In Philadelphia this week, a group of Irish men and women are gathered, reflecting the success of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in bringing peace to Northern Ireland.
But they worry that a looming Brexit — and the British parliament’s hapless efforts to exit the European Union — are already threatening Ireland’s peace. And they wish that the United States, which god fathered the Good Friday deal, would take an active role in its preservation.
They know from personal experience the ugliness that awaits Ireland if the accord fails.
They are Eisenhower Exchange fellows — part of a program that brings emerging leaders from abroad to meet their American contemporaries. They include fellows from a 1989 “Island of Ireland” group that brought Protestants and Catholics from British-ruled Northern Ireland together with citizens of the Republic of Ireland in the south — at a time when cross-border and inter sectarian meetings were rare.
They include 14 emerging Irish leaders, professors, politicians, civil servants, and other professionals who will have to cope with the dangerous mess Brexit is creating.
These fellows talk about the madness of rebuilding nationalist walls that the EU helped tear down.
David Lavery, one of the 1989 group, was a government lawyer in Belfast who had “very little contact with the Republic” before becoming a fellow. The 300-mile border between north and south was guarded by British soldiers, and watchtowers, while the IRA (Irish Republican army) battled British soldiers and Protestant unionist paramilitaries.
“My best friend in university was murdered in 1979 [during “the Troubles],” he recalls. Working for a law firm, his friend was serving a policeman with a document in a troubled Republican area. As he left the police station, he was mistaken for an officer in civilian dress and was shot dead by an IRA activist. “As he fell from his motorcycle, they shot him again on the ground,” Lavery said.