Political progress is not smooth and cannot be taken for granted. Sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back.
It is a process of securing agreements and building for the future. Defend what has been achieved while looking at what is not yet.
In the fall, we will face two important challenges for the progress Ireland has made since signing the Good Friday Agreement. Challenges that had been resolved in previous agreements: Brexit and dealing with the legacy of the conflict.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, elected following a British nationalist crusade against the EU, now enjoys a secure majority in Westminster. Domestically, he is free to continue his reckless policies.
Brexit, despite being an economic disaster, won votes for Johnson. He is determined to continue his battle against his closest allies and his biggest market.
In January 2020, he promulgated an international agreement that would prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. This included the so-called Irish protocol.
By the end of that year, he had signed another legal agreement with the EU on how this protocol would be implemented.
Since then, his government has undermined these agreements. It created continued uncertainty for businesses, threatened to derail the deal and violate international law, deepened anti-EU rhetoric, heightened tensions and encouraged illegal paramilitary loyalist groups. Everything to boil the pot with the EU.
The cynicism and danger of these actions were denounced by President Biden at the G7 summit. He called for respect for agreements and resolution of difficulties through agreed mechanisms. So that the rhetoric is remembered, and the threat of unilateral action taken from the table.
The message was clear. Europe offered to solve the problems in accordance with their agreements. It was Britain that threatened and escalated the rhetoric.
The next pinch point in the Brexit saga is September 30, when the already extended grace period for implementing the deal ends. Britain is again provocatively threatening to take unilateral action if there is not a fundamental renegotiation of the agreements.
The EU said it was ready to use the mechanisms of the agreements to resolve implementation issues, but refused a fundamental renegotiation. Britain is threatening again to violate agreements and international law and not just on Brexit.
Lawsuits, inquiries and inquiries into the actions of British forces have revealed wrongful killings and collusion with loyalist paramilitaries. Events that were never thoroughly investigated during the conflict and that were covered up by the state.
The UK government is now threatening to introduce laws to end all police and ombudsman investigations, inquiries and the right to bring civil suits. They offer amnesty to their soldiers and other people involved in the conflict.
This approach undermines the human rights of victims and cannot be reconciled with the explicit commitment of the Good Friday Agreement to incorporate the protections of the European Convention on Human Rights into law.
Again, an agreement was in place between all parties and the Irish and UK governments to settle the issue of the past. The Stormont House agreement, signed in December 2014, was ratified by both houses of Congress and successive administrations.
In January 2020, Johnson’s UK government agreed to enact the Stormont House Accord Act within 100 days. Three months later, the British government declared that it would not honor its agreement.
The threat to end the investigations has been rejected by victim groups, all political parties, the British Labor Party, the Irish government, UN human rights experts and congressional leaders.
The only criticism from Johnson’s party of these plans was that they were not moving fast enough.
The British government says its approach is part of a process of truth and reconciliation referring to South Africa. The same UK government that has refused to make its records public, has failed to implement its agreements and has fought victims every step of the way in court.
In South Africa, the apartheid regime presented a similar plan for unconditional amnesty. It was rejected by the African National Congress and civic and human rights organizations.
In the South African model of truth and reconciliation, amnesty was conditional on full disclosure and rigorous investigation. During the discussion, Lourens du Plessis, then professor of public law at the University of Stellenbosch, wrote on society in general: “For reconciliation we must forgive, but for reconstruction we dare not forget. UK government tells victims to forget while they cover up.
Over the next few months, political capital and energy will be spent defending agreements that should have been implemented long ago. This is a UK government that believes it is not bound by its agreements, obligations or international law.
The Good Friday Agreement offers a peaceful and democratic path to unity. The actions of the British government demonstrate that the best interests of all, of the economy and of healing are best served in a united Ireland.
We must defend the progress that we all enjoy today, but we must also build a future free from duplicity and interference from the British government.
It is time to plan and prepare for a new and united Ireland in which prosperity, citizens’ rights and reconciliation cannot be undermined by Westminster. An Ireland which is a home for all the people who share the island.
It is time for the United States to look to the future and the full implementation of the Good Friday Accord, including the democratic provision of a unity referendum.
As always, the challenge is to defend today and build for tomorrow. Both are essential to ensure progress.
* Ciaran Quinn is the United States representative for Sinn Féin
* This column first appeared in the September 1 edition of the weekly Irish Voice, sister publication of IrishCentral.