The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement in the North of Ireland and the ‘uneasy peace’.
Complaints that the current ‘peace’ in the North of Ireland has not delivered as end to conflict reflect a lack of understanding about what conflict is and what the ‘peace process’ and the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement in 1998 were all about. Despite the hopes of some, the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement didn’t actual ‘solve’ the conflict –in the same way that the 1920 Government of Ireland Act or the 1921 Treaty didn’t ‘solve’ the conflict. Instead, it attempted to move it onto a different arena or set of arenas, where there was less likelihood of recourse to arms to settle differences. The conflict continues albeit, in a largely peaceful manner – and that was the real aim of the Good Friday Agreement and the ‘peace process’.
The fact is that the constitutional issue is not resolved in the North of Ireland, as some people may have erroneously assumed, and neither are a whole range of other issues. There is no agreement on the causes of the conflict, or even when it started (800, 300, 90 or 30 years ago). We remain in conflict over the legacy of the conflict, what it is and how it should be tackled. We remain in conflict over how we should treat former combatants (state and non-state forces), how we should resolve equality issues (sectarianism, racism, language and cultural rights), who we should view as a ‘victim’ – all those affected by the conflict or just some of them (the ones we regard as ‘legitimate’ victims). We remain in conflict over whether legacy issues should involve only events that occurred in the last 30 years of violent conflict, or events that occurred further back in the past, events which led to the antagonistic set of relationships between different peoples on this island including social, economic and cultural inequalities, which continue to dog our society today. Indeed, the conflict will remain until it is ‘resolved’, (if that is even possible).
One difficulty is that people fear a ‘resolution’ of the conflict which might ‘legitimate’ their ‘enemies” point of view. People fear a ‘resolution’ which might create equality in all its facets, one that might be detrimental to their own position in the structure of society. However, most of all, people fear a ‘resolution’ because they fear the unknown, what it might mean for them and their families and communities. That’s why we need more people to present their vision of a future society and how that vision can be achieved, In my view that vision needs to appeal to all our peoples, not just our ‘own community’. We are actually much better off that many others coming out of violent conflict situations. Economically we have enough resources to sustain all our basic needs (if not all of our wants). We also all recognise that we all have to occupy this same ‘narrow ground’ as ATQ Stewart once termed it. None of us are going away you know. Ultimately, census figures will ensure that political parties will have to appeal to more than one community if they are to achieve their ‘vision’ of a new society – since we are all minorities now. The sooner we all realise that, the better for us all.
Féilim Ó hAdhmaill, Lecturer in Conflict and Peace Studies (and former republican prisoner)