Belfast Agreement not template for progress in North - Robinson
SDLP leader calls for anniversary of agreement to become public holiday
British prime minister David Cameron said the Belfast Agreement ’represented a massive step forward from what has gone before, a clear manifestation that politics and democracy would triumph over violence’. Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA Wire
The Belfast Agreement did not provide a template for either establishing stable devolution or moving Northern Ireland forward, the First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson has stated in marking the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday accord.
All that was provided on April 10th 1998 was a "template of errors to be avoided by those who followed in its aftermath", said Mr Robinson today.
The DUP leader said while its early release of paramilitary prisoners and the "destruction" of the RUC could not be undone, other "failures" such as "decommissioning, unaccountable Stormont structures and republican support for the police were left to a later time before they were finally resolved".
"Rather than cement our constitutional position, the Belfast Agreement left many unionists rightly fearful about the future with unaccountable North-South relationships," he said. "However, we can now look forward to a future within the United Kingdom, secure in the knowledge that support for our place within the union exists at record levels right across the community in Northern Ireland. "
Mr Robinson added, "Northern Ireland is a vastly different place now than it was in 1998, but those changes came about when the failures of the Belfast Agreement were finally dealt with and stable, workable devolution was achieved. What is more important to the people of Northern Ireland today however are our plans for the future and how we can deliver the kind of peaceful and prosperous society that we all want to see."
The British prime minister David Cameron said the Belfast Agreement was the platform to build a new, confident, inclusive and modern Northern Ireland "whose best days lie ahead".
He described it as a "truly momentous event in the history of Northern Ireland" that heralded a new beginning for relationships within Northern Ireland, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and across these islands. "I firmly believe that all parts of the community were winners on 10 April 1998," he said.
The Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said that 15 years on there can be no going back. "The tiny minorities who want to cling to the past must be rejected. Sectarianism must be tackled and ended. The promise of the Good Friday Agreement for a new society in which all citizens are respected, and where fairness and justice and equality are the guiding principles, has to be advanced," he said.
The SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said the anniversary of the agreement should be made an annual public holiday. He said it "transformed relations between our peoples and our nations" and provided "the best hope, perhaps the only hope, of creating and shaping a reconciled and prosperous society".
Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt said in 1998 his party put "country first, party second" in endorsing the agreement. "What the Ulster Unionist Party did in 1998 was to get everyone to agree the principle of consent. In other words, Northern Ireland stays part of the United Kingdom unless and until a majority of people vote for a change," said Mr Nesbitt.
The British Labour shadow Northern Secretary Vernon Coaker said the agreement was one of his party's proudest accomplishments: "The Good Friday Agreement shows it is only by working together that we get things done. That is as true today, for the British and Irish governments and the Northern Ireland parties, as it was in 1998."
The Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said the agreement was a "most dire blot on the democratic landscape" which allowed "terrorists in government, North/South executive bodies, the dysfunctional joint office of the First Ministers, the ban on the electorate voting a party out of government and even the denial of an Opposition".