Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland: Brexit can’t pose threat to Belfast Agreement... the document does not even refer to EU membership

We hear more about the deal now than we have in the two decades since it was signed, argues Nelson McCausland.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern shake hands after the Good Friday Agreement was signed in April 1998
Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern shake hands after the Good Friday Agreement was signed in April 1998
Nelson McCausland

By Nelson McCausland

I think we all need a bit of a break from articles about Brexit. So, here goes. Or does it? It is just over 20 years since the Belfast Agreement was signed on April 10, 1998 and just under 20 years since it came into effect on December 2, 1999.

Yet, over the past year, we seem to be hearing more than ever about the Belfast Agreement, or as its promoters preferred to call it the Good Friday Agreement.

Of course, the invention of the name “Good Friday Agreement” was an attempt to sacralise the Belfast Agreement, as if the day of its signing made it in some way sacrosanct, with a special “semi-religious”, or “divinely approved”, standing. Now, 20 years on, it seems that more and more politicians and activists are turning to the Good Friday Agreement for support.

Why do Brussels bureaucrats and politicians across the European Union speak in earnest tones about their new-found concern for the Good Friday Agreement?

Meanwhile, ardent republicans who celebrate the Provisional IRA dissect the text of the Good Friday Agreement as they seek to manufacture new grievances, while liberal-Left commentators and many others kneel in obeisance at the shrine of the Good Friday Agreement.

It might be Brexit, it might be an Irish Language Act, it might be flags, or terrorist commemorations, but whatever the issue, they wrap themselves in their beloved Good Friday Agreement and tell us they’re right because “it’s in the Good Friday Agreement”.

On January 12, 2016, Sinn Fein culture minister Caral ni Chuilin stood up in the chamber of the Northern Ireland Assembly and told the MLAs that, “The Irish Language Act was in the Good Friday Agreement”. Now, don’t bother rushing to look out your copy of the Belfast Agreement to see if it’s in there, because it’s not.

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But that’s doesn’t matter to Sinn Fein — they just keep making it up as they go along. “Irish Language Act... it’s in the Good Friday Agreement” they tell us.

Then, last October, Omagh woman Helen McMahon went to court about the flying of the Union flag on designated days on the local courthouse. She argued that the practice breached “parity of esteem under the Good Friday Agreement”.

A judge ruled that it didn’t, but that did not deter her and so, in March this year, she went to the Court of Appeal. Once again, her lawyers argued that it breached the Good Friday Agreement and once again the court said no.

In fact, the judgment is well worth reading for what it says about “parity of esteem”.

More recently, when Sinn Fein mayor Sean Bateson was criticised for his glorification of the Provisional IRA as “brave” and “blessed”, Sinn Fein defended him by claiming that “everyone has the right under the Good Friday Agreement to remember their dead with dignity and respect”.

So, there it is. According to Sinn Fein, buried somewhere in the text of the Belfast Agreement was the right to glorify terrorists. Of course, it’s not, but Sinn Fein just make it up as they go along.

Of course, the most frequent claim today is that, if the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, it will “breach the Good Friday Agreement” — especially if we leave on World Trade Organisation terms.

You’ll struggle to find any reference in the agreement to perpetual membership of the European Union. It’s just not there, but, again, that doesn’t matter, this time to the Remainers.

Today, we have the text of the Belfast Agreement, which is what people voted on, and then we have the evolving and expanding version, a sort of elasticated agreement that people can stretch to justify whatever they want.

After the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, John Kevin O’Reilly, an ardent Irish republican, wrote the song Wrap the Green Flag Round Me Boys, and that’s what Irish nationalist and republican politicians did.

Perhaps someone is now going to write Wrap the Good Friday Agreement Round Me Boys.

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