The Good Friday Agreement in 1998

In this answer I am going to discuss that since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 there has been a relative period of peace in Northern Ireland. What problems will need to be overcome to create a lasting peace in Northern Ireland? How likely peace will be achieved? Furthermore I will discuss: general background, history and religion, politics, decommissioning, paramilitaries, policing and security and marches. I will then conclude with how likely peace will be achieved.

The Good Friday Agreement was set up to reach peace in Northern Ireland and reaches a suitable solution for Catholics and Protestants. Previous attempts at creating everlasting peace have included: direct rule in 1972 and 1973-74, the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985 and the Downing Street Declaration in 1993. However all these methods have failed so far. Finally in 1998 they tried creating lasting peace in Northern Ireland with the Good Friday Agreement.

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In May 1998 a referendum was held, the people of Republic and Northern Ireland were asked if they accepted the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. They were furthermore asked if articles 2 and 3 could be removed. The results were overwhelming as 94% in the Republic and 71% of Northern Ireland accepted it. In my opinion this was a great step forward in the campaign for peace.

The main terms of the Good Friday Agreement were that a new Northern Ireland assembly would be set up containing 108 members. All key decisions would require consent of both communities in the province. Furthermore a north south council of ministers would be set up. Also the Irish government would remove articles 2 and 3 of its constitution. The main two terms however, were that there would be a review of policing and early release for paramilitary prisoners was promised. These terms of the agreement seemed fair to both Catholics and Protestants.

The Anglo Irish Agreement failed because it was not accepted by everyone in Northern Ireland and Unionists fiercely rejected it. Despite the agreement the violence continued. The Sunningdale Agreement failed because there was suspicion that the council of Ireland had ended the power sharing executive and that people were using intimidation methods to force people to sign up. This failed forcing Northern Ireland back to direct rule. The Downing Street Declaration had important results but didn’t go far enough considering the circumstances Ireland found itself in at the time.

There have always been problems in Northern Ireland but they have worsened since events such as the Battle of the Boyne and Bloody Sunday. Catholics and Protestants have always been at war with each other, this is due to their differences in religion and beliefs. Over the years of trouble in Northern Ireland the government have tried many methods to try and counteract the escalating violence. The government have tried direct rule, this had worked previously, and decommissioning, however the methods failed. Protestants and Catholics have hated each other for years and now fight for pride and not actually valid reasons, some of the time.

The religious differences are still a factor preventing peace being achieved in Northern Ireland. This is because the problem is still around today due to segregation. In Northern Ireland there are only eight schools where Protestants and Catholics mix. Every other school in Northern Ireland is either protestant or Catholic. This type of segregation has made it so that no progress can be made possible unless change is made, and fast. Therefore in my opinion segregation is a big issue surrounding the campaign for peace. Pride however is also a major factor as when a debate turns up, the pride of Catholics and Protestants is on the line and neither group wants to give more than they have to at this stage in the peace talks.

Moreover selective history has been used by both, Catholics and Protestants. By using selective history parts of the story that have influenced Catholic and protestant views have been exaggerated. This causes more tension between the two groups and leaves a sour taste in the mouths of both groups when reminiscing on past events. Selective history is a problem in the way of reaching peace. Both sides remember the parts of the story they want to and lose all knowledge of what really happened.

In 1998 Tony Blair held the Good Friday Agreement with the UUP (Ulster Unionist Party) talking for the protestants, and SDLP (Social Democratic Loyalist Party) speaking for the Catholics. The Good Friday Agreement started to prove to be a success as power was given back to Stormont. However in 2002 the IRA (Irish Republican Army) was caught spying in Stormont. Immediate action was taken and direct rule was introduced, forcing power to be shifted from Stormont back to London. The SDLP and UUP are very moderate groups and not very hard line. The Good Friday Agreement was Tony Blaire’s attempt to round up an achievement before his time as prime minister comes to an end.

In Scotland on the 14th October 2006, Tony Blair, leader of DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) Ian Paisley and leader of the group Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams met at St Andrews. This is to see if they could agree on certain matters, for example power back to Stormont. This would be a good achievement for Tony Blair. Although the DUP and SDLP are very hard-line groups and will not be willing to give too much away at the start. The St Andrews agreement has taken place and the deadline has passed however still no decision has been made.

