The way I see it, the Good Friday Agreement is dying, what shall succeed it?

It’s almost 15 years since Trimble, Hume and Adams thrashed out an agreement for how the North would work within the framework of cross community governance, increased co-operation North and South as well as with other assemblies and parliaments in Ireland and the UK, yet at this juncture as we proceed to the fifth year of self-inflicted austerity across the western world and with so many matters in our grubby little part of Ireland left unresolved, whether it is parades, the Irish language, reconciliation, dealing with the past, effective government, effective opposition or oversight and the respect of cultural expressions of each community, and I am leaving aside coherent bread and butter issues (let’s not even touch that area just yet) I wonder will this whole facade we work with simply fall apart under the weight of its contradictions?

I do not, for a moment, imagine that we will go back to serious inter-communal violence or physical conflict, however, I have to wonder what will happen as we approach the summer marching season and the political system is placed under further scrutiny and strain with having to deal with the trouble that will inevitably flare at well known flash points and maybe a few others we haven’t even considered or know of now. Will we have Nelson et al telling us that civic disorder is ok with him and many others? Will we have continued violence on the streets of Ardoyne as the marchers are bused into the area so that they can walk past the shops to make a point?

What about any further HET findings that  may come out, how will this play out in political unionism when we add this into the mix with what’s happening with the flags protest? Will this merely make political unionism circle the wagons and resist any further investigation into what happened in the past as they feel it’s so very 1 sided, rightly or wrongly?

We recently had the report into the state assisted murder of Pat Finucane where one of the findings from the Da Silva report was that the RUC provided approximately 85% of the intelligence for murder victims of loyalist paramilitaries; am I the only person who finds this incredibly shocking? I almost feel numb when I read that little factoid and when I mentioned this to a few friends they thought this was frankly, unbelievable, as in the did not believe me and wanted to see where I got that from.  In many ways, it nearly justifies what large numbers of former IRA supporters have said all along, that they were at war with the British authorities and that nationalists were being targeted in extra judicial killings by the state, therefore they had to use as much force as possible to deter them and hopefully defeat them. This is something I have heard on many an occasion from old men and supporters of physical force republicanism, something I am pretty uncomfortable with myself as I have never raised my hand in anger, yet I didn’t grow up in West Belfast during the 70s or 80s, I only visited it from 87 on and it was such a world away from what I was used to in Massachusetts or Co. Clare, it was just bleak and angry, it was another world to me.

The Agreement itself came about thanks to large doses of ‘creative ambiguity’ where Bertie and Tony thought it best to fudge things and hope that if we get the lowest common denominator of a deal in place and running then they will hopefully sort themselves out over time, and I have to thank them for this thinking. In many ways, they’re right and were right to go along with this policy. As has been noted over on FJH’s page, no one won and no one lost in our grubby little conflict therefore how can a victor impose the terms of their victory? Simply put, they cannot, therefore, conflict continues by other means.

Personally, I feel that a ground swell is happening back home where a lot of the old certainties no longer hold true. We see it in unionism where the middle ground of ‘civic’ unionism is now fracturing between the APNI and Basil McCrea and John McAllister’s leaving the UUP, however, it could be argued that this has been happening before this when Sylvia Hermon left and became an independent or before that with the appointment of Reg Empey who must go down as one of the most ineffectual political leaders of all time, totally lacking in charisma or vision. Unionism appears to be being forced into trying to reconcile a number of things at once, whether there’s is a cause tied solely to a constitutional aspiration or cultural abhorrent notions too which when challenged seem to contradict what mainstream thoughts of being British means in the 21st century.

In nationalism, well we have what may be a rejuvenated SDLP on the march, though I remain to be convinced. I do not think there is much in the Mid-Ulster bye-election for Patsy McGlone though I wish him the very best of luck. Will the SDLP carve out an effective niche and alternative to Sinn Fein in their policies, tone and thoughts? Who knows, but I have always thought it is a win win for nationalism when we have two strong voices in the open in the market place for ideas, it helps everyone raise their game and focused on the goal. For Sinn Fein, their time in government is something of a mixed bag really. John O’Dowd has been very diligent and for me has really grown as an MLA and statesman. He’s honest, down to earth and likeable. As someone from Upper Bann, specifically Craigavon, I had found the SF polity back in  the early 90s to be somewhat amateurish but I must admit now that they have really upped their game and have come on leaps and bounds, however, can this be said for everyone? How about in places like South Belfast, Banbridge, Coleraine and Warrenpoint? Why is there not more cross border cooperation, why are nationalist parties who have ministerial briefs not trying to find and push for greater cooperation with their Southern counterparts? Must we wait for all party agreement when we know it will never be forthcoming?

