Northern Ireland news

Irish American Brian O'Dwyer warns transatlantic special relationship jeopardised by British government protocol 'shenanigans'

Prominent Irish American Brian O'Dwyer. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

THE BRITISH government is jeopardising its historical special relationship with the US by its "shenanigans" over the Northern Ireland protocol, a leading Irish-American has warned.

Brian O'Dwyer again stressed that any move that leads to a hardening of the border or the undermining of the Good Friday Agreement would scupper the prospects of a US-UK trade deal.

He said Irish-America had never been so powerful and that anybody who ignored its influence "does so at their own peril".

Mr O'Dwyer was speaking to The Irish News from New York ahead of his visit to Ireland this week.

The leading attorney and prominent Irish-American political activist, who was previously mooted as the Biden administration's ambassador in Ireland, will tomorrow deliver the Irish Studies International Lecture at Queen's University in Belfast.

His visit comes less than a fortnight after the US congressional delegation led by Congressman Richard Neal warned the British government that a resolution to concerns around the protocol would be found through negotiation rather than unilateral action.

In recent weeks, the Tory administration has said that it plans to table legislation that will make changes to the protocol, which is part of the Withdrawal Agreement agreed with the EU in 2019.

Mr O'Dwyer's speech, entitled 'Irish America From The Troubles to Brexit: A Sleeping Giant Awakes', will include a historical analysis of the interplay between the US, Ireland and Britain and will conclude with an assessment of the current situation under the Biden administration, and in the context of continued UK government agitation around the post-Brexit trade arrangements

He said he acknowledged unionist concerns about the Irish Sea border but said it was welcome that unionists had appeared to accept that some form of protocol was necessary.

The former president of the Irish Chamber of Commerce USA said it was Irish America's priority to support peace and ensure the Good Friday Agreement was honoured.

"Our job is not to be in the middle of a protocol negotiation saying what needs to be inspected and what does not," he said.

"Instead we will encourage all sides, all traditions to come together on this."

He said Irish America needed to "do more to show both traditions that they are treasured" but warned Downing Street about taking unilateral action.

"Every once in a while you hear the British government saying they are going to unilaterally change the protocol and somebody will spout off saying they're not concerned about Irish America," he said.

"Well I think the British government ought to be concerned because frankly we've beaten them on a range of issues regarding Ireland and again if the Good Friday Agreement is not honoured we'll do everything we can to stop a trade agreement."

He said the influence of Irish America had been demonstrated in the past regarding the MacBride Principles and the granting of a visa to Gerry Adams in the mid-1990s but Mr O'Dwyer believes the lobby is now stronger than ever.

"We don't only have Joe Biden in the White House but we now have the support of people in the State Department's and National Security Council," he said.

'"And of course in Congress we have extremely powerful people who know the issues, such as Richie Neal, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, who aren't not going to automatically take the British government's side – we're in a very different era now."

Mr O'Dwyer said he believed in the special relationship but that it was conditional.

"There is a special relationship and I think there ought to be but that doesn't give Britain carte blanche to do whatever it likes in Northern Ireland, which was the case pre-Bill Clinton," he said.

"Our State Department has made it very clear that in this time of peril in Europe, with the invasion of Ukraine, the shenanigans the British are doing are harming that unity and the special relationship – the US government is very clear on that."

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