With 10 years of peace, N. Ireland strives for more
The reconciliation marked by the deal signed 10 years ago today gets a $71 million boost.
Ten years after Northern Ireland sealed the historic Good Friday peace deal, its power-sharing government is thriving under two former adversaries. In fact, Martin McGuinness and the Rev. Ian Paisley have such a harmonious partnership that the smiling pair have become known as the "Chuckle Brothers."Skip to next paragraph
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But change in the upper echelons of power has outpaced change in society. In Belfast, 25-foot-high steel "peace walls" attest to lingering sectarian divisions.
"There was a plan to remove some of these barriers for the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, but it won't happen because people ... won't feel safe without [them]," says Martin Melaugh, who directs the University of Ulster's online archive on the conflict. "There's a lot to be optimistic about, but significant sections of the community are still not reconciled."
Such divisions have prompted renewed efforts to promote reconciliation among the rival nationalists, who – like Mr. McGuinness – seek a united Ireland, and unionists, who – like Reverend Paisley – want to remain part of the United Kingdom.
The most recent initiative is the government-appointed Consultative Group on the Past, an independent 10-member group that will this summer release recommendations now being compiled on how best to deal with the legacy of the 30-year Troubles. From 1968 until the Good Friday Agreement was signed on April 10, 1998, violence killed some 3,500 people as paramilitary groups within the minority Catholic nationalist community reacted against perceived injustices from the majority Protestant unionists.
"Dealing with our troubled history is a difficult and emotive issue for many people in our society," says Denis Bradley, the first vice chairman of the country's independent police watchdog who heads the group along with Lord Robin Eames, the former head of the Church of Ireland. "Finding a way to deal with the past is going to be a monumental challenge, but it is a challenge our group is determined to meet."
Formed in June 2007, the group has met with victims and survivors, as well as representatives of the British and Irish governments, political parties, and paramilitary groups.
Sorting out contentious issues
There remain many contentious issues, ranging from specific terms for the conflict (Was it a "war"?) to how those who lost their lives fighting in it are characterized (Should dead paramilitaries be regarded as victims?).