Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Our twisted politics means potential of deal still unfulfilled

Editor's Viewpoint

Twenty years on to the day from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement any celebration of what was a pivotal accord must be muted. The prevailing feeling in the province is one of disappointment that the initial optimism has not been fulfilled.

Of course it was widely welcomed when first agreed. A cynic might argue that anything which promised to end three decades of sordid tit-for-tat violence was bound to be viewed as a welcome development.

But what has become clear since that day in 1998 is that the Agreement had a fundamental flaw. Its strength, and simultaneous weakness, was in the constructive ambiguity of its language. That was necessary because it was trying to square a circle and appeal to two incompatible political ideologies. It could work - and has worked - as long as there was a generosity of spirit between those sharing power.

But as the current impasse and collapse of devolution shows, when trust between the parties in power is shattered the edifice can quite easily be pulled down.

Yet we cannot overlook the positives of the Agreement. It has changed the image of Northern Ireland immeasurably and led to huge investment in hotels, new jobs, an increase in tourism and a general feelgood outlook among the generation only born when the accord was signed. They can live a social life which for decades was beyond the hope of their parents.

While dissident republicans have brought sorrow to several families their violence has been contained and support for them is relatively small. Yesterday, loyalist paramilitaries vowed that they were cleaning up their act and would distance themselves from criminality.

Northern Ireland has glimpsed the potential of peace - if not realised it fully - and wants to retain it. Yet we still send our children to different schools and many people live in segregated housing.

The structure of the Agreement and its determination to be all things to all people meant that it could be unpicked to an extent. Sinn Fein and the DUP in recent times concentrated on what divided them rather than what they had in common - or what they could do for all of society here. Increasingly their administration became an exercise in zero sum politics.

But if there is one constituency that could feel most let down by the last 20 years, it is the survivors and the bereaved from the Troubles. Many we know voted for the Agreement in the full knowledge that it meant the release of convicted terrorists guilty of the most heinous crimes and that thereafter they would never get full justice for their suffering.

Surely, however, they expected more than they have got. Such is the level of bickering, even over the definition of who is a victim, that we don't have a single common monument to remember those who died.

We have failed totally to deal with the legacy of the Troubles and that is not simply the fault of the politicians, but of all of us who put them in their positions of power.

How sickened the bereaved must be at the comments of former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams that violence can be justified to reach political aims in certain circumstances. It is his way of justifying the IRA's terrorist campaign, another revision of history.

Looking to the future, we cannot allow the political drift to continue. If the parties cannot work together then the Secretary of State needs to begin making the required day-to-day decisions to keep the province running.

Belfast Telegraph

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