With all of this in mind, I believe that something will give sooner or later, probably close to the next elections for the Assembly as Stormont, in my eyes, does not look like it does what it’s supposed to. Will we have all party talks in some English, Scottish or Welsh castle where we thrash some more deals out and settle some outstanding issues like the Irish language, parades, cultural expressions and most importantly, the workings of the Assembly with strengthened cross border links? Who knows, but all I do know is that weare not happy with what we have at the moment and people will not allow this kind of grid lock to continue on ad infinitum.

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17 responses to “The way I see it, the Good Friday Agreement is dying, what shall succeed it?

  1. Not sure I can agree with the idea the GFA is dead, instead I would say it has been successful. The basic idea of it – local inclusive powersharing government, the principle of consent – are completely embedded nowand have been settled policy for a very long time and even before the GFA it was known that this was really the only outcome.

    I am a bit surprised you didn’t mention CSI – the Cohesion, Sharing, and Integrations strategy. That is a strategy to bring the two sides of the community together though policies on sharing and integration. Addressing the sectarian divide is the most pressing issue and in my view the most important area where the Executive could do better. They need to agree a policy and get on with implementing it so that peace walls can fall and more children can be educated in the same schools.

    This integration is happening naturally but the Executive needs to do more to promote it.

    • Hi Howard, thanks for dropping by.

      Not wishing to be a pedant, you will note that I used the word ‘dying’ as opposed to ‘dead’, because as I have also noted in the piece or at least alluded to, I do not think it will die, though I do think that the current state of play is one which simply cannot last due to the contradictions and pressures at play. We have too much unfinished business and while you are correct to note that power sharing is now embedded (good thing) I would ask what else have we achieved of any serious note? The Assembly is light on policy and appears to me to be a place where not an inch is given in any way to reconcile with one another and respect our traditions, where the spirit of the Agreement is largely left at the door of the Chamber or Committee room. And in a way, you have actually undermined your argument re power sharing and the Agreement. As you noted, this was really the only outcome pre GFA and everyone knew it, the GFA was merely the vehicle to deliver it.

      Essentially the system in place is, I wouldn’t say at breaking point due to the contradictions in place, but one where it’s conceivable that it could eventually get to some kind of grid-lock much like we see say in the US. We are in a decade of centenaries as well as half-centenaries which are not as well remembered but in many ways they’ve coloured what has happened in the North too, what type of trouble will we see in Belfast in 2016 if it returns an outright majority to parties of the green variety and the commemoration of the Easter Rising? What about the Somme or commemorations of what happened at say Bombay Street towards the end of the decade?

      As for the CSI strategy, I am well aware of it and tbh, see little of interest in it. Sectarianism is a massive problem in the North yet I wonder what can be changed by those in charge who are so unwilling to change. The document itself is like a document you may be well aware of that most corporations publish, one on corporate social responsibility. In effect, they are fluffy things that no one pays any attention to telling us how the company cares about the environment, local communities and their employees, it’s a nonsense. Even Enron had one, ENRON! It’s unbelievable and hence why I do not put much stock in the CSI document, it too is unbelievable. Simply go through any of the 3 unionist parties’ manifestos and what they have to say on the Irish language and culture and tell me this is the work who want to reconcile with their neighbours?

  2. I would agree in the sense that the CSI must be much more than a strategy document it must be a set of policies relating to sharing. Moving towards greater sharing of schools and housing is a policy area that would seem to be very important for a city that still has as many peace walls as ever.

    Regarding commemorations I think that the parties have been reasonably good at working that out so far with the Queen Jubilee visit and the Covenant commemorations and I am pretty confident that things will be ok for Somme and Easter Rising.

    The assembly has changed managed to govern and take decisions, though I agree that it is slow, this is because the powersharing system requires that no changes are made or no laws are passed unless they are acceptable to both sides – and that is a good thing in a divided society.

    I am not so gloomy as you are though I do think that external pressure needs to be applied on the Executive parties to move further and deeper on a shared future (CSI) and that could be a quid pro quo for devolution of corpo tax and should have been used as a quid pro quo for the EU peace money.

  3. Gloomy? Moi? I jest. In many ways, I’m actually not that gloomy Howard, like you said, powersharing is now an accepted principle and that’s a start. I sincerely believe there will not be a return to the past and in many ways, I look forward to the edifice of the Agreement being torn down with something a lot more fit for purpose put in its place where some outstanding matters are settled.

