Negotiating a peace agreement in a conflict society provides several challenges. First, you need to create a constructive process; second, you need to ensure that the proposals mean something to everyone at the table and third, you have to ensure that what is agreed gets implemented. It could be argued that the Northern Ireland process was a fairly inclusive one, and the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement was a fairly comprehensive one. But what does the aftermath of the agreement look like?
When George Mitchell told the negotiators on Good Friday in 1998 that ‘the hard work starts now’ he meant that implementing the agreement in the spirit in which it was signed would indeed be hard work. And making it work has been like trying to tattoo a balloon. The perceived gains and losses have to keep pace with each other – otherwise some will accuse others of overplaying their hand. So a peace agreement often hangs on the undertakings it makes. But where there is a clash of interpretations about how these should be fulfilled then a feeling of bad faith can quickly replace the more clear-eyed view of the future, such as the one promised on that Good Friday.
An example of this is the Agreement’s proposal on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland which, following St Andrews, all the parties were committed to but have taken no decisions on since then. Building on the largest public participation exercise ever undertaken in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission forwarded its advice to the British government in 2008. However, both the British government and the Northern Ireland Executive appear frozen on what to do next.
To read the rest of the article by Monica McWilliams visit 15 Years On.