From Tragedy to Hope: The Story of the Good Friday Agreement on its 25th Anniversary
The Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement, is a political deal that was signed on April 10, 1998, and was designed to bring an end to the Troubles, a period of violent conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted for almost 30 years. The agreement aimed to promote co-operation between communities in Northern Ireland by creating a new government that represented both nationalists and unionists. The agreement was approved by public votes in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The Good Friday Agreement established the Northern Ireland Assembly, a new parliament that sits in Stormont, in Belfast. The Assembly has control over key areas such as health and education, a process known as devolution. The agreement also made provisions for people’s rights, regardless of which community they come from. The Good Friday Agreement allowed people born in Northern Ireland to have Irish or British nationality, or both. The agreement also provided a way for Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK or become part of the Republic of Ireland through a referendum, which would only happen if most people in Northern Ireland wanted it to.
What were the Troubles?
The Troubles was a period of violent conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted from the late 1960s until the late 1990s. The conflict was between armed groups from both sides of the community, such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), as well as British troops who were sent to Northern Ireland to maintain order.
The conflict arose from the split in the population between unionists, who wished for Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK, and nationalists, who wanted it to become part of the Republic of Ireland. The Troubles resulted in more than 3,500 deaths, with many more people injured and thousands of families affected by the violence.
What does the Good Friday Agreement say?
The Good Friday Agreement was based on the idea of cooperation between communities in Northern Ireland. The agreement established a new government for Northern Ireland that represented both nationalists and unionists. The Northern Ireland Assembly, which was set up under the agreement, was given control over key areas such as health and education.
The Good Friday Agreement also made provisions for people’s rights, regardless of which community they come from. The agreement allowed people born in Northern Ireland to have Irish or British nationality or both. The agreement also provided a way for Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK or become part of the Republic of Ireland through a referendum, which would only happen if most people in Northern Ireland wanted it to.
Additionally, the Good Friday Agreement required that all armed groups dispose of their weapons. People who had been involved in violence were released from prison. The UK government agreed to aim for “normal security arrangements,” including the scaling back of the British military presence in Northern Ireland.
What does the Good Friday Agreement have to do with Brexit?
Brexit, or the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, has had significant implications for Northern Ireland, particularly regarding the Good Friday Agreement. After Brexit, Northern Ireland became the only part of the UK to have a land border with an EU country – the Republic of Ireland. This created concerns about the possibility of a hard border being established, which could jeopardize the peace established by the Good Friday Agreement.
The Good Friday Agreement relies heavily on cooperation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The open border has enabled the people and goods to move freely across it, without any checkpoints or restrictions. Any new barriers or security measures could undermine the peace and stability in the region. During the Troubles, people crossing the border were subject to British Army security checks, and surveillance watchtowers were placed on hilltops. The border checkpoints and restrictions made it difficult for people and businesses in the region to function and created a significant hindrance to the peace process.
Therefore, it was crucial to ensure that the new border arrangements after Brexit would not undermine the Good Friday Agreement. The UK and the EU agreed to the Northern Ireland Protocol, which aims to protect the peace agreement and prevent the establishment of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Under the protocol, Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market for goods, which means that goods are checked to ensure they comply with EU rules when they arrive in Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK (England, Scotland, and Wales). This avoids the need for checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Supporters of the protocol argue that it is necessary to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process in Northern Ireland. However, some unionist parties, including the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), have criticized the protocol, arguing that it undermines Northern Ireland’s place in the UK and creates a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. They argue that the protocol is not necessary and that it goes against the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, which aims to promote cooperation and unity.
The Windsor Framework
In February 2023, the UK and the EU signed a new deal, the Windsor Framework, to alter the protocol, with the aim of significantly reducing the number of checks on any goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain. The framework has been formally adopted by the UK and the EU, but the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has said it will take time before coming to a decision on whether to back the deal and potentially return to a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.
The Good Friday Agreement remains a significant milestone in the history of Northern Ireland, and it has touched on every aspect of life in the region. The Windsor Framework may provide a solution to the issues surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol, but it remains to be seen whether it will be accepted by all parties and help to restore the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team