Belfast Telegraph

Poll: Was the Good Friday Agreement a success or failure?

Cast your vote in our GFA poll

We asked our online readers to reveal if they would vote differently now. Here are some of your responses.

Walton Dallton (68), Belfast

In 1998 voted: For

Vote same way again? Yes

Why? I don’t ever want to go back into the past, it was horrible. One had to live through it to know it.

Gerard Trainor (60), Belfast

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? I think back to what it was like before — endless funerals, riots, shootings and bombings, plastic bullets, British Army and RUC harassment. The peace is just great and I look forward to the GFA being implemented in full, ie bill of rights, equality and a referendum on the constitutional issue.

 

Terry McWilliams (67), Lurgan

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? The peace isn’t brilliant but it is a lot better than it was over 20 years ago.

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Bertie Ahern with Tony Blair

Jimbo Patterson (70), Ballymena

In 1998, voted: against

Vote same way again? yes

Why? At the time I thought SF got far too much for far too little in return. Murderers are out walking our streets after cowardly murders. As Gerry (Adams, right) said in Germany, he believes that the gun and bomb is the way to obtain political advantage. So a leopard will never change its spots. What has SF given to Protestants? Absolutely nothing. Instead they are trying to take it all away from us. I would like to remind Gerry that unionists did not surrender, it was him who waved the white flag.

 

Patricia Mullan (63), Derry

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? A shared future in a contested space where all are respected is the only way forward.

 

 Iris Alexander (58), Ballyclare

In 1998, voted: for

Vote the same way again? no

Why? I wanted peace for our children and although not happy at the price of killers being released I thought if we could live together it was one worth paying. It wasn’t.

As a liberal unionist I’ve no issues with same sex marriage or abortion rights but I cannot stomach the glorification of the terrorists who tainted my childhood and the frankly bizarre rewriting of history. We are in worse sectarian ghettos of the mind than we were before.

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Copies of the Good Friday Agreement are delivered to doors in 1998

Martin Anderson (46), Belfast

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? Extremists on both sides have too much say, mostly people aged 60-plus.

 

Carmel Tohikl (64), Belfast

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? As a teen during the Troubles I’d wake up thinking ‘I wonder how many were killed last night?’ Often there’d be at least one death. I remember one time going to the back door crying and praying ‘Please let it all end’. It was terrible. The GFA brought us wonderful peace even though it was hard for many to see prisoners released.

 

Richard Craig (65), Bangor

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? At least the GFA stopped the almost daily carnage of bombs and bullets happening. However, we must never forget the families of loved ones left to grieve over the deaths of sons, daughters. It’s a very fragile peace agreement and in a terrible way Protestants and Catholics are as divided and intransigent as ever. This is clearly highlighted by the two parties at Stormont and their unwillingness to run this country together. Although I voted for the GFA I am not optimistic for its future. In my estimation it will take generations — three or four perhaps — to have a full peace here.

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The deal was signed by Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern

John Kennedy, cartoonist, (53), Belfast/Strabane

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? For the sake of a lasting peace we hope from afar that the land we grew up in and loved focuses on the endgame not the violent past that has caused so much hurt and pain.

 

 Alan Lamont (64), Newtownards

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? no

Why? Far from bringing the perceived “both sides” closer together, the result of the Belfast Agreement has been to polarise the nationalist and unionist communities and to increase in popularity the more extreme parties which is to the great shame of the population of this little pimple on the backside of Europe. The nationalist community in particular have voted en masse for a party inextricably linked to 30 years of murder, mutilation and mayhem, which has been encouraged, whether intended or not, by successive governments on both sides of the border with endless and ongoing concessions. 

There is no doubt that those who do believe in violence and have actively participated in such violence have been massively rewarded both politically and financially and those who neither believe in, participated in or threatened to participate in violence have been completely ignored.

It’s to the enduring credit of the vast majority of the unionist community that they’ve never given active support or voted for those so-called political parties that are associated with “loyalist” paramilitarism, but sad and shameful that so many of our nationalist neighbours seem to have no reservations about voting for a party whom despite their rhetoric proclaiming themselves to be proud republican activists, seem intent on rewriting history on a daily basis.

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Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair in 2008

Yvonne McAuley (63), Larne

In 1998, voted: against

Vote same way again? yes

Why? I voted against as I felt it hard to reconcile that those who committed horrendous crimes were to be freed from prison. Much of the population voted ‘for’ as they were blackmailed to believe it would create peace. This didn’t really happen with dissident IRA violence and paramilitary activities, such as kangaroo courts and drug dealing ongoing. The Agreement tried to artificially create a government whereby nationalists and unionists were equal.

