LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Giving thanks for “all that has been achieved in shaping a peaceful and shared future” in Northern Ireland, the Catholic and Anglican Primates of All Ireland issued a joint statement marking the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
The peace accord signed April 10, 1998, aimed to end “The Troubles” which led to the deaths of more than 3,500 people, most of whom were civilians, and hardened sectarian divisions between Catholics and Protestants.
Among other things, the agreement established a power-sharing government involving parties representing both the majority Protestant population and minority Catholic population; it removed border security between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; and it eventually led to the decommissioning of the weapons of the Irish Republican Army and Protestant paramilitary organizations.
Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, and Archbishop Richard Clarke, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, noted the agreement was complex and controversial, but said its “explicit rejection of the use or threat of violence, together with its emphasis on the principles of ‘partnership, equality and mutual respect’ as the ‘basis of relationships’ within these islands, has continuing potential to transform society and life for all of us.”
“Nothing remotely its equal has been outlined then or since,” the primates’ joint letter said.
The letter acknowledged the role the international community played in the agreement and gave thanks for the peace it has achieved.
“No single political agreement can be expected, of itself, to solve or heal the deep wounds in any society,” the archbishops said. “The Good Friday Agreement offered a framework for a new beginning, outlining the interlocking structures and safeguards under which the relationships required for healthy democracy could develop and be sustained.”
They added that Northern Ireland still presents many problems and opportunities, but these are problems and opportunities for the entire population – and not just politicians – to solve and grasp.
Right now, the political situation in Northern Ireland is at a low point: For over a year, the Unionist DUP and Catholic Sinn Féin parties have failed to come to a power-sharing agreement; Britain’s 2016 referendum decision to leave the European Union has threatened the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; and the fact the ruling Conservative Party in Britain depends on the DUP for support has raised questions about the British government’s role as an “equal broker” between both sides.
Martin and Clarke said that they prayed the anniversary “will help to rekindle a spirit of opportunity, healing and hope for lasting peace which is now needed more than ever.”
“Too often, any vision of a common good has been submerged beneath sectional interests. At this present impasse in political life in Northern Ireland it is worth asking ourselves: Is it because the principles and structure of the Good Friday Agreement have failed us, or, rather is it that we have together failed to make the most of those supportive principles which it offered?”
The archbishops’ joint letter said the peace in Northern Ireland took a great effort to achieve; adding that it will “equally take risk, and leadership at all levels, to maintain.”