20 Years On: Northern Ireland And The Good Friday Agreement

April  10th marked the 20 year anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. This agreement was formed between the Irish Republic and the UK (in particular Northern Ireland), to end violence and begin the peace-making process. Prior to this agreement, more than 1,500 people lost their lives during the ‘Irish Troubles,’ an era of rebellion, violence and protest. Since the curation of this agreement, violence has heavily been reduced. Peace is far from Northern Ireland’s current state. The state has defaulted politically to London’s control for more than 12 months, due to the Northern Irish parliament’s inability to function. However, the recent UK decision to exit the European Union, known otherwise as ‘Brexit,’ has sparked further debate.

Northern Ireland is currently still as divided as ever. The two main political parties are the DUP, which favours British unification, and the Sinn Fein, who continue to fight for Irish unification. This political clash has resulted in a dysfunctional government, with the State defaulting to London’s parliamentary control for more than 12 months now. “With those parties at arm’s length – if you like, with daggers drawn – it means the political support we need to build the prosperity just isn’t available,” said retired Northern Irish Politician, Alasdair McDonnelle.

Furthermore, divisions are also visible throughout the countryside. Outside Belfast, Aljazeera correspondent, Barnaby Phillips, reported that “[t]he first residential street we stop[ed] at outside the city centre [was] a Protestant enclave, surrounded by Catholic streets… ha[ving] a high so-called peace wall around it, intended to prevent the two sides from throwing missiles at each other.” These terms, ‘Catholic streets’ and ‘Protestant enclave,’ highlight the continuity of historical tension and resentment between these two people, while also drawing attention to the violence, resentment and fear still filling the streets of Northern Ireland. The need for these physically-segregating walls is further breeding the current dilemma onto future generations while fueling the separation and resentment between these two people, as well as compromising the freedom, movement and community between them.  

Even though the Good Friday Agreement marked the ending of the Troubles and large-scale violence in Northern Ireland, it has not succeeded in creating the peace it promised. The Agreement was an opportunity to create a long-term peacebuilding exercise between the Catholic unionists and the Protestant loyalists. If this was successful to a full extent, there would no longer be a need for peace walls, the murals that still remain from the troubles, or the deeply upheld resentment between the two sides.

‘Positive peace,’ as sought after by the agreement, refers to both the lack of violence or negativity, but also the presence of justice. With both Catholics and Protestants unable to find vindication following the agreement, they have been unable to progress past this dispute, countering any peace progress that has been made. The threat of Brexit poses the risk of further separation from Ireland, while also risking a potential resurgence of past violence in the North through the onset of further identity crises.

Northern Ireland has greatly benefited from EU presence, in particular noting its rising popularity in the film and television industry. However, Brexit jeopardizes its accessibility to this industry, eliminating its EU status appeal. This was heavily reflected in the Brexit vote, where the majority of Northern Ireland citizens voted against leaving the Union.

Many sources are exploring the potential outcomes of this occurring, including a Northern identity crisis, further separation or solid separation from the Irish Republic, or even separation from the UK. While a positive peace may still be possible for Northern Ireland as part of the UK, current economic and political events are providing a platform for further struggles. Northern Ireland is still not at peace with its past, aligning it for turbulence in the future, while struggling to rise above previous conflicts to find its own identity.

Northern Irish people are trapped in this state of instability, forced to live within peace walls to create some form of security through segregation. However, until peace and peace policies are enforced, the people will be unable to move forward.  The political parties are still being centralized around unionism and loyalism, paralyzing the State’s ability to progress into a flourishing one, that is, of peace between the two dominant parties.

Emy-Lee Rogers
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