‘On this 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement Let Us Remember, Renew and Reconcile’
Irish World Guest Op-ed Simon Coveney TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement on 10 April 1998. This is an important moment for all of us to reflect on and remember just how much has been achieved through the Agreement over the last two decades.
The horrendous, destructive violence of the Troubles – which impacted on British cities as well as on communities in Ireland – was definitively ended, and the journey on the road to full reconciliation was begun. There was a new start in Northern Ireland founded on power-sharing, equality and parity of esteem. The Agreement provided for North South cooperation which has brought practical benefits to both parts of the island, particularly in border regions.
The Good Friday Agreement also unlocked the full potential of relations between Ireland and Britain, which is so important given the depth of the mutual connections between our economies and our people.
At the same time, the Agreement facilitated the necessary change in mindsets, in Ireland and in Britain. With the old disagreements and the traumatic events of the Troubles left behind, we relate to each other now as we should – simply as colleagues, classmates, business partners, neighbours and friends.
The unforgettable occasions of the State visit by Queen Elizabeth to Ireland in 2011 and the State visit by President Higgins to Britain in 2014 reflected the depth of those connections and the wish of the Irish and British Governments to see this fully recognised and further developed in partnership.
It is right then that we remember and indeed celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Agreement, which has enabled these profound steps forward, in Northern Ireland and across our neighbouring islands.
I was very glad to participate in a number of events in Belfast on the anniversary of the Agreement this week, including at Queen’s University with the political and other community leaders who strove to reach an accord on 10 April, twenty years ago.
As part of the commemoration of the Agreement, the Irish Government hosted an event, performed at the Barbican in London last week and at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast this week entitled, “A Further Shore”. This performance traced, through the arts, a journey through the tragic years of the Troubles to the great moment of hope and reconciliation that the Good Friday Agreement represents. As well as remembering, the anniversary of the Agreement is also a moment I believe to renew some of the energy, hope and optimism that seems to have at times ebbed way in the years since 1998, the years of implementation – or hard slog even – which followed the Agreement.
The Agreement was endorsed by the people of the island, North and South, in overwhelming numbers in the historic referendums of 22 May 1998. 71.1. per cent voted in favour of the Agreement in Northern Ireland and 94.4 per cent on the rest of the island endorsed the changes to the Irish Constitution which were required as part of the Agreement. These days we hear a lot about democratic decisions.
In 1998, the people were asked for their verdict on the Agreement and the answer was a resounding yes. Yes to peace, yes to partnership, and yes to better a brighter future and better prospects
In 1998, the people were asked for their verdict on the Agreement and the answer was a resounding yes. Yes to peace, yes to partnership, and yes to better a brighter future and better prospects. With this, a political agreement became the people’s Agreement.
The Good Friday Agreement transcends the daily cut and thrust of politics.
The Irish Government as a proud co-guarantor of the Agreement will always uphold and seek the full implementation of the Agreement in letter and in spirit for the benefit of all, working in partnership with the British Government and the political parties in Northern Ireland.
Today, that means charting a way to get the power-sharing and Executive and Assembly in Belfast operating again. The devolved institutions are at the heart of the Agreement and they are the only way forward for Northern Ireland.
I am working with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, to see how both Governments can best work together in our partnership as co-guarantors of the Agreement, to ensure that they function again as soon as possible. I believe that the spirit of 1998 also requires a move ahead now with the process to establish the legacy framework of the 2014 Stormont House Agreement, to finally address the legacy of the Troubles in a comprehensive way that will meet the legitimate needs and expectations of victims and survivors, who are still and unjustly left waiting.
Finally, I believe that the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement is an opportunity to redouble the focus on the duty to a full reconciliation that is still ahead. The genius of the Agreement is that it allows us to live together on these islands as friends and neighbours, without in any diminishing our identities or our cultures. Irish, British, both or neither.
A more complex set of identities and allegiances is possible through the Agreement and can only enrich us all.
In The Cure At Troy, Seamus Heaney asked that we “believe that a further shore is reachable from here”.
The Agreement enables us to have that belief, to continue the journey of the last two decades, and to reach the further shore of full and genuine reconciliation.