During the St Andrews agreement both parties discussed implementation. Also the DUP described the deal as a ‘work in progress’. They also declared that unless Sinn Fein makes the first move on policing the DUP has no intention of opening negotiations of power sharing. Their assessment probably remains that both the DUP and Sinn Fein leaderships appear to be heading in the right direction, even if they are not matching the pace people may have first expected. Despite the ambiguity of the responses by both leaders, the government has decided to interpret the comments with a ‘cautious acceptance’.

Decommissioning means the giving up weapons. This has always caused a problem in Northern Ireland as it has not always been carried out effectively. Both parties have inconsistently failed to give up weapons properly. The decommissioning issue has forced Northern Ireland’s peace talks to suffer as a result of inconsistency; furthermore Paramilitary groups hold so much power. Unionist and Nationalist paramilitary groups are huge rivals and there have always been feuds between them. They believe deeply in what they are doing and the way they are doing it. They will kill or be killed fighting for their beliefs. They most often use propaganda and intimidation as methods to keep their opposition quiet. Paramilitary attacks have taken place in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Mainland Britain. The attacks have consisted of bombs, shootings, intimidation and murder. Therefore the reason there is a problem with decommissioning is that both groups hold so much power and destruction with their weapons and they use this to their advantage, so why would they want to stop? Moreover paramilitary groups cannot reach a compromise, and in my opinion a bit of compromising by both parties could be the key to achieving lasting peace, even if it is only a stepping stone, it is a way forward.

On Saturday 10th September 2005 Northern Ireland saw its worst rioting in a decade. A 700 person mob clashed with police on the streets of Belfast. The rioting consisted of petrol bombings, setting cars on fire and loyalist paramilitaries shooting at police. “The rioters intended to kill and it is lucky we have no dead police officers” said Sir Hugh Orde, the chief constable. All this ferocious rioting has come as a result of police trying to re-route a protestant march that takes place every year. The police attempted to re-route the marches to avoid confrontation with the Catholics. However this sparked a huge frenzy with masked Protestants violently attacking police.

The reason that the marches cause confrontation is because they are celebrating victories over the Catholics. One of the most famous battles won is the Battle of the Boyne where many Catholics were massacred. Therefore the Protestants celebrate their victory by holding annual marches each year down Catholic streets. Many Catholics feel threatened and offended by this and each year the police do their most to try and prevent commotion or violence occurring.

The chief constable Sir Hugh Orde blamed both major loyalist paramilitary organisations the UDA (Ulster Defence Association) and UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) for exploiting the violence. He furthermore added that the decision to re-route had been made because the marches had ‘become illegal’ and ‘fundamentally breached’. In my opinion with these sort of paramilitary groups achieving lasting peace in Northern Ireland seems unlikely in the foreseeable future.

It is November 27th and still the St Andrews agreement has not yet been concluded. Once again trouble has been caused; this will almost slow down the peace process. The trouble was sparked by a released prisoner named Michael Stone who tried raiding St Andrews, security guards acted bravely. Northern Ireland security Peter Hain said “Somebody could have been killed, were it not for the bravery of the assembly staff” Michael Stone had been imprisoned 10 years previously for interrupting a Catholic funeral service, throwing grenades and shooting at mourning Catholics. Michael Stones actions killed three people and left him in jail sectioned in the maze sector with hard protestant paramilitaries.

The police labelled his actions as ‘terrorism’. However this meant that after the Good Friday Agreement, he would be released after one of the terms of the agreement. Then on the 24th November 2006 Michael Stone performed drastic actions, interrupting St Andrews and terrorising members of the assembly. The Protestant paramilitary spokesman said the man is nothing to do with them and is just another lunatic. To conclude psychopaths such as Michael Stone have performed inexcusable actions and argued that they are just politics fighting religions. Although in my opinion people such as Michael Stone should be put and kept in prison where they can cause no harm to anyone.

One of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement was that there would be a review of policing in Northern Ireland. The RUC (royal Ulster Constabulary) has not always been under the firing line. For example they stood up to the loyalists at Dumcree in 1998 and 1999. Events such as Dumcree have helped shape the publics’ opinions on the RUC and placed trust back into the hearts of the public. However many Nationalists do not trust the RUC; this is because they remember internment and allegations of human rights abuse have been made.

