never had a delivery mechanism to take them forward.


There has been regression in commitments to victims’ services, a drift away from commitments to tackle inequality on the basis of objective need, and to remove employment barriers for ex-prisoners. There has been a slow pace of some justice reform and the undermining of the independence of key peace settlement institutions such as occurred during the tenure of the second Police Ombudsman. Policing also has seen regression from the Patten blueprint – most notably in the 2007 transfer of the most controversial area of policing (‘national security’ covert policing) away from the PSNI and all the post-Patten oversight bodies to the Security Service MI5.


Policing is particularly important in establishing trust in the institutions of society and in the rule of law. Huge progress has been made. In many respects the Police Service of Northern Ireland tries to live up to the Patten Report’s statement that the purpose of policing should be “the protection and vindication of the human rights of all… There should be no conflict between human rights and policing; policing means protecting human rights.” Our systems of accountability and oversight, especially the independent Ombudsman with its own investigators, should be a model for democratic policing throughout the world. However, areas of concern remain.


The unaccountable and secret Security Service or MI5 has primacy for national security intelligence policing in the North, which is a huge gap in accountability. They run agents with no system – that we know of – for limiting their engagement in criminality. The PSNI also run secret informants but at least an Assistant Chief Constable has to sign off on any criminal activity. The PSNI is also obliged to support the activities of the UK Border Force and Immigration Enforcement – which have a history of human rights abuses and no local accountability. We believe that there is prima facie evidence of the police unlawfully using counter-terrorism powers in immigration enforcement.


Elements of the police are also responsible for some of the delay and obfuscation in dealing with the past which we detail below. The control of intelligence material by officers who served in RUC Special Branch, its over classification and the wilful failure to expedite the production of evidence to inquests and courts are all continuing problems.


It is arguable, however, that the main area in which continuing human rights violations undermine society and threaten the peace process is one not properly covered by the peace agreement. That is the continuing search for impunity by the UK state for the actions of its agents during the conflict.


Combating impunity is one of the foremost preoccupations of human rights activists throughout the world. The reasoning is simple – if impunity persists there can be no justice or truth for victims, future perpetrators will be emboldened and confidence in the rule of law is weakened. Those outcomes are exactly being produced with regard to continuing impunity for those who violated human rights during the conflict in Ireland. Victims are dying without seeing justice or even serious attempts to achieve it, torture and other crimes have been carried out by UK security forces in other parts of the world and faith in the rule of law is falling away.


The delays, obfuscations and squeezing of resources by the UK authorities and local allies, which have been detailed year after year, can only be understood as designed to maintain an apparatus of impunity. The insistence on security agencies and ministers having a “national security” veto over what information is published is an insistence on impunity for their agents. This is why combating impunity is CAJ’s top priority.


In August 2001, the European Court of Human Rights gave judgement in a number of cases from Northern Ireland known collectively as the “McKerr group of cases.” These were cases involving deaths in which UK security forces were involved; CAJ was the legal representative in three of them. Other judgements followed in 2002, 2003 and 2013. All said that the UK was in breach of its obligation under Article 2 of the Convention (“Right to Life”) to properly investigate these crimes. To this day, the UK has still not discharged its obligations and the cases remain under the supervision of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the body which oversees implementation of the judgements of the Court.


In its decision of September 21st 2017, the Committee of Ministers:


“noted  with  deep  concern  that  the  Historical  Investigations  Unit  (HIU)  and  other  legacy  institutions  agreed  upon  in December 2014 [ the Stormont House Agreement] have still not been established because of a failure to reach agreement on the legislation required;


“considered  it  imperative  that  a  way  forward  is  found  to  enable  effective  investigations  to  be  conducted  particularly  in light  of  the  length  of  time  that  has  already  passed  since  these  judgments  became  final,  and  the  failure  of  previous initiatives to achieve effective, expeditious investigations; called upon the authorities to take all necessary measures to ensure that the planned public consultation phase regarding the HIU is launched and concluded within a clear timescale to  ensure  that  the  legislation  can  be  presented  to  Parliament  and  the  HIU  established  and  made  operational  without any further delay;”


It went on to say that it:


“deeply  regretted  that  the  necessary  resources  have  not  been  provided  to  allow  effective  legacy  inquests  to  be concluded  within  a  reasonable  time;  strongly  urged  the  authorities  to  take,  as  a  matter  of  urgency,  all  necessary measures  to  ensure  both  that  the  legacy  inquest  system  is  properly  resourced  and  reformed  in  accordance  with  the Lord  Chief  Justice  of  Northern  Ireland’s  proposals  and  that  the  Coroners’  Service  receives  the  full  co-operation  of  the relevant statutory agencies to enable effective investigations to be concluded.”


