December 3, 2019
BY ED FORRY
Congressman Richie Neal, the Democrat who now chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Commit-tee, took up a number of matters when he spoke at a New England Council breakfast at the Seaport Hotel last month. Joking that “there’s not much happening in Washington these days,” the Democratic leader of the Friends of Ireland Caucus talked about trade issues with Canada and Mexico, health and medical care legislation, and his meetings to make “technical corrections” to tax laws.
After his prepared re-marks, Neal, who was first elected to Congress in 1988 after serving as a teacher, a city councilor, and mayor of Springfield and was a great friend of former Con-gressman Brian Donnelly, sharing an apartment with him until Donnelly left to become US ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, was asked about his views on Brexit, and its likely effect on Ireland.
“You know,” he said, “Brexit has been a three-year process and now the divorce is under way. What I think it’s also fair to say is that you shouldn’t over-promise by suggesting that this was going to be easy. It was nonsense from the start. So here we are three years later, and really no closer to an agreement in terms of trying to stitch up all the loose ends.
“The Good Friday Agreement worked because of the American dimension. We were a fair arbiter, and part of the agreement is the work of genius in the North, the six counties, where my grandmother was from. The idea was that if you want to be Irish, you can be Irish. If you want to be British, you can be British. If you want to be both, you can be both. That was the idea.
“So, the longest standing political dispute in the his-tory of the western world in some matter and manner was resolved. But the vic-tory that we have on the nationalist side, aggressively supported by the Republic of Ireland, is the invisible 310-mile border, and it changed everything. So today people, commerce, and agriculture, in particular, move from Belfast to Dublin, back and US Rep. Richie Neal forth. It has all worked.
“I want to say this about Brexit: I think that the agreement Mr. Johnson recently proposed will create a border. It’s going to be difficult for some on the island, but at the same time I think that there are times in politics when you hold out for a better deal than you were likely to get, and you end up getting what you didn’t want. And I think in this instance, we would all be better if the DUP – the hard-line unionist party – had subscribed to the advice of that sage of Western thought, Mick Jagger: You get what you need. And I think their refusal to take that is now the cause for what is going to be a more contentious divorce. But Boris Johnson has said that’s the price that they’re willing to pay.
“We were clear with Theresa May at the time, and we were clear in Dublin, Belfast, and Derry. And we met the Brexiteers for lunch. It didn’t go that well. It was one of those events, again, where the speaker was happy to let them know how she felt. A trade deal eventually with the UK is very desirable, but not until we see how the issue of the border is resolved. I think this can still be done, but it won’t be done amicably."