The Belfast Agreement – 20 years on
Sir, – Brian Kennaway laments the lack of progress towards a stable administration on the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement (“Fragile foundations of Belfast Agreement undermined”, Opinion & Analysis, April 10th).
He attributes this to the fragile foundations of the constructive ambiguity required to get all parties over the line.
He is correct in identifying fragile foundations for an agreement but he is incorrect to attribute these fragilities to clever drafting or solely to the post-agreement dilatoriness of the signatories. Through 30 years of the Troubles, with some honourable exceptions such as the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP), the Women’s Coalition and Alliance, there was scant organised political expression around a shared nonsectarian vision of the future, and such initiatives rarely earned significant electoral support.
In contrast, those who compromised were often punished, Terence O’Neill being one early example. The Northern electorate had schooled its politicians well on the inadvisability of the politics of compromise.
The architecture of the democratic arrangements established in the Belfast Agreement exaggerate polarisation but this was not the underlying cause.
The Belfast Agreement was the response of communities sufficiently worn down by violence to raise themselves to make a necessary and difficult historic accommodation to end that violence. Those of us who grew up in or lived through the Troubles should celebrate the 20th anniversary of an agreement that undoubtedly brought violence largely to an end, saved countless lives and restored a large degree of normality to the North. We should remind ourselves and our children of the fragility of this peace.
A lamentation on the failure to achieve a non-sectarian utopia is surely wide of the mark; the Northern electorate has never shown any appetite before or since for such a dispensation. Look no further than this if you want to find fragile foundations. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Happy 20th birthday, Belfast Agreement. I hope you have a 21st. – Yours, etc,
Dr JAMES FINNEGAN,