New NI envoy to America Trevor Ringland: ‘I want to dispel myth of British occupation’
Northern Ireland’s new special envoy to the USA has told the News Letter he hopes to use the role to challenge narratives about the Province being an “occupied” state.
The UK government announced yesterday that Trevor Ringland, a solicitor and former Irish rugby international, will be “responsible for promoting Northern Ireland interests across the US”.
It is the first time Northern Ireland has had such an envoy.
The job is not a salaried one; Mr Ringland only expects to receive his expenses for the trips to America, though he has yet to work out all the details with the Northern Ireland Office, which appointed him.
He anticipates making between four and six trips to the USA each year in his new role, meeting politicians and businesspeople.
The purpose is to portray Northern Ireland in a positive light – whether by telling them about cross-community projects, or talking up the money-making opportunities to be had in the Province’s film industry, for example.
“It’s also about challenging some of the simplistic views on Northern Ireland,” he said.
“You can’t stereotype everybody. There is a variety of views. But some are based on the ‘it is an occupied island’ mentality.
“And it’s for me to say: Look, it is not like that at all.
“It’s actually people here who choose to live inside the UK, and there are many benefits to that. But we also realise we’re part of the island of Ireland.”
There has long been a strong Irish nationalist/republican lobby in the USA, with significant political clout.
One of the most prominent such voices to emerge in recent years is that of Pennsylvania Democratic representative Kevin J Boyle (brother of congressman Brendan), who recently stated: “The British government –through its intelligence, army and police – ran the UDA and UVF in the north of Ireland but still want to hide that fact.”
Mr Ringland said: “My father was a policeman. My grandfather was a policeman.
“There’s no day my father went out to kill anybody or shoot anybody. In fact, he’d go out to do the exact opposite.
“We can give a perspective on that. I think what we’ve done is maybe allow some of these views, these arguments, to go unchallenged in the way that they need to be challenged.”
Asked why an envoy to the US has only now been appointed, Mr Ringland said: “I don’t know. I think we should’ve been doing this for years.”
Sinn Fein issued a statement from Michelle O’Neill, saying: “Brandon Lewis’ decision to unilaterally make such an appointment directly relating to the North’s interests and priorities without consulting the democratically mandated Executive smacks of Tory arrogance and disrespect.
“The Executive has a permanent diplomatic mission based in Washington DC which comprises civil servants under the auspices of The Executive Office.
“It has proven to be effective and we do not need interference from the Tories in how we engage with the US administration, Congress, or the Irish-American community.”
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