US delegation departs and underlines opposition to Brexit border damage
THE US Congressional delegation ended its five-day fact-finding trip to Ireland yesterday by reinforcing the hope that Brexit will do nothing to undermine the Good Friday Agreement.
The group, led by House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi, concluded its visit with a morning engagement at Stormont to mark 21 years since the signing of the peace accord.
The event in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings was hosted by Robin Newton, speaker of the dormant assembly, and attended by representatives from the main parties and guests drawn from civil society.
Entitled The Post Good Friday/Belfast Agreement Generation: the future potential of Northern Ireland, the audience heard speeches from Ms Pelosi and Mr Newton alongside addresses from schoolgirls Hannah Toner from Our Lady and Patrick's College in Belfast and Joanna Kerr from Portadown College.
Proceedings were overshadowed by the previous night's killing of Lyra McKee in Derry by dissident republicans, and accordingly, there was a minute's silence to remember the murdered journalist.
Ms Pelosi opened her speech by paying tribute to all who had gathered and thanked the two schoolgirls who had spoken about their hopes for the future, adding that she enjoyed listening to young people when she travelled across the world.
"Weren't they wonderful," she said to applause. "They give voice to the sentiment of so many young people."
She said their message will be taken across the US by the congressmen and women in her delegation.
"All of our members are here for a purpose, and you are fulfilling that purpose because you are telling us that the Good Friday accords are alive and well," she said.
"We are pleased to be at this historic estate, this is a historic place, but our work is about the future – respect history, but it is about the future."
She said Stormont had been a witness to much of Northern Ireland's "proud history" but also the "rough and tumble of the accords".
"But many of us have been here on occasions when it was a little more rough and tumble, shall we say, before the accords – it's lovely to be here now," she said.
At a press conference afterwards, Congressman Richard Neal said the visit had been "informative and delightful".
He said the delegation had not encountered anybody who was proposing a "competing alternative to the Good Friday Agreement".
"The one position that we all hold is that no wants a return of a hard border – we've made that as clear as we can," he said.
He said the US was a guarantor of the 1998 accord and that he and his colleagues did want to see the agreement "compromised in any sense or term".
Mr Neal said the previous night's events in Derry highlighted "how fragile the peace can be".