Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Altering Good Friday Agreement not the way forward

DUP leader Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster

Editor's Viewpoint

Professor John Tonge is right to say that no one should be surprised that DUP leader Arlene Foster says the Good Friday Agreement is not sacrosanct - that it can be tampered with to enable a solution to be found to the contentious Brexit backstop agreement.

After all, she left the Ulster Unionist Party because she was unhappy with the Agreement and the DUP was the only major party not to sign up to it.

There is a certain logic to her argument, in that the Agreement has already been tinkered with during the negotiations leading to the St Andrew's and Stormont House agreements

But if she accepts that the Good Friday Agreement can be changed, then she must also accept that the referendum result on Brexit is also open to change. After all, 71% of Northern Ireland voters and 94% of those in the Republic backed the 1998 Agreement in a referendum, figures far in excess of the Brexit result.

And it should also be remembered that Northern Ireland voted by a large majority to stay in the EU, something which the DUP dismisses as of no consequence, since it was only the UK-wide Leave vote which counted. Another problem for Mrs Foster is that the Good Friday Agreement is an international treaty registered at the United Nations.

At the core of the Agreement is compulsory power-sharing. While that has had its critics, the words of Winston Churchill in 1947 come to mind: 'Many forms of government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government … except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.'

For 'democracy' we can read 'power-sharing' in a Northern Ireland context. That cross-community system of administration and north-south and east-west bodies are parts of the Agreement which are not negotiable by nationalists or the Republic, even if all three are in limbo at the moment.

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But no matter how anyone may wish them away, there is no viable alternative. After all, both the DUP and Sinn Fein stood on power-sharing manifestos in the last election and received an overwhelming mandate for them.

Altering the Good Friday Agreement to solve the Brexit backstop conundrum is a step too far for the vast majority of people on this island.

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