Irish America building momentum for Unity

By Greg O’Loughlin, Executive Director, Friends of Sinn Féin

In April 2023 hundreds of Irish Americans, Irish expats, and supporters of the Irish Peace Process gathered for an event in New York City at the Great Hall at Cooper Union. Many more joined online from all over the country.

The Great Hall has played host to such luminary speakers as Abraham Lincoln, Fredrick Douglass, Mother Jones, W. E. B. Du Bois, Barack Obama, and many more. On this night, the assembled crowd gathered to hear from former President Bill Clinton and former Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.

The two men were addressing the crowd with memories and stories of the Irish Peace Process that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The event was packed with insight and stories from inside of the process that resulted in an agreement. After the speeches and presentations, the stage was reset for a panel discussion with the heads of the seven largest Irish American organizations in the country. They recounted the work that was done in the United States to support and embed the peace process. Thanks to the moderation of Congressman Richie Neal, the members of the panel all had a chance to share what the process looked like from the perspective of their members and the work needed to ensure America’s role as guarantor of the peace process.

The opportunity to reflect on the progress was significant, and perhaps more importantly, served as a reminder that the work is not yet done. During his address Gerry Adams said, “It is important to understand that the Good Friday Agreement is not a settlement. It never was. It doesn’t pretend to be. It is an agreement to a journey without agreement on the destination.”

That is a truth as worthy of analysis now as it was twenty five years ago. We are not marching towards a predetermined future, marking progress by measuring our proximity to a prescribed settlement. We are all on a journey towards a new and yet-to-be made, shared future. A future that has the potential to create an independent Ireland in which, as Gerry Adams continued, “all citizens are respected; where the failed policies of the past are addressed; and where justice, equality and democracy are the guiding principles. It also provides for the first time a peaceful democratic pathway to achieving Irish independence and unity.”

The stories that were shared that night brought back many memories for me, too. Twenty five years ago, I was working with Rita O’Hare in the Friends of Sinn Féin office in Washington, DC. For years, we worked together to brief congressional staff, US Senators, Representatives, State Department officials and the staff of Presidents Bill Clinton and later George W. Bush. Our work also focused on keeping a clear and open channel with the steadfast and hard-working Irish American community – essential drivers of the push to Irish Unity, peace, and justice. We dedicated every ounce of our effort to ensuring that the Peace Process was fully embedded and supported by Americans at every level of influence and engagement.

After a long hiatus, during which time I became a teacher and teacher trainer, I now again serve as the Executive Director of Friends of Sinn Féin USA.

Stepping back into this role after more than a decade away has made it clearer than ever that this work is indeed a journey. A journey that has taken us to a moment in history that sees us closer than ever before to a new and united Ireland, thanks in no small part to unwavering American engagement and support. Just as it was then, work towards a new and united Ireland garners national bipartisan support. I once again spend some of my time working with congressional staff and the larger Irish American community to ensure engagement, participation, and influence on the process.

Now our work is focused on the goal of achieving constitutional change, as well as providing for equality and a future that guarantees that all communities receive fair and equal treatment.

Part of my work now includes traveling with Sinn Fein representatives when they visit the States for stops in cities all over the country. From Cincinnati to Boston, from Midtown Manhattan to Capitol Hill, conversations are focused on the mechanics of Irish Unity and the role America can play on the journey to that destination.

Some days we are meeting with a United States Senator who wants to discuss the likelihood of a return to Stormont as part of a vital step to demonstrating the effectiveness of politics. Other times we are talking with members of the Ladies AOH Freedom For All Ireland Committee who want to learn more about the process of calling for a referendum. Still other times, participants at an Irish American community event want to know how to effectively communicate with their representatives about how important truth and justice are to the process.

No matter where we go, the conversation is focused on the future and working to answer the question: “What can we do to guarantee a new and united Ireland?” The good news is that there are countless ways to get involved, and the voice of Irish America and of its effort and participation is vital to the journey.

Friends of Sinn Féin USA has recently utilized new systems that allow supporters to contact their Senators and Representatives directly. Already hundreds and hundreds of letters and emails have been sent.

Irish American organizations are working together to host another historical event in New York in early March that will provide an opportunity to learn and connect with leaders and activists.

From coast to coast, labor unions, state representatives, nonprofits, and Irish American organizations are organizing around a shared goal, fully aware of the importance of progress on our journey. We can all play an important role in ensuring that progress continues. Work in America continues apace. Get involved and be a part of this historic moment.

This story originally appeared in Issue 6 of ‘éire nua’ .