John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Prodding the Irish Peace Process

Posted on October 20, 2014

"StormontCarson" by - Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Late last month, a group of concerned Irish-Americans (me included) released a letter, urging all parties in Northern Ireland to move forward on implementing the Good Friday accords.  I thought I would share with you the letter:

September 30, 2014


First Minister Peter Robinson

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

GD36 Stormont Castle

Stormont Estate

Belfast, BT4 3TT

Northern Ireland


Dear First Minister and Deputy First Minister

Several weeks ago on September 12th the Reverend Ian Paisley Sr. passed away at the age of eighty-eight. His passing was a milestone event and a cause for reflection on the Irish Peace Process—how far it has come, how much remains unfinished and how much remains at risk. Ian Paisley cast a huge shadow over Northern Ireland for most of his adult life.  For 40 years he was known for his oft-bellowed response to pleas for compromise and cross-community accommodating—“No, Never.”

Then came 2007, the time Ian Paisley said “yes” to a Stormont Executive with himself as First Minister for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Martin McGuiness as Deputy First Minister for Sinn Fein. Nine years after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 created the framework for the end of “The Troubles” that had plagued Northern Ireland for 30 years; the man who said “no” then was now making a cross-community devolved government possible.  But now as the Rev. Paisley era comes to an end the hard-earned Peace Process appears stalled again.  Is Northern Ireland to slip back to the days of “never” or move forward with compromise and accommodation?

As Americans, we worked, on many levels, to support the negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and the challenging steps of implementation thereafter. Democratic and Republican White Houses appointed skilled envoys to support the process and House and Senate members of both parties presented a united front hosting political leaders here, on neutral ground, and huddling with them in the Republic of Ireland, England and Northern Ireland, always speaking with one voice. It was one of America's most significant foreign policy successes in recent times. The Irish American Diaspora helped to lay the foundations for peace and justice.

We are now twenty years on since the historic IRA and Loyalist cease fires paved the way for the four years of negotiating and compromise which led to the peace agreement.  Policing and the administration of justice have been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont. Sectarian violence is now the exception and crime statistics overall are lower than anywhere in the U.K. Many communities at the local level are building bridges and last year Derry/Londonderry was Europe's City of Culture, embracing all of its traditions and art forms.

However, a stalemate without violence is still a stalemate.  And children growing up without a vision of a shared cross-community future can too easily learn the ways of conflict again.  Last March, the annual Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report noted with concern that a “culture of endless negotiations has become embedded and, without a vision of a shared society to sustain it, the peace process has lost its power to inspire.”

Twenty months ago the Belfast City Council, now with a Nationalist majority, voted to limit the days that the Union Jack would fly over Belfast City Hall, based on practices elsewhere in the United Kingdom.  Old wounds seemed to open for all to see. The tension has been reflected at Stormont where progress on legislation has bogged down and the regular business of government slowed to a crawl. Compromise, the foundation of the agreement has become almost impossible as the smallest issues go unresolved.

Recognizing the significant logjam both of you acted together to break the stalemate by inviting former U.S. Special Envoy Richard Haass and former State Department official Megan O'Sullivan to review the flash point issues of identity (flags, symbols, parades and the processes to resolve grievances from the Troubles.) After six months of work, over 100 meetings and testimony from hundreds of aggrieved family members, community leaders, police and public officials, a thorough and thoughtful report was provided to the political leaders for discussion and implementation.

Agreement, unfortunately, could not be reached.   Attempts were made to continue the dialogue, but each time the talks have fallen apart In the aftermath of these failed negotiations Richard Haass stated "Our experience in Northern Ireland suggests that those who believe that they can ensure that each and every element of this agreement is to their liking-- and still secure five party consensuses-- are unrealistic in the extreme.”

The stalemate continues and as time passes the peace process continues to be chipped away at by its critics. As Americans who have invested much time, energy and passion into this process, we urge the leadership of Northern Ireland to go back to the table and hammer out a compromise with a clear recognition that all sides will have to give up certain prerequisites to do a deal that moves Northern Ireland beyond the current stalemate and creates a vision of a shared society for the generations to come.

The Peace Process began with small confidence building measures. Opposing political leaders actually found ways to help their rivals deliver their constituents through cooperative action, both private and public. This shared enterprise of building cross-community confidence is needed again.

Creating a vision of an integrated and pluralist society that lets go of historic wrongs is no easy task, but it is a goal that must be pursued now.  Nelson Mandela, the great South African statesman, had a seemingly boundless capacity for reconciliation. His desire to see the people of South Africa, all of them, create their own future trumped everything else. This capacity for reconciliation is at the root of creating the future that Northern Ireland deserves.

During the Peace Process, even at its darkest hour Unionist and Nationalists alike recognized and appreciated the American role. They thanked us for shining a bright light on the process and keeping the outside world focused on the developments. The light is back on and we pledge our help going forward.



Hon. James T. Walsh                               

Former Member of Congress

Former Chairman, Congressional Friends

of Ireland Committee


Hon. Bruce A. Morrison

Former Member of Congress

Former Co-Chair, Ad Hoc Congressional

Committee on Irish Affairs


Hon. Kris Balderston

Former Special Representative for Global Partnerships (2009 -2012)

U.S. Department of State  


Hon. Paula J. Dobriansky

Former President’s Special Envoy to Northern Ireland (2007-2009)

Former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs

U.S. Department of State


John Feehery

President, Quinn Gillespie Communications


Hon. Kitty Higgins

Former Secretary to the President’s Cabinet

Deputy U.S. Secretary of Labor


Niall O’Dowd

Founder Irish

Founder, Irish Voice Newspaper


Paul Quinn

Board Member, American Ireland Fund


Hon. Mitchell Reiss

Former President’s Special Envoy to Northern Ireland (2003 -2007)

U.S. Department of State


Hon. Richard W. Riley

Former U.S. Secretary of Education (1993 -2000)


Mark Tuohey

Board Member, American Ireland Fund


Carol Wheeler

Founder, Washington Ireland Program