BACK in 1998, Good Friday fell on April 10th, the date of the signing of an historic peace agreement in Belfast and the 20th anniversary of which is being celebrated this week with various events to reflect on it and on where the Northern peace process stands now.
It is such a pity that, at this milestone anniversary, the political element of it has stalled due to what many would regard as a somewhat petty and quite irresponsible stand-off between the two main political parties in the north, Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party. Their continued failure to form a new power-sharing executive, a whole 15 months after the last Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed, has left a dangerous political vacuum.
Add to this all the uncertainty that Brexit is causing because of its potential to undermine the Good Friday Agreement and you have quite a precarious scenario that is crying out for a functioning NI Assembly to look after the area’s interests. In spite of all their talk about not re-introducing a hard border between the North and the Republic of Ireland, until such time as the British government comes up with realistic proposals about how this would work – they don’t actually know how, it would seem – one has to be pragmatic and assume that there will be a physical border when it becomes the western land frontier between the European Union and the United Kingdom after Brexit.
The Irish government is the most active in trying to press for a continued ‘frictionless’ border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, but this has been kicked further down the road again by the British and EU Brexit negotiators. Theresa May’s government needs to take the matter more seriously as the Good Friday Agreement was made between the Irish and British governments – with other interested parties involved – and is registered as an international treaty with the UN and endorsed by the EU.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, urged on by US President Bill Clinton and special envoy George Mitchell, saw the Agreement over the line in 1998, with the then strong middle ground parties, the SDLP and UUP.
The St Andrews Agreement in 2006 brought Sinn Féin and the DUP on board to form a devolved government in the North, led by Rev Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, both since deceased. The sad reality today is that, if their successors fail to form a new administration, it will be back to direct rule by Westminster.
Whither the Good Friday Agreement then?