The Belfast Agreements celebrate 25 years with Northern Ireland plunged into a political crisis

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, US Senator George Mitchell and British Prime Minister Tony Blair pose for photographers after they signed the Good Friday Agreement April 10, 1998 in Northern Ireland. (AP Photo, file) (Dan Chung /)

He April 10, 1998Ulster put an end to three decades of conflict with a historic agreement. The Belfast Agreements, renamed for posterity as the Good Friday Agreements by the date they were signed, marked the beginning of the end of some sectarian clashes from a consensus that is now falteringagitated by the political collateral effects of the departure of United Kingdom of the European Union.

The conflict dates back to the twenties of the last century, when the island of ireland was divided between an independent country of the same name and a northern area that was still linked to the United Kingdom. The unionist theses then triumphed, to the detriment of those of the republicans, who wanted to integrate into independent Ireland.

The political and social discrepancies derived a decade later in the creation of armed groups: on the part of the unionists, the paramilitary Volunteer Force of Ulster arose, while on the rival side the Irish Republican Army, known by the English acronym of IRA, was created.

Los Problemas (‘The Troubles’, in English) began, the euphemism by which a conflict is known that claimed more than 3,500 lives for three decades, until the signing of the Good Friday Agreements.

This text had as its main challenge draw a new framework for political coexistence that would also reflect the complex social fabric of a town split in twowith established divisions even in the religious field – the unionists are mostly Protestants, while the Republicans identify with Catholicism.

Andrea Brown, daughter of officer Eric Brown, who was assassinated in 1983 (Reuters)
Andrea Brown, daughter of officer Eric Brown, who was assassinated in 1983 (Reuters) (STAFF /)

The Agreements laid the foundations for a framework of respect between the two parties and, in the political field, gave rise to a new Parliament based in Belfast and a government in forced coalition. The nationalists, led by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and the republicans, led by Sinn Féin, the political arm of the IRA, were forced to sit at the same table.

The armed groups renounced the armed struggle and there were releases, while London agreed to give up a large part of its military presence as a gesture of détente, in a practically festive atmosphere that transcended political protocol and in which public figures were part.

The United States, then headed by Democrat Bill Clinton, acted as mediator in these negotiations, which concluded with the signing of the two main political leaders of Ireland and the United Kingdom: Tony Blair for the British side and Bertie Ahern for the Irish side.

The Norwegian Committee recognized in 1998 with the Nobel Peace Prize these political efforts, personified in the figures of the Irish political leader John Hume and the Northern Irishman David Trimble. The jury understood that their work would not only allow peace in Northern Ireland, but would serve to “inspire” other peaceful solutions to conflicts of various kinds around the world.

attempts at violence

The agreement, however, did not mean the complete end of the violence, since although the main armed leaders agreed to lay down their arms, certain divisions were generated within the IRA that led to the constitution of various spin-offswith subgroups that are still active today and are still a threat in the eyes of the authorities.

In fact, the British Government decided this past March raise the anti-terrorism alert level to serious, which implies considering “very probable” that attacks will take place. This is how he responded to the murder in February of a police officer, John Caldwell, shot dead after attending a children’s soccer game. The attack was claimed by the New IRA.

An independent investigation published in 2018 estimated 158 fatalities due to paramilitary activities after the signing of the Good Friday Agreements.

The Brexit earthquake

  Republican poster in Northern Ireland (Europa Press / archive)
Republican poster in Northern Ireland (Europa Press/file) (Olivier Donnars/)

Northern Ireland today is not the same as it was 25 years ago. In September 2022, the census reflected for the first time that more people identified as Catholic than Protestantand in the parliamentary elections in May for the first time the Sinn Féin took first placeto the detriment of the DUP, which had always assumed the position of chief minister and, therefore, the government’s baton.

All this in a context marked since 2016 by Brexit. In June of that year, a majority of British citizens -also in Northern Ireland- supported a referendum on the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, which forced to redraw a framework of relations that had among its thorniest points the border on the island of Ireland.

The British Government and the European Commission devised what is known as Northern Ireland Protocol, annexed to the Brexit agreements and which removed the specter of a ‘hard border’. It allowed Northern Ireland to remain linked to the common European market, but required the establishment of a series of controls on trade with England, Scotland and Wales.

Poster against the Northern Ireland protocol (Reuters)
Poster against the Northern Ireland protocol (Reuters) (CLODAGH KILCOYNE /)

The unionist suspicion towards these controls, alleging that it limits fluid relations with the rest of the United Kingdom, has led to a political blockade in Northern Ireland, to the point that this area lacks a government since the last elections. The DUP has refused to facilitate institutional functioning and agree to a new coalition until their demands are taken into account.

The pulse to three bands derived in March of this year in the windsor frame, a new text that simplifies these controls and that has the approval of the majority of the deputies in the House of Commons. The DUP, however, has asked for time to examine all the details and derivatives and has yet to decide whether to take the final step to build bridges with Sinn Féin again.

(With information from Europa Press)

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