Unfortunately safeguards to keep the unionist majority in check have led to the present situation where Sinn Fein are trying to hold the country to ransom with their never-ending shopping lists, alienating unionists. The constant lack of respect for unionism makes it difficult to see any way forward. An overhaul of Stormont’s structures and rules is essential to prevent the present impasse in the future.

 

Edward Doherty (50), Belfast

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? Despite depressing politics and politicians this place is much better than the one I grew up in and people should never lose sight of that. The sad truth is that Orange and Green feed off each other, and that is a culture of uneducated bigotry and fear. If the malcontents who are incapable of happiness could for a second see that we are all living in a world of privilege that our forefathers could never have even imagined they might start to relax and realise how lucky we all are.

Melanie Brown (51), Carrickfergus

In 1998, voted: against

Vote the same way again? yes

Why? The GFA brought nothing to the unionist community. I am sickened with our Crown forces being made to pay the price. Terrorism has won.

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George Mitchell

Mark Watson (41), Crossgar

In 1998, voted: against

Vote same way again? yes

Why? I’ve watched the disintegration of my community and my traditions. I’m tired watching republicans get it all their way. I feel there is no room for Protestants like myself in my home country.

 

 Geoff Graham (36), Newtownabbey

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? We still have long way to go. I also believe that given that only two parties walked out, Stormont should have continued to run regardless.

 

Andrea Brown (48), Derry

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? I remember the Troubles. We should not be allowed to go back to that and all forces that want to go back to that should be faced down, regardless of who or what they are.

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Crowds of Press speaking to David Trimble during Good Friday Agreement talks

Scott Hamilton (46), Portadown

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? The GFA provided a mandate, platform and opportunity for NI to move forward and consign the Troubles to where they belong — history. The current generation of politicians have almost destroyed this.

The darkest times leading up to the Agreement led people to the realisation that we could not put the next generation through the same thing.

When you look at what has happened across the majority of our society — better integration and improved integrated education, more mixed marriages/relationships and millennials with no sectarian agenda — the Agreement has worked on many levels.

Unfortunately, our self-serving and, at best, stubborn representatives are too narrow-minded and selfish to realise how out of touch they are with mainstream society. However, they are the guardians of the GFA and are responsible for delivering on it. This and future generations deserve better. If history shows that the opportunity is hindered or destroyed by childish bickering over language acts, then I hope they realise their grandchildren and great grandchildren will be ashamed.

The GFA is not lost yet but it does not look good. It’s not too late but we need better or different leadership.

 

Colin French (50), Belfast

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? Twenty years on we now have a new society who have grown up in peace. When I voted for the Agreement I expected the middle ground to expand and for the communities to come together.

Unfortunately this has not been the case. Segregated education continues to create a divided community made only more separate by Irish medium schools.

The continued calls for so-called equality and the introduction of an Irish Language Act serve only to drive our society further apart. There are currently no political parties that represent my views. However, I find myself voting for parties who I feel protect my interests from those who try to rewrite history.

 

Niall Dolan (50), Fairfield

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? United Ireland within a United Kingdom and Europe.

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UUP leader David Trimble and SDLP chief John Hume with U2 frontman Bono at a 1998 concert in Belfast to promote Good Friday Agreement

Tony Conway (54), Craigavon

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? I could spend a long time describing how the system in Stormont is putrid or why I find politicians have failed the people, but we have relative peace and that’s worth plenty. I haven’t voted since the GFA and won’t until things change. Give me a party who will reject wages when not in office and I’ll vote for them. Disgraceful that families struggle to pay debts and these failed politicians live lavishly off their taxes.

 

Charlie Chensee (59), Omagh

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? no

Why? Despite the cessation of random violence, our people are still subject to dissident terrorist acts. The Agreement has not released the appropriate forces to counter this threat but has only empowered a group of self-aggrandising politicians to grasp power and hold the province to ransom by their selfish antics. I despair. Direct rule from Westminster may be a wake-up call.

 

Alan Finn (47), Lisburn

In 1998, voted: against

Vote same way again? yes

Why? At the time I believed the Belfast Agreement was spun as a vote for peace. Many commentators referred to it as ‘the Good Friday Agreement’ and do so to this day. Anyone in their right mind wanted peace and a safer future for the next generation. However, releasing unrepentant terrorist murderers was a step too far. The threat of a return to violence is still being used as leverage today. Sinn Fein have never wanted the institutions at Stormont to work unless to their agenda and do not even recognise Northern Ireland. The continual airbrushing, rewriting of history and glorification of terrorist acts is repulsive.

