Today marks 21 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Bringing peace to the island of Ireland is one of Labour’s proudest achievements in office and marked the beginning of the end of decades of conflict. The leadership involved in reaching the Agreement seems a far cry from the absence of leadership we see today.
The Good Friday Agreement was a huge effort, led from the top by Tony Blair, the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and US President Bill Clinton, who brought the key parties back to the negotiating table. It was the personal investment and trust in their leadership that allowed the different parties involved the confidence to sign an agreement that would bring peace and power-sharing to Northern Ireland.
Today’s stark contrast is a Prime Minister prepared to consign that peace to the past, risk inflaming conflict, and unable to build trust or goodwill even with our most important trading partners. May claims to represent ‘the will of the people’ despite voters rejecting her hard Brexit plans in the 2017 general election, removing her majority.
In the face of an irresponsible UK Prime Minister prepared to risk catastrophe and on her way out, thankfully the EU has worked hard to defend Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement. The EU is not willing to countenance changing the backstop designed to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, which could contravene the Good Friday Agreement. May cannot be trusted, but we should all worry about who the Tories are lining up to replace her. Most of the front runners are even more extreme sadly and would fail to protect the Good Friday Agreement.
In recent months we have seen acts of terror in the UK related to Brexit. No one should doubt what is at stake or that peace in Northern Ireland is guaranteed going forward. We need to be mindful of history. We should also learn from it. The Good Friday Agreement required the support of the people as both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland held referendums on it, winning overwhelming backing on both sides of the border.
21 years on, I am incredibly grateful for the peace the Good Friday Agreement secured. We should reflect on how it was delivered, the effort involved, the leadership required, and the need for people to have the final say over momentous decisions affecting every aspect of their future.