BELGRADE – SERBIA

500+ participants / 80+ speakers / 20+ panels
BSC2023

11-13 OCTOBER / HOTEL HYATT

Reflecting on Progress: 25 Years of the Good Friday Agreement 

October 13, 2023 by BSC
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On the 3rd day of the Belgrade Security Conference, the opening panel was titled “Reflecting on Progress: 25 Years of Good Friday Agreement”. The debate focused on the challenges of the Agreement, what Brexit brought to the table, and conclusions that could be drawn for conflicts around the world. The moderator of the panel was Sofija Todorović, Programme Director of Youth Initiative for Human Rights.  

 

Peter Shirlow, Director of the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies, explained that it was important to understand that most of the Northern Irish community did not support the violence. The positive effects of the Good Friday Agreement are easily evident in terms of de-weaponization, and a drop in violent tendencies by 90% since 1972. He noted that Belfast has come a long way since the signing of the Agreement, both socially and economically. The speaker highlighted the role of civil society, women’s associations, and peace groups that tremendously contributed to ending the clash. When asked about the negative consequences of the Agreement, he noted the lack of opinion of younger generations on constitutional questions. “It’s not that they don’t care about the past, but the past is represented in a binary way. However, the reality in which they live is not binary”, Shirlow explains. The Northern Irish media is also at fault for this, as it still contains binary content that is no longer relevant. 

 

 

When asked about the efforts that had been made towards the agreement before it was signed, Sally Axworthy, Head of Negotiations and Peace Processes Department, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, pointed out that many details, including the idea of power-sharing, had been hammered-out well before the two sides approached the negotiating table. She called the Agreement creative, having important points both parties sought during the conflict, with the point of self-determination being the crucial one in maintaining the peace. She emphasized the role of international partners in creating the Good Friday Agreement, including the USA, Canada, Finland, and South Africa with President Nelson Mandela playing the key role.  

 

 

David Cooney, Special Envoy of the Government of Ireland, gave a short explanation of what preceded the Good Friday Agreement, which dated back to the creation of Protestant Irish communities and Catholic Irish South which brought to the partition of two communities. Additionally, he explained that those partitions led to further discrimination of the Catholic Irish in Northern Ireland in terms of job opportunities and similar issues. Ultimately, once the protests in the 1960s were initiated by Catholic Irish, the entry of the British army led to a campaign of violence by nationalistic forces. He emphasized the importance of the Good Friday Agreement being able to end the bloodshed, with political issues continuing to be hot topics in the region. Cooney, when asked about the impact of Brexit on the Agreement, pointed out the crucial role of the EU accession of both Ireland and the UK as contributors to strengthening the previously signed Good Friday Agreement. He stressed the potential issues regarding border questions which were the key factor in keeping the peace on Irish island alive. He also stated that resolving a conflict is much easier when both countries are members of the European Union.