Strength in Unity: A lesson on civility and cooperation from Ireland
© Greg Nash

Every day the public is bombarded with breaking news alerts, tweets, and headlines that claim politics face a divisiveness that cannot be overcome and that congressional stalemate is an inevitability. However, for those able to see through the noise, bipartisan cooperation can be found every day in Washington and across the country.

In April, FMC, an association of former members of Congress, invited ten district directors to participate in a bipartisan delegation trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland, to study the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (EU) and the effect the departure will have on global trade. We are two of the district directors, who work for a Republican from Wisconsin and a Democrat from Connecticut. We participated along with eight of our colleagues, who are also in charge of the local offices of congressmen and women.

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Alongside the specter of Brexit hanging over everything, our trip also took place during the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland and came just weeks before a historic vote on abortion in Ireland.

Despite our work in the partisan, divisive world of American politics, during the week, comradery between colleagues was demonstrated while we learned about an island that had once shown the fatal ramifications of the decline of civility and comity in politics.

In fact, one of our meetings brought us face to face with both the best and the worst of what could happen when politics goes beyond the point where disagreement can be civil.

Two of our meeting partners were on opposite sides of “the Troubles,” the Protestant-Catholic uprisings fought between Catholic Irish supporters and Protestants who identified more as an Ireland that was part of the United Kingdom. These two faced each other in their youth, across the front lines of a religious war, fought with bricks thrown at each other, guns and bombs. They have now come together to create a community center that brings the two sides together and that creates gates in the “Peace Walls”, so a once-divided park can be shared. They also work with politicians on all sides to unify their community.

We sat and shared tea with a member of Sinn Fein and a member of the Independent Unionist party, who maintain opposing stances on many issues, but who civilly and respectfully discussed with us and each other, those stances and their differences.

Similarly, at first glance, our group couldn’t have been more different. We were Republicans and Democrats from all over the United States. Midwesterners, Southerners and coastal residents mixed as millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers. Some us had worked in Congress for decades, others less than a full two-year term. Different perspectives, as we spent time together, served not to divide, but to highlight our common service to the American experiment, as we learned about Brexit and the unique challenges faced by the island of Ireland.

Trade, in and through Ireland, depends on a free flow of goods and people. But, it also faces a critical path: the fragile peace in Northern Ireland. That peace hinges on symbiotic coexistence in a political environment where representatives to the UK Parliament haven’t taken their elected offices in nearly two years. We learned from the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, and from political and community leaders in Northern Ireland, that uncertainty is the only thing certain. We left the island with feeling of concern over the financial well-being of a relatively young Irish Republic and for the future of peace in Northern Ireland.

The issues facing two countries, and two peoples, with a common heritage, a common language, a common home and an unsure future helped all of us understand and value our political relationships back home. 

Ní neart go cur le chéile is a Gaelic Irish saying that means Strength in Unity. Throughout our week, the common denominator on our study was the comradery each participant shared, regardless of our party affiliations, that the only way forward for this nation or the island of Ireland is to remember what unifies people and that we use those strengths to focus on a vision of being better than we were yesterday. We share that way forward for all of us in America to focus on as well. Only with that focus, ahead, rather than left or right, can we tackle any challenge that faces our own nation.

Jesse Garza (U.S. Rep. Sean DuffySean Patrick DuffyFox contributor: Warren's ancestors 'rounded up Cherokees for the Trail of Tears' On The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Midterms to shake up top posts on House finance panel MORE, R-Wis.) and Cara Pavlock (U.S. Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesHow the Trump tax law passed: Bipartisanship wasn't an ingredient Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her Russia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems MORE, D-Conn.) are U.S. House district directors.