The exasperation of the Committee with the procrastination of the UK Government is clear – more important is the hurt of the victims still denied justice and the corrosive impact of the lack of institutions to deal with the past on the present trust in the institutions of state and the rule of law.


There are some signs of progress in the courts. Exactly a fortnight ago, the High Court in Belfast held that the decision of the then First Minister, Arlene Foster, to prevent a request going to the British government to fund legacy inquests was unlawful (Hughes Case). The judgement was partly based on the finding that each part of government has to take into account the Article 2 duty to investigate past deaths and to ignore that responsibility is unlawful. The so-called “hooded men” case, in which CAJ represents the daughter of one of the 14 men tortured in 1971 and who died because of it, is being fast tracked by the Court of Appeal with the intention of getting a swift judgement from the Supreme Court on the application of the investigative obligation in both right to life and torture cases.


The judgement in the Irish application for revision of the European Court of Human Rights judgement in Ireland v. UK – which in 1978 made the disastrous distinction between torture and inhuman and degrading treatment in respect of the hooded men – was delivered on the morning of Tuesday 20th March. This is a narrow and largely technical decision by the European Court of Human Rights. It considered that the new evidence was not sufficient to show that, had it been taken into account by the original court, it would have been decisive in changing the original judgement. This is hugely disappointing in that it leaves the unjustified distinction between “torture” and “inhuman and degrading treatment” intact. However, we should remember that the Article 3 prohibition on all such treatment, whatever the definition, is absolute. Those who have sought to justify brutal interrogation methods on the basis of the 1978 judgement are still wrong in law and barbaric in their practice.


For the last four years we have been expecting the UK Government to publish legislation to implement the Stormont House Agreement (SHA). We are now told the text will be published after Easter for consultation. It remains to be seen whether this will be a good faith attempt to implement the SHA in a human rights compliant manner or another way of delaying and denying truth with a blanket national security veto on information to be released to families.


In a highly disturbing development, and notwithstanding the reality that only a small number of legacy cases relate to British soldiers, a recent report of the Commons Defence Select Committee called for the enactment of a “statute of limitations” covering all Troubles-related incidents involving members of the Armed Forces. This concept effectively means a selective amnesty for crimes committed by British soldiers. The Committee also suggested that it be extended to the RUC and other security force members. This position is, of course, completely contrary to human rights standards and, were it enacted, would probably be found unlawful by the courts. Nonetheless, the UK Government has said that it will include the proposal in the forthcoming consultation on the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.


It is impossible to conclude a discussion on the status of the Good Friday Agreement without mentioning “Brexit,” the decision by the UK to leave the European Union. This will have a profound effect on the legal and constitutional underpinning of the present jurisdiction of Northern Ireland, its relations with the Irish state and UK-Ireland bilateral relations. The UK and Ireland’s common membership of the EU was an assumption in the Belfast Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and the UK’s adherence to EU law regulates the powers and legislative operations of the devolved institutions. The equal rights of Irish and British citizens, a principle of the GFA, in great part relies on the equal rights of both as having EU citizenship. The lack of significant border regulation is largely due to common membership of the EU, North and South, as well as the improved security situation. The UK clamp down on immigration after Brexit may turn Northern Ireland into “one big border” with enhanced enforcement and serial human rights abuses. Many equality and anti-discrimination provisions in Northern Ireland, which have particular importance in a divided society, rely on EU law. Furthermore, the decision to leave the EU, based on a UK referendum in which Northern Ireland (as well as Scotland) voted to stay, is an affront to the principle of self-determination of the Irish people, which is a foundation stone of the Agreement.


All of these impacts could have a destabilising effect on the constitutional, political and legal settlement that, in the main, ended the violent political conflict which devastated the people of Northern Ireland and gravely affected those in the rest of the UK and Ireland. While it is unlikely that any one particular effect of leaving the EU would destroy the peace settlement, the cumulative impact could begin to unravel it. In particular, any diminution in the protection of rights of the people living on the island could reduce trust in the GFA institutions and any unravelling of the settlement would be disastrous for human rights. A continuing preoccupation of CAJ will therefore be the protection of the integrity of the peace settlement and the various agreements that make it up.


