Ireland after Good Friday Agreement

Photo Source: The Gryphon

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Up Front

When the Good Friday Agreement was done and drafted, the belief in political dialogue was reignited. 

At that time, Irish masses believed that a resolution was impossible, but a resolution came, somehow. The deal eventually bought divided communities together.

The region had been a hotbed of the dispute between the Catholics and the Protestants. But there are still many sections of the society who call for the third option in their lives, an option that won't associate them with sectarian religious identities.

The history of conflict in the region is not recent. It actually spans centuries of turmoil. 

The island’s earliest settlers were pagans known as Gaels, who embraced Christianity in the fifth century. Protestantism arrived in Ireland through political instances of England in the 15th century, where they confiscated a largely Catholic dominated agricultural land for their own plantations. Except for northeast areas, Catholics remained as a majority community.

As years have passed on, especially since Brexit, Northern Ireland, at large, remains vulnerable to certain political problems. 

However, many political leaders such as Theresa May have been assuring that Brexit won't undermine GFA. Others leaders want a direct rule in Northern Ireland, as they believe The Executive, which was promised in the agreement, is in tatters.

In Queen’s University, Belfast, a reunion of political leaders had happened to mark the 20th anniversary commiserating this peace accord that brought a dramatic reduction of violence.

It had been one of those agreements where the political power of women played a crucial role. Before the drafting of this agreement, an election was held in 1996, where Catholic and Protestant women groups made an alliance with the women cadre of Sin Fein party for a political dialogue in future. It included cross-community dialogue and a public referendum.

Certain individuals who proved pivotal in the process such as Former US President Bill Clinton and US-Senator George Mitchell were honoured with Freedom of the City of Belfast – a civic honour given by the local council. The ceremony itself indicated the importance Good Friday Agreement has in the lives of many Irish people.

As Brexit vote happened in the region with a pensive mood, American journalists such as Kevin Cullen, who have devoted around twenty years of investigative journalism in the Ireland region have revealed: ‘the prospect of the old customs checkpoints springing up again along the Irish border — the Republic remaining in the EU, the North exiting with the rest of Britain — threatens to slow the march toward normalcy of the last 20 years.’

At this moment in time, besides all the solemnised political successes, the fact remains that Northern Ireland still remains dependent on London, as it was twenty years ago. Belfast is no more a trade centre in comparison.  A hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic will instil several political rifts. The power-sharing agreement has collapsed after UK 2017 General Election and Brexit voting.

According to Grainia Long, a chief executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of common Irish people, the society is less interested in nationalist debates. They rather are enthusiastic about rugby matches and want better public services, in health for instance. People are longing for more material benefits, as years pass by since GFA happened. But if one looks from a broader point of view, there is no doubt in believing that their world is gradually slipping into identity politics. Besides this, residents of Northern Ireland have the fundamental right to call themselves as British, Irish or both – whatever they choose.

Local press reports have brought to light some important developments. It seems that the IRA Provos voted in favour of Brexit for their vested interests in the lucrative diesel business in the region. Some members of the party, unsatisfied about how the party was shaping up, left the ranks and had been severely beaten and dragged out of their cars.

As IRA Provos continue to monopolise the diesel industry, many people don’t want to follow their cold and cynical republican ideas anymore. Commoners in the south still prefer to drive through the northern border to buy cheaper diesel for their cars.

According to Oped writer, Fintal’ O Toole’, the clauses of Northern Ireland's internal governance created sectarian divisions. In other words, political rivalries were created between Protestant/Unionist and Catholic/Nationalist politicians.

During the 18th century, Ireland was ravaged by a potato famine where around 1.5 million people died of starvation. Many immigrated to countries such as the United States until war divided the island when Irish Republican Army demanded independence from the United Kingdom in 1919.

Minority Catholics in the Northern Island have faced discrimination in housing and voting. It marked the start of a three-decade of conflict known as ‘The Troubles.’ A turning point in the struggle came in 1981 when nine prison inmates demanded a political prisoner status at Belfast’s Maze Prison.

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