When is a "Special Envoy" not a Special Envoy?
The decision of the British Government to appoint a. "Northern Ireland Special Envoy" to the US" without the agreement of the government in north has raised more questions than answers in the US. Here a take on the issues from Neil F. Cosgrove, National AOH Political Action Chair which was first published in the Irish Echo.
On June 6th, no doubt timed to coincide with the anniversary of the D-Day landing and the alleged "special relationship" between the U.S. and the U.K., the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, announced the appointment of Trevor Ringland to a position he described as a "Northern Ireland Special Envoy."
Per Secretary Lewis, Mr. Ringland's mission is to "represent the U.K. Government in Northern Ireland, working to support its best interests in the United States."
Before his appointment, Mr. Ringland was best known as a star rugby player who made 31 competitive appearances for Ireland, scoring nine tries.
Since he retired from sport, he has been a solicitor, community activist, and former vice chairman of the Northern Ireland wing of the conservative party. Mr. Ringland is a Northern Ireland voice whose views should be heard with parity of esteem.
The problem with the announcement of Mr. Ringland as a "Northern Ireland Special Envoy" is not the man but the packaging.
The usage of the term "Northern Ireland Special Envoy to the United States" is cynical marketing spin to give Mr. Ringland's role a legitimacy and equivalence to the U.S. Special Envoy that America has appointed for the past two decades; a role that has the prestige of having facilitated the signing of the Good Friday Agreement which helped end thirty years of violence.
One might ask, "What's in a name?" However, the misnomer of calling Mr. Ringland a "Northern Ireland Special Envoy" is analogous to calling an Ox a Bull. On the surface, there is a resemblance, but it does not stand up to close scrutiny; the differences upon inspection are glaringly apparent.
The American Special Envoy to Northern Ireland is a representative of the American people to the people of Northern Ireland. The U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland is appointed by the democratically elected President of the United States; he carries the mandate of the American people, the people whose name is in his title.
Mr. Ringland, by contrast, is an appointee of the Secretary of State of Northern Ireland, who himself is an appointee of the British Prime Minister. He is an appointee of an appointee who has no mandate from the devolved Northern Ireland government nor the broader Northern Ireland community.
Rejected at the Ballot Box and but appointed to represent the people?
His political party, the Northern Ireland Conservatives, currently do not hold a single seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly. As "Special Envoy," he is not a representative of the community of Northern Ireland but of the British Northern Ireland Office which appointed him.
Despite his title, Mr. Ringland is not an envoy but a lobbyist for the British government.
With full respect to Mr. Ringland as an individual, calling his position a "Northern Ireland Special Envoy" violates the Trades Description Act. It is a textbook example of the marketing practice called "Astroturfing," the deceptive practice of a sponsor masking their involvement in a message to make it appear as though it originates from grassroots participants.
It is more of the type of hokum and spin upon which the Brexit referendum was built, resulting in today's buyers' regret among Unionists in Northern Ireland. We can not afford to be so taken in when it comes to discussing the peace in Northern Ireland.
If only the U.K. expended as much energy in fulfilling its commitments under international treaty as it does in marketing to justify its failures to do so. Instead of attempting to justify and mask failures in Washington, the U.K. should be fulfilling its commitments under international treaty in Belfast.
Neil F. Cosgrove
National AOH Political Action Chai