Title

The Good Friday Agreement at 20

Thursday, March 22, 2018
9:30am
Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2200
Washington, DC
United States
Achievements and Unfinished Business
Official Transcript: 
Members: 
Name: 
Representative Chris Smith
Title Text: 
Co-Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Senator Ben Cardin
Title Text: 
Ranking Senate Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Representative Brendan Boyle
Title Text: 
Member
Body: 
U.S. House of Representatives
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Brian Gormally
Title: 
Director
Body: 
Committee on the Administration of Justice
Name: 
Judge James F. McKay III
Title: 
President
Body: 
Ancient Order of Hibernians
Name: 
Mark Thompson
Title: 
Director
Body: 
Relatives for Justice

From 1969-1999, political violence shook Northern Ireland in a time known as “The Troubles,” and by its end, nearly 3,500 people died. Through negotiations between the Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom, as well as with political parties from Northern Ireland, an agreement was reached, bringing an end to hostilities. On April 10, 1998, their settlement was signed, and is remembered as the Good Friday Agreement.

As the United States celebrates twenty years of compliance of this landmark agreement, the anniversary also brings a moment of honest reflection. Full implementation of this agreement has been challenging and certain aspects remain unfulfilled. There are still concerns regarding devolved government, police reforms and accountability for past abuses.

The hearing, held on March 22, 2018, was convened in order to commend the achievements of the Agreement and to bring to light aspects of the Agreement that have not been fully implemented, including state collusion in the crimes of paramilitaries. It featured testimony from Brian Gormally, Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice; Judge James F. McKay III, President of Ancient Order of Hibernians; and Mark Thompson, Director of Relatives for Justice.

Congressman Chris Smith opened by informing the witnesses and guests of the Hearing of a resolution he introduced in the House, H. Res. 777, calling for a recommittal of the United States, the British, and all parties—including the Republic of Ireland—to the peace process

Ranking Member Senator Ben Cardin expressed his ongoing support of the spirit embodied by the Agreement, saying that, it represented “the best of the Helsinki principles” and urged the maintenance of its terms through Brexit negotiations.

Representative Brenan Boyle, condemned remarks from London that suggested the Good Friday Agreement wasn’t meant to be permanent. Boyle reaffirmed American support and claimed, “That there is absolutely zero support in Washington, D.C. for going back to the days of pre-Good Friday Agreement.”

Brian Gormally, the first witness to testify, outlined what he and his organization consider the main area of ongoing human rights violations, though it is not addressed fully by the Agreement. Impunity for past crimes, Gormally said, has left victims dying “without seeing justice, or even serious attempts to achieve it.” Such nonchalance by the British government and security forces have undermined society, threatened the peace process and erode faith in the rule of law.

The second witness to testify, Judge James McKay, reminded the Commissioners of the close relationship between the United States and Ireland, and thus, why the United States is such a strong and vocal stakeholder in the Agreement’s continuance. He stated that the AOH understands the importance that the issue of identity weighs on individuals, and that understanding leads them to believe the best way of mitigating identity and legacy issues is through a special, third party envoy.

The final speaker, Mark Thompson, was then yielded the floor. He emphasized how much international forums such as this one resonated with the families and communities affected by this conflict, as well as non-government organizations seeking the promotion and protection of human rights.

Congressman Smith then returned to the issue of developing a special envoy. Judge McKay and Mr. Thompson were in agreement that such an envoy would be a much-needed impetus to “move things forward,” as Mr. Thompson said.

The hearing gave considerations regarding the case of Pat Finucane. Judge McKay remarked upon the two standards held by London and Belfast. “I’m sure if Pat Finucane were murdered on the streets of London in the same manner,” he said, “this would have been headlines and inquiries going on within three or four months.”

In closing, Judge McKay offered his thanks to Congressman Smith for the drafting and introduction of House Resolution 777, and offered the assistance of his organization to back its passing. Mr. Thompson concluded that with Brexit on the horizon, “it would be timely to have a U.S. intervention.” Mr. Gormally emphasized that “the guiding principle before and since the Good Friday Agreement is to implement human rights standards.”

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