“It’s safe to say that I will be spending time in Belfast, London and Dublin, and meeting with all of the major government representatives,” he said in an email. “The trip will be focused primarily on Covid and the prospects for economic development in the near term, though obviously the Internal Market Bill and the Northern Ireland protocol will take a good bit of our attention as well.”
Irish officials have found that the American role over the years has been helpful because the U.S. can bring a broader perspective to often knotty parochial issues, as well as bring an economic dividend because of U.S. investment in Ireland, where a number of major U.S. tech companies have significant footprints.
“We’re happy to see him come because we see America’s role in Ireland always in a positive light because of the history of positive U.S. involvement in Northern Ireland,” said one Irish government official.
His trip comes as the British government in recent weeks has threatened to break its Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union with its Internal Market Bill — and in doing so, violate part of the Northern Ireland Good Friday peace agreement — as leverage to force the EU to agree a more favorable trade deal. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has proposed taking back some previous regulatory powers from the EU, including border checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland, the latter of which remains part of the U.K. The move would break a protocol protecting the 1998 peace deal that ended decades of strife in Northern Ireland between those who wanted to remain part of Britain and those who wanted to join an independent Ireland.
This is not Mulvaney’s first trip to Northern Ireland this year; he traveled to Belfast in February when he was still acting chief of staff to meet with government officials and other business and community leaders.