North must not 'spiral back to dark place' on anniversary of Belfast Agreement

Saturday marks the 23rd anniversary of the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to more than 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland
North must not 'spiral back to dark place' on anniversary of Belfast Agreement

By James Ward, PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has warned that Northern Ireland must not “spiral back to that dark place of sectarian murders and political discord”.

His comments came after another night of disorder and violence that has blighted the region throughout much of the last week.

Mr Martin was speaking on Saturday to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Belfast (also known as the Good Friday) Agreement.

He said: “Perhaps its most visible success is that a whole generation of young people have grown up not knowing or experiencing the violence that accompanied the Troubles.

“We owe it to the Agreement generation and indeed future generations not to spiral back to that dark place of sectarian murders and political discord.

“There is now a particular onus on those of us who currently hold the responsibility of political leadership to step forward and play our part and ensure that this cannot happen.

“I am determined to work with the British Government, the Executive and all political parties to protect the Good Friday Agreement, in all its parts.”

New era and ethos

Mr Martin said the 1998 peace accord marked a new beginning for the island of Ireland when it was signed 23 years ago.

He called it a “a new era of peace and mutual respect – grounded in  the principle of consent, peaceful politics, democratic institutions, reconciliation and co-operation”.

He added: “The Good Friday Agreement also introduced a new ethos of tolerance, equality and mutual respect to underpin the new institutional landscape.

“The island of Ireland has truly become a completely different place in the last 23 years, because of the Good Friday Agreement.

“This has been a period of building trust, developing relationships, changing attitudes, and improving the lives of people on all parts of the island.

“It is important that we remind ourselves how far we have come and to continue to be profoundly grateful, to all of those at community level, who continue to work quietly every day and behind the scenes, for peace and reconciliation.”

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also marked the anniversary on Twitter, saying: “On this day, the 23rd anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, we remember all that has been achieved & all that can still be achieved as we honour its principles – peace, consent, respect for different identities, change by democratic means only, co-operation N/S & E/W.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the anniversary served as a reminder of the responsibilities that come with the agreement.

He said: “It continues to give us the foundations we needed for stronger relationships in Northern Ireland, North/South and on these islands.

“This has been a difficult and worrying week, but this anniversary comes as a reminder of the responsibilities we all have, as well as what politics, determination and dialogue can achieve.

“That is the spirit we need now.”

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill tweeted: “Twenty-three years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement we must deliver on the promises of 1998 to a new generation of our young people.

“We must give them hope and opportunities. It is time to bring people together. To keep the momentum of peace moving forward.”

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