Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Northern Ireland politicians still failing to deliver

Good Friday 1998 was a day of hope. After 30 years of violence, a new day seemed to be dawning, as politicians embraced, then inked, an agreement which held out the promise of lasting peace.

As the agreement turns 16, it is timely to check the politicians' school report card to see if their implementation of the deal merits a high-flying A*, or a lowly E.

Sixteen years on, although the gunmen are more than a shadow, they have proved themselves incapable of derailing a widespread commitment to peace and politics. But sustainable peace has to be more than the absence of violence.

Beyond this (not inconsiderable) achievement, the picture starts to look more mixed. Little has been achieved by way of bringing down the barriers that separate.

In terms of ensuring accountable government, all too often people must resort to Stephen Nolan, so meagre are the checks and balances on power.

Edwin Poots's U-turn on the closure of old people's homes was brought about by 93-year-old Jean Faulkner going on the radio, rather than being able to petition power via the Civic Forum, or challenge power via a Bill of Rights.

Both these mechanisms are in the agreement, but those in power have binned the former and blocked the latter.

On dealing with the past, the agreement was regrettably vague, reflecting its status as "too hot to handle".

Many bereaved and injured still find themselves no closer to justice or truth.

This week's intervention by Theresa Villiers was, sadly, little more than the latest case of a politician with one eye on the history books and other losing sight of the rights of victims.

As the Belfast Agreement turns 16, so much remains undone, or undelivered, that it is no surprise that Richard Haass last month told a US government committee that the Northern Ireland peace model was not currently "fit for export".

The politicians's report card on implementing the agreement? Must do better.

Patrick Corrigan is programme director of Amnesty International.

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