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The Good Friday Agreement and the Irish community in Britain

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"The hard yards made for stability and peace are fragile and cherished by people across these islands. They are important cornerstones for peace which must be protected."

The Good Friday Agreement, conceived and ratified in a pre-Brexit environment, has delivered peace and stability for all the people on the island of Ireland, particularly those living in Northern Ireland. Over the past 24 years, the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement have enabled and supported positive British-Irish relations. They are important cornerstones for peace, which must be protected. 

For the Irish community in Britain, the peace dividend was clear and tangible proof of the power of dialogue, compromise and a shared commitment to build a better future. Many of us remember how the Troubles deeply affected - and sometimes poisoned - community relations on these islands. No community outside the island of Ireland has a greater stake in the continued success of the Good Friday Agreement. Yet, Northern Ireland is currently without a functioning executive or assembly. There is a democratic deficit which can only serve to damage the consociational peace inherent in the Good Friday Agreement.

The consequence of Brexit on the unique position of Northern Ireland was flagged early and often by voices in Northern Ireland, the Irish government, former British prime ministers and the European Union. The compromise of the Northern Irish protocol, a legally binding international agreement, enshrined in UK law, was negotiated and signed bi-laterally by the EU and UK governments. 

The subsequent threat of the protocol’s unilateral suspension by the UK government stands in stark contrast to the leadership, vision and culture of compromise that delivered the 1998 Agreement. That agreement was hard-won, in good faith by its co-guarantors, and the majority of political parties in Northern Ireland. 

Confidence and good faith can only be fully restored through: negotiations with the EU to shape a protocol solution that works in practice; ensuring the people of Northern Ireland are heard and represented through their institutions; and, by fully respecting, and carefully implementing, the legal commitments already made. 

The hard yards made for stability and peace are fragile and cherished by people across these islands. They must not be jeopardised by political intransigence or ideology. Safeguarding them, in John Hume’s words, will need to be demonstrated by "principled compromise, not compromised principles".

Irish in Britain

June 2022