We would like to commend this Commission for holding this hearing and to support the resolution that has been put to Congress. The Good Friday Agreement has won us 20 years of relative peace but the goal of making that peace permanent, based as it must be on a rights based society, remains to be achieved.


Ancient Order of

Testimony Submitted by the Honorable James F. McKay III
on behalf of the Ancient Order of Hibernians
before the U.S. Helsinki Commission
Thursday, March 22, 2018
The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) is the oldest Irish Catholic fraternal organization
in the United States, originally founded in 1836. Along with our sister organization, the Ladies
Ancient Order of Hibernians, we have over 80,000 members throughout the United States, and
not just in places like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia – but in less obvious places as well,
such as Butte, Montana; Los Angeles, California; and New Orleans, Louisiana. According to the
most recent U.S. Census, there are an estimated 33.3 million people in the U.S. who claim Irish
heritage.1 The world figure is estimated to be around 70 million,2 which means at least half of
the Irish diaspora resides in the United States. In fact, we often hear it said around St. Patrick’s
Day that there are only two kinds of people in the world – the Irish, and those who wish they
were. Even though that’s just a joke, there is no question that for a country roughly the same
size as the State of West Virginia, Americans do pay a great deal of attention to the Irish, and it
is this connection between America and Ireland that organizations like the AOH continue to
celebrate and foster.
Twenty years ago, a document that has come to be known as the Good Friday Agreement
was signed by political representatives of the people of Northern Ireland and representatives of
the British and Irish governments. This historic agreement brought an end to the violence of the
Troubles, and introduced peace to a conflict where over 3,500 people had lost their lives in civil
unrest, proportionately one of the deadliest in history.3
1 U.S. Census Bureau (http://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/13_1YR/B04003/0100000US)
2 “Global Irish: Ireland’s Diaspora Policy,” Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, March 2015.
3 https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1hRidYe3-avd7gvlZWVi1YZB7QY6dKhekPS1I1kbFTnY/edit#gid=0

