Tuesday 21 May 2019

John Downing: 'Yes, Ms Pelosi is definitely 'playing politics' - but it is still a benefit to us'


‘Values’: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Richard Neal at a reception hosted by Tanaiste Simon Coveney in Iveagh House, Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
‘Values’: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Richard Neal at a reception hosted by Tanaiste Simon Coveney in Iveagh House, Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
John Downing

John Downing

Nancy Pelosi is an Italian American with a formidable political track record.

As the third most powerful politician in the United States, she certainly packs a punch when she speaks. And her blunt message to President Donald Trump and the UK Brexiteers has a very encouraging ring for the Irish Government and people.

Speaking in Dublin, she warned Mr Trump and the Brexiteers not to even think about a US-UK trade deal if there is any threat of a Border in Ireland. It was notable that there was no caveat to dilute the strength of her message - this one came straight from the shoulder.

It can serve as another reminder that Ireland still packs a punch in the USA - but let's not get the head staggers here.

True, the speaker in the US House of Representatives said a trade agreement that damages peace in Ireland "just can't possibly happen". She was addressing a small gathering at the Department of Foreign Affairs' splendid headquarters, Iveagh House.

The attendees were seated at six tables, named for counties to which key people were linked. Thus, Ms Pelosi was at the 'Cork table' along with Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, while European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee was the lead at the 'Meath table'. Ireland's redoubtable ambassador in Washington, Dan Mulhall, headed the table from his native Waterford.

So much for the protocol - but let's stay with the US speaker's core message. Ms Pelosi said the 1998 Good Friday Agreement is "not just a peace agreement" - but something that resolved hundreds of years of conflict.

She rightly said America, including president Bill Clinton and former senator George Mitchell, had worked hard to ensure people on this island could live in harmony.

"This isn't for us an issue or an agreement. It's a value," she said.

Ms Pelosi went on to say that while speaking with UK politicians in recent days she made clear the position of the Democratic Party. She said the UK people had voted to leave the EU and politicians must facilitate that.

But she added: "And as they work that out, not to think for one minute that there's any comfort for them, that if they leave the EU they will quickly have a US-UK trade agreement. That's just not on the cards if there is any harm done to the Good Friday accords. Don't even think about it."

Ms Pelosi said US politicians were not taking sides: "We're just holding to our values. It's an ideal that is a model for the world. Other places copy it so that they can make peace and find common ground."

Mr Coveney told the same gathering Ireland respects British voters' decision to leave and does not want to make life difficult for them.

"We want our nearest neighbours to thrive and to prosper," the Tánaiste said diplomatically, adding though that the UK has no right to determine Ireland's future.

There is no denying the volume of US political and financial investment in establishing and sustaining peace in Northern Ireland. And the bulk of that came from Ms Pelosi's Democratic Party colleagues, Mr Clinton and the heaven-sent envoy, senator George Mitchell, without whom the deal very probably would not have happened.

But we must also recognise that it is Ms Pelosi's job to oppose the current US president, using her party's majority position in the House of Representatives to do this. Brexit is as good a point of differentiation as any other.

Neither is there much dividend for her in offering any succour to ardent Brexiteers in the UK.

The impact of how her words play here, and are relayed to Irish-Americans is of far greater interest.

So yes, she is definitely "playing politics" here. But then again, that is what politicians are wont to do - and we should not be too harsh about that.

Just because this message suits Ms Pelosi's other political work does not undermine its value. In fact, you could argue that the more pragmatic reasons for her words further reinforce the validity of her message.

Much is rightly made of Ireland's political reach on display around each St Patrick's Day in Washington. The access is unprecedented for such a small nation and much is due to the loyalty of Irish-Americans, who have selflessly supported their ancestral land down the years. So, there is benefit for Ireland.

Irish Independent

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