By Linda Bordoni
The historic Agreement signed by the leaders of the United Kingdom and Ireland on 10 April 1998 established a consensus for peace and the future direction of the region after political conflict had been raging for thirty years.
Many people had been killed in the fighting between unionists and republicans. Other people were killed by the British security forces after the army was deployed in 1969.
More than 3,500 people died, many of whom were killed in tit-for-tat attacks across the sectarian divide.
In a statement, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, commend the Agreement which they said “sought to address contentious political problems in the context of decades of violence, divided communities and immense suffering and death on our streets”.
“As such it was a complex and, in places, controversial document. However, we are convinced that 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” they said.
Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told Vatican News that the Good Friday Agreement is the result of a change of heart on the part of many people.
On the one hand – he pointed out – on the part of the politicians who had their specific role to play, but on the other he highlighted that real change came in civil society “where relations between one community and the other – between Catholics and Protestants in Northen Ireland- slowly, with great difficulty and with great opposition have begun to flourish”.
Bishop Farrell pointed to the fact that a number of important ecumenical initiatives, “mostly at the level of the people themselves, but then, little by little, at the level of the leaders of the Churches so that the ecumenical context created a climate in which the Good Friday Agreement became possible”.
A generation of young people who have never known conflict
In the Church leaders’ statement they say that “Above all we thank God for the generation of young people who are growing up without the sounds of bomb or bullet on a daily basis; for the livelihoods and businesses which have not been destroyed; for the families and neighbourhoods who have been spared the heart-breaking pain and trauma of death or serious injury”.
Bishop Farrell agreed saying that this fact is the principle fruit of the Good Friday Agreement:”we have to be grateful for 20 years of peace and therefore for a new generation which has experienced a different lifestyle in Northern Ireland – they then become the hope that this peaceful and cooperative community will develop”.