Loyalist paramilitaries are no better — strange how after their gangsters and racketeers were released, their support for the Belfast Agreement dwindled. I would like to see a proper government at Stormont, one which is stable and cannot be brought to its knees (along with the country) by someone throwing their toys out of the pram. It is sickening that their salaries and expenses still continue regardless.

 

Mark Campbell (58), Newtownabbey

In 1998, voted: against

Vote same way again? yes

Why? It’s been a disaster: terrorist murderers on both sides set free, the destruction of the finest police force in the world (the RUC) for purely political reasons, allowing the rewriting of history to suit a republican agenda, allowing for the prosecution of elderly soldiers for only doing their duty ... It’s clear Sinn Fein don’t want NI as a country to work and they still can’t bring themselves to even say the country’s proper name. The GFA has failed and needs replaced ASAP.

 

Simon Lee (39), Carryduff

In 1998, voted: against

Vote the same way again? no

Why? Just watched the Patrick Kielty documentary about the Good Friday Agreement 20 years on. Very moving. We owe it to all those who have been hurt and lost loved ones in the Troubles to keep building the peace. I’m glad my children weren’t born in the NI I was born in, but I still dream of a better future.

 

Tracy Rutherford (47), Bangor

In 1998, voted: against

Vote same way again? yes

Why? It signalled the start of the Sinn Fein appeasement policy with continued dismissive attitudes towards unionist values and traditions; the involvement of the Republic of Ireland in matters of Ulster which should have no standing; the weakening of our border; the rewriting of IRA history; and, above all, an unparalleled unjust attitude toward legacy issues.

 

 David Nimick (49), Antrim

In 1998, voted: against

Vote same way again? yes

Why? A complete and utter Tony Blair con job. He sold a pup to people. We have no peace, we are more divided than ever. The vote itself was a nationalist vote. All it required was the Alliance and nationalist voters with a handful of tired unionist voters to get the yes vote.

 

John McCloskey (64), Belfast

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

The quality of life for ordinary people is extraordinary compared to what we lived through. The choices are now available for the positive future of this island by people who are now free of fear. It’s a simple choice of continued division or unity, it is not rocket science.

 

Ian Clarke (48), Comber

In 1998, voted: for

Vote the same way again? yes

Why? Sectarianism is no way forward. Borders don’t matter... they’re man-made.

 

Fintan Cronin (65), Dublin

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? The Agreement brought peace to Northern Ireland. It ensured there would be no return to complete unionist domination in Northern Ireland whilst ending the Republic’s territorial claim. It enabled the Provisional republican movement to abandon violence, thereby bringing stability to the politics of both states on the island of Ireland. My one regret is that an earlier version of the agreement, at Sunningdale in 1973, didn’t succeed. I am reminded of Seamus Mallon’s quip that the Good Friday Agreement was Sunningdale for slow learners. The great tragedy is that thousands lost their lives in pointless violence between 1973 and 1998.

 

 Barry Magee (60), Lisburn

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? no

Why? I voted for the GFA because at the time it seemed like the lesser of two evils, thanks mainly to the propaganda of Tony Blair. It also coincided with my daughter’s acceptance into an integrated secondary school, which I believed was one of the solutions to sectarianism. Alas, the education system here still requires taxpayers to fund segregated schooling.

The early release of criminals was one big regret, reinforced by the triumphalism of their cronies in west Belfast following the result of the vote. At first, the new Assembly was led by the moderate unionist and nationalist parties: later, however, it became polarised between the two extremes. No further election seems likely to alter the current impasse. We need a new sheriff to clean up the town.

 

Gerry Moane (50), Brookeborough

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? This was and still is a great deal/agreement for everyone in Ireland, north and south. It falls down because the British government did not carry out all they signed up to do and is now letting the DUP off the hook when it comes to moving on and sorting out the past etc.

 

Irene Bell (69), Enniskillen

In 1998, voted: against

Vote same way again? yes

Why? It was never a Good Friday for the families who lost innocent victims. Little respect was given to us for our loss and there were shameful scenes upon the release of prisoners. The majority of victim funding is available to prisoner and political groups. The future is bleak and I fear for young people that the example set by politicians is wrong on every level. Paramilitary groups have flourished as has bigotry and intolerance. Every aspect of our lives have been changed and no-one cares. So sad. Thank you for permitting me a voice.