Even moderate Catholics and Nationalists refuse to join the RUC because they have encountered intimidation methods against their families and friends. The RUC have been inconclusive in Northern Ireland and many Nationalists believe that the RUC is biased. Furthermore the RUC have been subject to a lot of media coverage and therefore the campaign for peace would be made easier if the pressure is put on hold for a while, this would enable the RUC to reconsider their ways of dealing with the public violence that seems to be ever escalating. The RUC is a major issue causing trouble in Northern Ireland. A possible solution to the problem surrounding the RUC could be that the media just laying off of the RUC for the moment and letting the RUC sort itself out and get back into doing what they do best; protecting the public. The more pressure that amounts onto the RUC the less chance there is for peace to be achieved. With this pressure not being lifted at the present moment, is it possible for peace to be achieved? In my opinion until all Nationalists are behind the RUC peace will be an unlikely achievement in Northern Ireland in the foreseeable future.

Marching is one of the main problems in Northern Ireland in the fight to reach everlasting peace. Events such as Bloody Sunday and the Battle of the Boyne have given reasons for both parties to celebrate. For example each year many Protestants march through Catholic areas singing fighting songs such as ‘the sash’. On the other hand however Catholics also march through Protestant areas singing songs that are full of hatred towards Protestants. Most marches are followed by church services. However they have not always been peaceful ones. The Protestant leader Ian Paisley first became famous in the 1960’s by an anti-Catholic speech. He described a group of Catholics as ‘blaspheming cursing, spitting roman scum’.

Each summer in Northern Ireland loyal orders such as the Loyal Orange Order, the Apprentice boys of Derry and the Royal Black Institution plan marches to commemorate historical victories of significance to Protestants. The Orange Order marches consist of people marching in orange, wearing sashes, carrying banners and they often are accompanied by drums. On the other hand Catholics have the same but they wear green instead of orange. They also have clubs and societies like an Ancient order to match that of the Protestants.

Marches have recently caused major riots in Northern Ireland on Saturday 10th September 2005. Police sparked Protestant riots when they attempted to re-route a march away from a Catholic street. Police decided that by re-routing the march it would avoid confrontation with any Catholics. However it turns out that all it achieved was that a 700 mob violently attacked police petrol bombs and paramilitary groups shot at police. Luckily no police officers were killed. Whilst trying to re-route the marching Catholic security forces used 430 baton rounds and a water cannon to force the loyalist gangs back. Sir Hugh Orde is the chief constable said ‘the Orange Order must bear substantial responsibility for this’ he also remarked that ‘they were shot at by paramilitary groups from the loyalist side. With events like this occurring so recently, the question to ask is how close are we to achieving peace?

In conclusion Northern Ireland has induced many problems that in my opinion have not been resolved properly. Furthermore the war between the Catholics and Protestants has unfolded in many chapters and key turns of events such as Bloody Sunday and the Battle of the Boyne, have remained in the minds of both Catholics and Protestants. Moreover the recent events of St Andrews have made a big impact on the campaign for peace. Gerry Adams called the St Andrews Agreement a ‘work in progress’. What does this mean? In my opinion by Gerry Adams using the term a ‘work in progress’ it leaves me to believe that the agreement is on its way to being a success but it needs more work.

Following the events and problems Northern Ireland has been involved with, I believe that Northern Ireland can achieve peace assuming that more effective methods have to be put in place as previous methods have failed miserably in some cases. Furthermore the solutions in the past have failed and possibly new methods have to be given a chance. Maybe relieving the pressure on the government and especially the RUC would be the answer to the ever growing problems Northern Ireland faces on day to day bases. The decommissioning process helped aid the peace talks as both parties felt like they were ‘giving an inch or two’ and this enabled the St Andrews agreement to be on the right tracks. This is by far the closest and most promising position Northern Ireland has been to achieving peace.

Previous attempts at peace have failed, for instance internment and other peace talks such as the Sunningdale agreement, this leads me to believe that new methods must be tried if Northern Ireland is ever going to get anywhere. Moreover I do think that the St Andrews agreement can achieve lasting peace in Northern Ireland. Although the St Andrews agreement has been promising with comments from Gerry Adams suggesting that this might be the answer.

Selective history however is a major factor in the way of reaching everlasting peace. In my opinion if both parties would ease off a bit and give the RUC and the government time then they can fully concentrate on the negotiations regarding peace in Northern Ireland. This will enable the peace talks to really start to begin.

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