Belfast Telegraph

Simon Coveney: Good Friday Agreement anniversary is a chance to redouble the focus on duty to reach full reconciliation'

Copies of the Good Friday Agreement are delivered to doors in 1998
Copies of the Good Friday Agreement are delivered to doors in 1998
Simon Coveney
The deal was signed by Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern

By Simon Coveney

Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

This, I believe, is an important moment for everyone, whatever your perspective, to reflect and remember just how much has been achieved through the Agreement over the last 20 years.

The horrendous, destructive violence of the Troubles was definitively ended.

There was a new start in Northern Ireland, founded on power-sharing, equality and parity of esteem.

Relations between North and South on this island, and East-West, have been transformed for the better. While there are evident challenges still, the journey on the road to genuine reconciliation has begun.

It is only right then that there is an opportunity to commemorate, and in fact to celebrate, the 20th anniversary of the Agreement through which such profound and beneficial steps forward have been taken and are still being advanced.

As a contribution to this commemoration, I am hosting on behalf of the Irish Government an event in Belfast this evening, entitled "A Further Shore". This will trace, through the arts, a journey through the tragic years of the Troubles to the great moment of hope and reconciliation which the Agreement represents. I look forward to welcoming friends from across all traditions and places in Northern Ireland to this occasion.

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I am looking forward also to participating in a number of other events in Belfast tomorrow to mark the anniversary itself, including at Queen's University with the political and community leaders who strove to reach an accord on April 10, 1998.

The presence of (former) President Clinton and Senator George Mitchell at events tomorrow will give an opportunity to rightly recognise their immense personal contributions to securing the Agreement, which expressed the long-standing and enduring friendship and support from the United States for the peace process and for the people of this island.

I will also have a chance tomorrow at community engagements in East and West Belfast to hear views about the journey travelled since 1998, the stumbles we have had on that path, and the road that still lies ahead.

This anniversary is a moment to look forward to that road ahead and to renew.

And there is a need I believe to recapture and renew some of the energy, hope and optimism that seems to have unfortunately ebbed away in the years since 1998, the years of implementation - or hard slog even - which followed agreement.

While the challenges that stood after the Agreement was signed in 1998 were clear to all, there was a real and genuine excitement at the prospect and the potential of the peace. There was a determination that this should be taken up, across both main communities in Northern Ireland who suffered so much through the Troubles.

All should strive to renew that determination at this time.

The Agreement was hammered out and signed by the political parties and the Governments, but it was endorsed by the people, North and South, in overwhelming numbers in the historic referendums of May 22, 1998.

Some 71.1% voted in favour of the Agreement in Northern Ireland and 94.4% on the rest of the island endorsed the changes to the Irish Constitution which were required as part of the Agreement. With this, a political agreement became the people's Agreement and the principles, the institutions and the achievements of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, belong to you. It is incumbent then on all of us - the two Governments as co-guarantors of the Agreement and the political parties - to ensure that our efforts in the period ahead live up to that democratic expression for peace, for partnership and for better prospects that the people enshrined in 1998.

That means charting a way to get the devolved institutions operating again in the interests of all in Northern Ireland. I am working with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, on how both Governments can best work together in partnership and as co-guarantors of the Agreement and the peace process itself to ensure that happens.

The power-sharing Executive and Assembly have been absent for too long already and must urgently restart their work as the institutions at the heart of the Agreement.

I believe the spirit of 1998 also requires a move ahead now with the process to establish the legacy framework of the Stormont House Agreement, to finally address the legacy of the Troubles in a comprehensive way that will meet the legitimate needs and expectations of victims and survivors, who are still and unjustly left waiting.

Finally, I believe that the 20th anniversary of the Agreement is an opportunity to redouble the focus on the task and the duty to a full reconciliation that is still ahead.

Reconciliation, which means so many different things to different people, is the hardest and yet most essential aspect of the peace process for today and indeed for generations to come.

The genius of the Agreement is that it allows us to live together on these islands as neighbours and as friends, without in any way diminishing our identities or our cultures. Irish, British, both, or neither.

A more complex set of identities and allegiances is possible through the Agreement and can only enrich us all.

In The Cure At Troy, Seamus Heaney asked that we "believe that a further shore is reachable from here". The Agreement enables us to believe that, to continue the journey of the last two decades, and to reach the further shore of full and genuine reconciliation.

The Irish Government is pledged to play its part as a co-guarantor to fully realising the ambitious but attainable objectives of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement for the benefit of all of us who share these islands.

Simon Coveney is the Tanaiste and Irish foreign affairs minister

Belfast Telegraph


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