    As for the pace up on the Hill, it works at a glacier rate, though perhaps I give it too much credit and believe it has more power than what it really has? That said, I am of the green variety and I look at it and ask myself, where’s an Irish language act, where’s the improved cross border co-operation because it would have been very handy in this horsemeat scandal or respect for my cultural traditions from my neighbours? There are none of these.

    As for a quid pro quo re CSI and corporation tax, I think that’s a non-starter tbh. I have many, I won’t say objections, I’d say concerns about corporation tax and what people think it will do for the Northern economy and as someone who has lived in 2 off shore jurisdictions which sell themselves on low corporation tax levels the pay off is somewhat uneven for an economy.

    CSI, I have my doubts about it. Do I want my children taught in effect in a state run school as opposed to the Catholic grammar I had the pleasure of going to? Again, will my kid be taught in an environment which cherishes his Irish ancestry and culture or will this type of schooling be used as some kind of trojan horse to make some bland mono-culture here? Further,blaming schooling is something I personally find so very easy for people to do and often is a covert way of basically trying to undermine religious teaching. That’s fair enough but I wonder what others opinions are if I decide not to take my child to the local Catholic school and decide to put them in an Irish medium school; religion is now taken out of the equation and my child is immersed in a second language with no religious teaching, would others be happy with this?

  4. I could not agree more the DUP never supported the agreement in the first place. And SF milked it for all its worth. The only party that really stuck by the agreement through thick and thin was the SDLP. The two governments will find themselves sooner or later back round the talks table with all the parties again. Unresolved issues include the Irish language and Equality issues not to mention marching disputes. I think that once the flag issue has calmed down the next move by SF will be Irish language road signs or street names.

    • Thanks Hobo,

      I think that while I would love Irish to become a lot more prominent in the North, tbh, I am more of the opinion that SF and others need to show the positive effects cross-border co-operation could bring rather than do something like this in Belfast.

      The DUP is working through the Agreement now, but like you said, it never signed up to it and they try and tell all it’s about St Andrews instead. Mark my words, I think we’ll see the two governments sitting on the parties to get something thrashed out sooner rather than later.

  5. See the most important part of the GFA was the Equality Agenda it is Unionisms Achilles heel for Unionists treating Catholics as Equals is impossible.

    • That really does depend though, don’t you think Hobo. Take for instance the APNI; now I count them as unionist, but with a small ‘u’, something I appear to be having a barney with Comrade Stalin over on SOT. And they’re fine, and I find that in the public it’s not a problem, it’s more the political level it’s tough as politically, unionism has said ‘if you cross these certain lines then this would be construed as a defeat for us’, which they then inevitably lose and feel some form of schadenfreude, I just wish that someone could get out in front and take some risks.

  6. The Alliance Party play a cute game of soft unionism and it has served them well in North Down and East Belfast. But the flag flap has cost they dear in East Belfast and they are never going to win North Down as long as Lady Hermon draws breath. So where do they go from here? God only knows as they will soon have Basil’s new party breathing down there neck as well.

    • Hobo, I do too think they play a very cute game, and I tip the hat to them for it. My criticism over on SOT is not that they are small ‘u’ unionist IMHO, it is that they appear unwilling to answer some simple and yet serious questions on matters people think are important regarding the constitutional question.

      FJH has noted how a large no. of ‘gene pool’ former unionists have entered the party and how it might prove to be somewhat problematic for them and their internal dynamic. When posed questions on these matters you would have thought I’d accused APNI members of necrophilia.

      I wonder where they will get more votes and seats. I think there will be some eating at the UUP carcass but one has to wonder if they have already taken most of that vote. Also, IJP was talking about taking SDLP votes but where? S. Belfast maybe but where else? I do think that if Basil and John get their act together it may pose some serious problems for them, but we’ll have to watch this space I suppose.

  7. They have Andrew Muir who used to be a SDLP member in North Down before he left to become a Alliance councillor. And Patrick Clarke who was also SDLP before defecting to Alliance.

    • I believe Gerry Lynch named another from the SDLP who has joined. My contention was that of course they can name 3 former SDLP members, for there aren’t that many converts to their cause from the SDLP. As Alan in Belfast noted, he was tripping up over former UUP members, which was what said it all to me. Anyway, watch this space I suppose!

  8. And Peter Robinson wants people to boycott the Irish News. I don’t know many DUP supporters who read it so I can’t see his boycott doing much damage. But a campaign on Twitter in support of the Irish News seems to be picking up a head of steam.

  9. Pingback: In which nice castle will we be having Northern Irish pols renegotiating the Agreement in then? | footballcliches·

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