The accord was hailed as a major political development in the Northern Ireland peace process and committed the participants to "exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues".
The conflict in Northern Ireland, known as “The Troubles” spanned 30 years and claimed thousands of lives. The signing of the Belfast Agreement was seen to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity in the province.
But what was the role of women in this quest for peace? Professor Monica McWilliams is an academic who co- founded the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition which led her to being part of the multi-party negotiations which contributed to the intergovernmental agreement in April 1998.
Ms McWilliams is also a former Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
She was in Rome on Thursday to give the 2nd annual Hugh O’Flaherty lecture at the Irish Embassy to the Holy See, entitled “From the margins to the mainstream – Women’s participation in peacemaking in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.”
“Women just don’t give up”, Ms McWilliams said, when asked about how women keep momentum going in order to build and maintain peace. “We know that from our own partnerships that we work on, family lives, putting pieces together, being pragmatic and just being very determined; we will suffer the cost if the thing breaks down …”
Learning lessons, sharing experiences
Apart from her work on promoting gender equality and on peace building in Northern Ireland, the academic and former politician has travelled to countries such as Syria, Myanmar and Columbia to share her experiences where she said, many lessons have been learned from the Northern Ireland peace process. “First they learned that you needed to form a network of support and a circle of influence because no one will listen to you if you are not influential and effective …Also there has to be a determination that the men only coalitions can’t go on existing, they need to be much more inclusive and the diversity of opinion is what makes for a richer process.”
Ingredients for Peace
Reflecting on the key ingredients needed in order to resolve conflict and build a lasting peace, Monica McWilliams emphasized that you can have all kinds of peace making manuals and rules of procedure in the world, but she stressed, what really counts at the end of the day in order to resolve conflict is leadership, “and the leadership needs to have a good value set and it needs to recognize the humanity in the other person; it needs to be pragmatic, but over the years I’ve discovered chemistry, the personality and if the personalities can work together on opposite sides then you’ve got the real ingredients of making the proposals work .”
Following her oration she spoke with Vatican Radio’s Lydia O’Kane.