One of the tenants of the AOH is a quote from Padrig Pearse which states, “Ireland
Unfree Shall Never Be At Peace.” The Good Friday Agreement delivered peace only because it
also promised freedom. The Good Friday Agreement promised freedom and reconciliation
based on a parity of esteem for both sides of that divide. The successes of the Agreement to
date have been achieved through hard work, the commitment by members of all the local
communities who suffered tragedies during the Troubles, and by requiring considerable courage
from political leaders who faced hard consequences from their constituencies in making any
Countless books and articles have been written on the topic of the Good Friday
Agreement, and we have seen a number of recent celebrations of the 20-year milestone in both
Ireland and the United States. And one of the topics that so many of us can all agree on is how
important the United States was in securing this historic deal known as the Good Friday
Agreement. The relationship between America and Ireland goes back to even before there was a
United States. It was Ireland that first sent aid to struggling American colonies seeking their
own independence. George Washington once described Ireland as, “thou friend of my country in
my country’s most friendless days,” and concluded with, “May the God of Heaven…cause the
sun of Freedom to shed its benign radiance on the Emerald Isle.” While having Americans
insert themselves into the politics and policies of Ireland was nothing new at the time, the
commitment, leadership, and direct engagement shown by U.S. officials during this period was
unprecedented. In fact, I am not entirely sure we would have even had a Good Friday
Agreement, had it not been for the engagement of American officials like President Bill Clinton,
Senator George Mitchell, Senator Ted Kennedy, Congressman Richie Neal, and Congressman
Peter King – to name just a few, who refused to give up on a deal when tensions became too high
or certain groups walked away from the negotiating table. These representatives of the
American people helped build a bridge over the dark chasms of mistrusts, providing an impartial
ear to the concerns of all parties and provided an incubator where the Good Friday Agreement,
sometimes called the “Peace and Reconciliation Agreement” could be born.
This Good Friday Agreement, and subsequent agreements such as the St. Andrews
Agreement in 2006, the Hillsborough Agreement in 2010, and the Stormont Agreement in 2014,
was anchored on the fundamental principles of basic human dignity and rights that are the
foundation of our own government. The goals of the Good Friday Agreement were meant to
give the future back to the people of Northern Ireland unshackled from the legacy of the past.
For the first time in a very long time, simple things, like everyday grocery shopping,
worshipping on Sundays, or taking family outings on holidays could be conducted without fear
or trepidation. And during the past 20 years, a generation has grown up in Northern Ireland
without knowing the fears and anxieties that constant violence inflicts upon communities.
Further, we have come to learn that peace brings prosperity. The economy in Northern
Ireland has made significant advances since the Troubles, and despite setbacks from the global
recession, the North of Ireland has seen a growth in tourism, a growth in foreign direct
investment, and a commitment to increasing the private sector. In fact, Northern Ireland’s Gross
Domestic Product has grown slightly in the four quarters ending in September 2017, and the
unemployment rate is currently 3.9 percent, which is lower than the UK average at 4.4 percent,
the Irish average at 6.3 percent, and the EU average at 7.3 percent.4 Additionally, the gap in
unemployment rates between members of the Catholic and Protestant community is near parity.
So while we recognize that great strides have been made in the last 20 years in all sectors,
final peace has not yet been achieved in Northern Ireland. We praise the efforts of Senator
George Mitchell and other subsequent envoys of the United States to Northern Ireland, and we
praise the work of all the politicians on the ground in Northern Ireland who made the Good
Friday Agreement a reality. However, the Good Friday Agreement was merely the beginning of
a process aimed at creating a fair and equitable society for all the communities of the North of
At an event just last week at the Library of Congress to commemorate the 20th
anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, in a pre-recorded message for attendees, President
Clinton told the audience that there is still significant work to be done in the North of Ireland.
He noted that the Good Friday Agreement is still not finished and he challenged all of us, “seize
this moment of memory to move into the future – together.”5 As President Clinton pointed out,
4 Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, Northern Ireland Labour Market Report, February 2018.
5 Forum Marking the 20th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (3/13/17) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VC-RlOteG1s)
there are still ongoing hurdles in Northern Ireland. These challenges exist at every level of civil
society and address basic issues such as dealing with the past with justice and respecting the
history and culture of all communities with mutual respect and parity of esteem. These are
difficult and tough discussions to be had, but these are conversations that must take place.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians agrees with President Clinton; we believe the time is
now for the United States to recommit itself to the principles of the Good Friday Agreement. In
fact, the AOH has repeatedly requested that this Administration fulfill its commitment to appoint
a Special Envoy to Northern Ireland immediately. This is an extremely critical time for Northern
Ireland, and as political parties continue to attempt to form a sustainable government while
addressing the fears and anxieties of Brexit, we believe that America must reaffirm through the
presence of a Special Envoy that the peace and well-being of the community of the North of
Ireland is still a priority to the U.S., and America is willing to walk with the representatives of
those communities on the road to a lasting peace.
I believe that it is important to note that the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America has
been and will be in the future, working for the unification of Ireland. The Preamble of our AOH
Constitution states that the purpose of our Organization is to promote:
Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity: and to aid and advance by all legitimate
means the aspirations and endeavors of the Irish people for complete and absolute
independence providing peace and unity for all Ireland.
That being said, we understand that this cannot be accomplished overnight and complete
independence can only be achieved when a majority of people on both sides of the border wish it
