The row over the Protocol is proof that the Irish-US bond is stronger than ever
Another British government bill, another opportunity for American intervention. At the end of last week, twenty-seven members of the US House of Representatives signed a letter, addressed to Rishi Sunak, expressing “grave concern” about the UK government’s proposals for conditional amnesties for crimes committed by both terrorists and state forces between 1969 and 1998, during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Notably, this latest intervention has been welcomed by Sinn Féin’s vice-president, Michelle O’Neill. Seven of the signatories are Republicans — of the American rather than Irish variety — which is not a party usually known for objecting to trigger-happy law enforcement officers escaping justice.
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Establishing moral equivalence between the IRA and the British State during the Troubles is a key Sinn Féin project, although the bulk of nationalist Ireland remains sceptical about it. This perhaps explains why the Irish government and Northern Ireland’s other pro-reunification party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), have largely ignored the letter, even though the UK proposals have been rejected by every shade of opinion on the island, including Unionists.
American interventions on Brexit’s impact on the Irish border, meanwhile, are enthusiastically welcomed across the Irish political spectrum, from Sinn Féin through Dublin’s ruling establishment parties to Northern Ireland’s centrist and contingently pro-Union Alliance Party. These groups all share an overriding consensus on the absolute priority of maintaining an open border between the two Irish jurisdictions. Pressure on London over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol agreed between the UK and the EU has come from President Biden and other key figures in his administration, rather than merely from members of legislature.
Irish influence in America is not just about raw political calculation, nor entirely about the large number of Americans who proudly bear Irish ancestry. The technocrats miss that the founding myths of both the United States and the modern Irish state are the same story told in different contexts: a successful domestic revolution against British imperialism.
Put bluntly, the Irish special relationship with America has trumped the traditional Special Relationship because the Irish can tell a more emotionally compelling story to an American audience. This is a powerful tool in an era that venerates sentimentally charged narratives.
The Irish-US bond has strengthened even as the war in Ukraine has exposed Ireland’s low military spending and noisy minority of far-Left politicians publicly in love with Putin (and even as the UK has shown its strengths, with substantial shipment of arms to the conflict zone and large numbers of Ukrainian conscripts training on Salisbury Plain).
As long as administrations in Dublin are headed by pro-market technocrats protective of American multinationals’ investments in Ireland, Washington’s pro-Irish stance is unlikely to change, and London will just have to take the geopolitical pain. Or, as seems increasingly likely, the UK government will have to accept that Northern Ireland will remain substantially within the EU’s regulatory orbit. This will be the price for a final dash to scrap EU regulations in Great Britain before the next general election.