Once upon a time, the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement was all about reconciliation. Its pages are filled with promises of ‘new beginnings’ and ‘dedicated to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust’, all signed ‘in a spirit of concord’. Binding commitments were given not only to purely democratic and political means but to oppose ‘any use or threat of force by others for any political purpose’. Every signatory pledged to ‘work to ensure the success of each and every one of the arrangements’ and signed up to complex but ultimately clear constitutional arrangements: UK sovereignty which it would be ‘wrong to change without consent’; an acceptance that it is the ‘birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose’ which cannot ‘be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland’; and ‘parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities.’ Everyone supported new institutions for equality and human rights, a new Civic Forum, and initiatives for community relations, mixed housing and integrated education.
In spite of opposition from the DUP, over 70% of a very large turn-out voted ‘Yes’. After the St Andrews Agreement in 2006, the theory was that ‘small adjustments’, agreed by the governments and the parties without reference to a referendum, had allowed everyone to sign up.
Yet 15 years later talk of a shared future seems to be more unwelcome than ever.
Read the rest of the article by Duncan Morrow on 15 Years On.