to happen.
For over 30 years, the Ancient Order of Hibernians has been engaged with a variety of
organizations in the North of Ireland, and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into
organizations that provide assistance for charities and agencies to aid and advance, by all
legitimate means, the aspirations and endeavors of the Irish people. We in our own way continue
on the efforts of successive U.S. envoys to bridge the gaps of ignorance and mistrust. Our
donations sent to Northern Ireland each year go to cross-appeal organizations such as Holy Cross
Trust of Ardoyne, Belfast, Omagh Community Youth Choir, St. Patrick’s Centre, Downpatrick,
and Conway Mill Trust Inc., just to name a few.
Additionally, the AOH supports the promotion of the Irish language in Ireland, which has
garnered much media attention as a cause, but not the only one, for the failure to restore the
power sharing government in the North of Ireland. It is incredulous that anyone would have an
objection to the Irish language being taught and used in Ireland. We note that acts supporting
and promoting indigenous languages in other parts of the United Kingdom, specifically Scotland
and Wales, have long been enacted. The Irish language is one of the ten oldest languages still
spoken in the world today; it is a treasure that all communities of Ireland should be proud of. To
those who ask if the study of language should be a barrier to forming a government, we respond
that if something as benign as the promotion of the Irish language cannot be resolved, then what
hope is there to address more contentious issues. We believe that these issues of identity should
always be on the table for discussion and can be addressed better if an impartial outsider, like an
American Envoy, chairs the discussions.
Finally, one of the many other groups that we support monetarily on an annual basis is
Relatives for Justice, which works for truth and justice for victims and survivors of victims
during the Troubles. Utilizing a third party, in this case, the U.S. Envoy, to help address some of
these “legacy issues” is critical to finding a path forward. For example, the Stormont Agreement
was signed in 2014 and created agencies such as the IRG (The Implementation and
Reconciliation Group), the OHA (Oral History Archive), the ICIR (The Independent
Commission on Information Retrieval) and the HIU (Historical Investigative Unit). These
agencies were created to address human rights violations of the past and to attempt to achieve
some type of closure and justice when possible. Not all of these agencies have gone into full
effect yet because although the Good Friday Agreement has been enabled, it has not been fully
implemented. The AOH believes the many legacy issues should be handled with a third-party
negotiator involved to give credibility to the impartiality and transparency of the process.
In addition to addressing legacy issues, the people of Northern Ireland are now forced to
deal with concerns surrounding Brexit and how Northern Ireland may be impacted. After the
Good Friday Agreement was initially implemented in 1998, not only was the “hard border” of
military checkpoints and concertina wire demolished, but also the psychological borders that
separated two people on a tiny island. All that was left was the memory of those trying days
trying to get back and forth across the border. Today, the local people of Northern Ireland can
cross the border multiple times in any given day – for work, for school, for shopping – for life.
The dissolution of UK’s membership in the European Union has once again raised the
specter of a “hard border” in which all affected communities are in rare unanimity. Yet, no
feasible, detailed means of avoiding a “hard border” have yet been identified. Much has been
made of “commitments” and “desires” to avoid a hard border, but the devil is in the details. To
avoid the disastrous consequences of a hard border in Ireland, compromises will be needed by all
parties. The AOH believes this is yet another excellent reason to appoint a Special Envoy to
Northern Ireland who can impartially facilitate finding common ground and begin to exhibit trust
in carving out the future.
If the current demographics of Northern Ireland at 48 percent Protestant and 45 percent
Catholic continue6, this trend would indicate a Catholic majority in five to ten years, or perhaps
even less. In attempting to obtain reconciliation and justice, these figures cannot be ignored.
The majority of today can become the minority of tomorrow and the blanket of protections
enacted today will equally cover those who may feel they do not need them today. There is no
question that Senator Mitchell, who forged this Agreement 20 years ago, knew of these facts
when he espoused them during his mediations in 1998, which is why it is so crucial to find an
equitable path forward for all parties.
Certainly one of the most well respected members of government from the Nationalist
side was Martin McGuinness. In fact, I don’t think most people recognized his stature until after
his death. What he believed in has been reduced by some of our Irish organizations in this
country, the AOH included, to four basic principles: those of self-determination, respect,
equality and truth.
“Two tribes: A divided Northern Ireland,” The Irish Times (4/1/2017) (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/two-tribes-a-divided-northern-ireland-1.3030921)
“The imposition of Brexit, despite the vote of the people of the north to remain (in the
European Union) underlines the undemocratic nature of partition… There is a
democratic imperative to provide Irish citizens with the right to vote in a Border poll to
end partition and retain a role in the EU.”
“A border poll is part of the process of building a modern and dynamic New Republic on
this island – an agreed Ireland achieved by peaceful and democratic means.”
– Martin McGuinness.
“Successive British Governments …have totally failed to meet their obligations… to
protect the rights of the Irish language community.”
-Martin McGuinness
‘We have pressed consistently for, the establishment of a Bill of Rights in the North and
an all-Ireland Charter of Rights.”
-Martin McGuinness
“Dealing with the legacy of the past remains one of the key outstanding challenges of our
peace process. Unless it is dealt with in a comprehensive manner then the essential
process of healing and reconciliation cannot gain momentum.”
-Martin McGuinness
The Ancient Order of Hibernians in America fully support these espoused principles and
believe that they are in keeping with the best values of our organization, i.e., Truth, Respect,
Equality, and Self-Determination. Only God knows the future for Ireland and we can only
continue to do what we have done in the past, and that is to support the efforts and principles of
the Good Friday Agreement and continue to spread the word to all who will listen of the
achievements that have been made to date.