Irish America, Give Us a Hand This St. Patrick’s Day
By Brian Dooley
It’s time for Irish America to get serious and get organized. Key parts of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement are under threat, including determining the legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland.
The British government is pushing legislation through its parliament that will let off people who committed murder, torture, and other serious crimes during the conflict that took place from 1969 through 1998. It’s an attempt to grant immunity to former British soldiers and others after several inquests and court cases exposed the truth about British state violence during those years.
The legislation will end all further prosecutions and formal inquests into what happened in those decades. A report this week from the Congressional Research Service identifies the bill as one of the key hurdles in the ongoing peace process.
What’s this got to do with Irish Americans?
Actually quite a lot. The United States government holds real influence, not least in its negotiations with London over a possible new, post-Brexit trade deal.
President Biden plans to visit Belfast and Dublin next month to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which helped to end the large-scale violence in Northern Ireland, and which was partly brokered by Washington with a forceful push from Irish America.
That muscle is needed again. If Irish America gets focused and organized it can give Biden the political support he needs to take a hard line in negotiations with the British on trade and to push to kill this awful legislation that would grant immunity to Britain’s former soldiers and others.
The past is still very much present in Northern Ireland. This week, a coroner’s inquest has been hearing more evidence about the killing of five people, including three teenagers and a priest, by British soldiers in the Springhill-Westrock area of Belfast one night in July 1972.
And on Tuesday a BBC investigation into the use of rubber and plastic bullets during the conflict revealed that the British military knew it was too dangerous to fire the bullets at children, but continued to do so and that local police used a type of plastic bullet gun never fully cleared for use against people.
At least 120,000 rubber and plastic bullets were fired during the conflict by security forces, killing dozens of people, including eight children. Many more people were seriously injured.
Human Rights First is part of an international panel examining state impunity during the conflict, and we know how important the weight of U.S. government intervention in these issues can be. We have been advocating on human rights issues in Northern Ireland for over 30 years.
We understand that Irish America is a contested, multi-layered entity that includes a wide range of political and cultural views and that Americans’ identification with Ireland can be a complicated choice.
St. Patrick recorded in the Fifth Century how he was abducted as a 16-year-old from his home in Britain and “taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others” where he was held and forced to work for six years before escaping. His life wasn’t about dyeing rivers green or dancing in leprechaun costumes. It was a life of struggle and hardship.
If Irish Americans want to pay tribute to him and do what’s best for Ireland, they will tell their elected representatives to join their 27 colleagues in Congress who have already opposed this British legislation that threatens further damage to Ireland.