 

John Nesbitt (62), Holywood

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? no

Why? Like many, when I voted for the Good Friday Agreement I believed it was a new dawn for Northern Ireland and we could jointly look to the future. However, virtually every day we hear of yet another request for an inquest into past events, many of which were over 50 years ago. What we should be doing is drawing a line through all this and using the money for health, education, protecting the futures of all our children and looking after the elderly. In my view the Agreement has failed.

 

Malcolm Beattie (57), Craigavon

In 1998, voted: against

Vote same way again? yes

Why? I thought it was a sop to republicans and terrorists generally and this has been proven by events since, including the erosion of British status within Northern Ireland and the rise of Sinn Fein, who are anti-British generally and have no intention of having justice and equality on this island. Also, the release of terrorists was too high a price to pay. They should not have been released, on either side.

 

Ciaran McCrink (39), Newry

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? The GFA in its very essence was a compromise. Everybody was to win and nobody was ever going to be 100% satisfied. But still after 20 years the cross-community agreement hasn’t been put in place. It is undoubtedly DUP foot-dragging that has ensured this. This in turns angers republicans and nationalists and they cry again for a united Ireland. Why don’t the DUP just put the Agreement in place and then we can decide how good we have it, rather than not having what was promised and as a consequence wanting more than what was agreed?

 

Peter McCreadie (66), Bangor

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? I am saddened and frustrated that all the hope and optimism generated when the Good Friday Agreement was signed has been replaced by cynicism and hatred. Our politicians have forgotten, or choose to forget, the Agreement was to be the foundation stone upon which to build a new and unique pluralistic society where all identities would be respected and where leaders in all aspects of the community would be empowered to help individuals, regardless of religion, race, sexual orientation and so on, to create a society with equality at its core.

Instead our current leaders pursue their own narrow political agenda designed to promote their insular view of how the majority should live their lives. Many members of our society were deeply hurt by 40 years of conflict. Political leaders of the two major parties seem to be determined to continuously pick at this sore to score small victories rather than lead their constituents to a new understanding based upon mutual respect. These same politicians now suggest that the Good Friday Agreement is an irrelevance with each side blaming the other for its demise. We once again live in a political vacuum with the impending Brexit placing the affairs of Northern Ireland far down the priority list of the British (and Irish?) government. There seems to be no hope for the pluralism promised by the GFA.

 

Thomas Lawrence (52), Belfast

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? no

Why? The GFA had failed to bring reconciliation to NI and the communities are further polarised.

 

William Woods (58), Whiteabbey

In 1998, voted: for

Vote the same way again? no

Why? My parents where murdered by the IRA. My dad was a policeman and mum died a year later, leaving six kids behind. Prisoners got out of jail, soldiers are being hounded through the courts and what have families like mine got? Nothing will recompense my brothers and sisters who grew up without parents. The GFA was a reward to the terrorists for all the murders and damage they did.

 

James Johnston (64), Carrickfergus

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? We must look to a positive future not the past.

 

Patrick Joseph Cassidy (54), Spain

In 1998, voted: didn’t vote

Vote same way again? yes

Why? I left Belfast in 1987. I’d had enough. I needed a breath of fresh air so I packed my bags, like many more before me. I’ve never forgotten my home town. But living in Belfast during the 70s and 80s took a toll on me. When the GFA came along it excited me, the idea that our people, Catholic/nationalist, would finally have a say in the day-to-day running of the province; it was almost Utopian in thought. Further, that the Irish government would also be active in Northern Irish affairs was a breathtaking concept. I prayed for the success of the campaign. I kept my thoughts and feelings to myself for it could well have been an emotional release that I wished to remain private.

It was staggering when it happened and took me a while to digest what it meant — things would never be the same. Ian Paisley (right) played a key role and even though I’m not a supporter of him or the DUP I recognised he did the right thing. The unionist leaders of today could perhaps learn something from Dr Paisley’s final years in power. He showed true leadership at a monumental time but the sharing of power with nationalists was too much for some unionists and still is today. There is no going back though: embrace and make the best of what the GFA has to offer.

 

Paul Griffin (45), Belfast

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? Peace — why would you want to go back to the old days where you were continually looking over your shoulder? The country has prospered significantly since then. The only downside is the continuance of the loyalist paramilitaries with racketeering, drugs and religious intimidation and the emergence of the dissident IRA. The middle class have integrated well but the continual harping on of the past by certain working class cultures isn’t giving their own children a chance of a post-Troubles society. A flag doesn’t pay a mortgage. It’s time people need to realise that Christian life is about family and getting on with our neighbours and to stop hating people for the reason of ‘because’.

Those who have been positive and integrated with other religions will have been happy with how their children are growing up. Those who still hate others ‘because’ can’t be happy and will continue to complain about ‘what they gave up’ rather than ‘what a better life they could be experiencing now’. If you are in a backward area, get out of it, move somewhere else and stop being governed by paramilitaries. Make the decision for your kids. You only live once, don’t be hitting 60/70 years and then having loads of regrets about ‘why didn’t I engage with my neighbour, why did I hate them, why was I so negative?’. Life is too short.

 

*Donna Rice (25), Belfast

In 1998, voted: didn’t vote

Vote same way again? no

Why? The Union has failed. It has caused nothing but animosity and division and it’s time for Irish unity.

 

James O’Kane (68), Ballymena

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? no

Why? I thought I was voting for peace and reconciliation, and not the enhanced sectarianism that we now have. I thought I was voting for a permanent coalition of the UUP and the SDLP as they then were. As a Catholic I would no longer feel comfortable voting for either of those parties. I would welcome direct rule if it meant competence in health and education and justice. With Britain and Ireland both in the European Union I didn’t think the border would ever matter again. Again, as a Catholic I am extremely happy not to be living in the Republic at the present time but if it meant that the likes of Arlene would go away I would be the first to vote for a united Ireland.

 

Margaret McMaster (55), Belfast

In 1998, voted: didn’t vote

Vote same way again? yes

Why? It has caused more division and it’s been proven, as was said then, to be unworkable and would bring inequalities. That’s all we’ve seen from it in 20 years — terrorists are still murdering people. The reason I didn’t vote, like many others, is because no leaflet or referendum voting papers were sent out to me.

 

Dave Davis (41), Newcastle

In 1998, voted: against

Vote same way again? yes

Why? Release of convicted murderers. Today they promote their terror as some sort of righteous liberation movement and feel no shame for the thousands of lives they destroyed. The republican movement should be made to feel the guilt of all those they killed and injured.

 

Marc Crawley (46), Newtownards

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? It’s been good for our country. Less trouble. Also good for the tourist, movie and TV industries good.

 

Richard Crawford (55), Belfast

In 1998, voted: against

Vote same way again? yes

Why? The GFA was always a fudge, built on constructive ambiguity — which means telling everyone what they want to hear in the hope that the bright future to follow would change everyone’s minds.

The minds of those who had invested themselves in murder would not change. The GFA would only create a pause while those seeking forced political change regrouped, reorganised and restructured their strategy. The SF intention of forcing unionists into a united Ireland has not changed. Not once, since the GFA, have I heard an SF representative try to offer a persuasive argument for a united Ireland aimed at changing a unionist’s mind. I’m from a unionist background, and I’m ready to listen.

But nothing — just the insistence that history demands a united Ireland. The unionist response to this has been to circle the wagons and get ready for the siege. So actually, we’re no further on. Worse, the paramilitary organisations have been legitimised by the well-meaning intentions of politicians seeking to persuade them to lay down their arms. They’re still around, they’re still functioning, they’re still shooting people in the kneecaps. Worse still, the two governments (and the EU) are terrified of a “return to violence” following Brexit — which in itself shows that the GFA solved nothing, just shoved the problem further downstream. The only possible way forward from here is to draw a big black line under the Troubles: no more inquests, no more trials, no more inquiries. It was awful, it’s over, lets move on. Unless we, as a people, are prepared to sign up to that, then we’re only going to hand more ammunition to those who want to create political change through the threat of force.

 

Declan O’Reilly (54), Belfast

In 1998, voted: against

Vote same way again? no

Why? I believe the GFA has created a society where people realise there is no longer a need for violence. I grew up in a period where the conflict was at its worst and I gladly can say those times will never return because of the GFA. I voted no originally because I believed at the time — and to an extent, my view has proved to be right — that the unionists did not want to share power. My view was that Paisley would never sit in power with SF and how wrong was I. For years during the conflict unionists called on republicans to put away their guns and come to the democratic table and now we see them block democracy at every opportunity.

 

Catherine Cummings (55), Rathfriland

In 1998, voted: for

Vote the same way again? yes

Why? We need to leave Ireland’s troubled history behind and look to the future. Atrocities were committed on both sides and like many conflicts across the world over the centuries, we need to learn from them and not remain bitter and resentful.

 

Tom Hume (71), Ballyclare

In 1998, voted: for

Vote same way again? yes

Why? By the time 20 years had passed, I thought that would have been further down the road of reconciliation than at present instead of being stuck in the past. It takes hearts and minds to change instead of words.

 

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