Question 3- Northern Ireland

A Decision has now been reached what positive developments have occurred in Northern Ireland? Do any obstacles remain? For decades in Northern Ireland there has been bombings, shootings and horrifying scenes of violence. However since the Downing Street Declaration in 1993, there has been various signs of stability and lasting peace in Northern Ireland but lasting peace will not be achieved unless obstacles are overcome. The Downing Street Declaration 1993 was the start of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

The Downing Street Declaration was an agreement which deliberately set up talks between all political sides on forming a new government in Northern Ireland. The idea of the Downing Street Declaration was to create respect, trust and unity between Unionists and Nationalists. A vote was held to see whether the people of Northern Ireland wanted to become part of a united Ireland; only the sides who rejected the use of violence would be allowed a say in the running of Northern Ireland. The Irish government set up a Forum which was a series of meetings designed to promote trust between the two sides.

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Most of the political parties reacted positively to John Major and Albert Reynolds proposal, however Ian Paisley of the DUP and Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein were unwilling to compromise and put their trust in rival parties. In my opinion, the breakthrough or the turning point was that there was no tolerance of violence; this is such a huge step as now political parties are finally resisting violence and saying that if you use violence then you will not be allowed a say in the running of Northern Ireland or the peace process.

The Downing Street Declaration was failing and groups such as Sinn Fein and the DUP were not compromising so more was needed to bring the parties together and to get them to respect and trust each other, so the Good Friday Agreement was set up in early 1998. The Good Friday Agreement set up a new Northern Ireland assembly with 108 members from both sides. All the vital and important decisions would require the consent from both nationalist and unionist political groups. Also the policing would be reviewed in Northern Ireland. In addition, a north/south council was set up; made up of members of the new assembly and ministers from the Republic.

But perhaps the biggest, most controvert ional change from the Good Friday Agreement was the early release of paramilitaries prisoners. This was so controvert ional as these prisoners were in prison for murder; so the families of the victims were outraged at this prospect, but to gain peace these prisoners had to be released to try and reform and re educate them, because if the government didn’t release them early, these prisoners would carry on where they left of; using violence to express their opinions and this would then be an obstacle to peace in Northern Ireland.

The most important breakthrough made by the Good Friday Agreement was finally communities and political groups from Northern Ireland, for example Ian Paisley (DUP) and Gerry Adams (Sinn Fein), political rivals for years, never dream of speaking to each other, up until 10th April when the agreement was reached after nights on end of negotiating between key figures such as Blair, Mitchell, Clinton, Bertie.

So the sense of cooperation, compromising and developing trust was the biggest breakthrough of the good Friday agreement because for decades both catholic and protestant would never even consider the thought of sharing territory, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the rule of Northern Ireland and power sharing with the opposing community. However, in October 2002 the hope of lasting peace in Northern Ireland was overshadowed, because the Northern Ireland assembly was suspended and shutdown; this was due to a breakdown in trust between the different political groups and sides in the assembly.

This is why Tony Blair (PM) was forced to set up talks at Leeds Castle in September 2004. The Leeds Castle talks were talks between the different political sides desperately trying to re establish cooperation and trust between themselves and the opposing side. Ian Paisley was one of the main reasons why there was no agreement at Leeds Castle. The deal didn’t meet the DUP standards and Ian Paisley was unwilling to compromise, he also wanted to smash the Good Friday Agreement and negotiate a new one, so Ian Paisley remained the main obstacle to peace.

The main positive that came from the Leeds Castle talks was that all the other political parties were supportive of the Good Friday Agreement. However in May 2007, a historic day took place, Ian Paisley once a stubborn, awkward, patronising character agreed to meet up with Rival nationalist politician Gerry Adams to discuss government issues such as power sharing in Northern Ireland. The meeting between Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley was described by the media as the ‘Hands of History’.

It was a historic event in the history of Northern Ireland that warmed the hearts of millions of Nationalists and Protestants alike, because this handshake meant that finally lasting there was a big chance of lasting peace in Northern Ireland. This meeting was so significant as Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley have been bitter political rivals for 40 years and would never talk or sit down in the same room as each other, so this meeting highlighted and reinforced the fact that if these two rival politicians can cooperate and develop trust between one another then peace is a major possibility.

The Northern Ireland government was run by Ian Paisley as minister and Gerry Adams as his deputy/assistant. Northern Ireland has changed dramatically, lots of progress has been made. Children are now going to integrated schools in Northern Ireland; this is major progress as if catholic children are learning to live around and respect the protestant children then this is going to be hugely beneficial to the future of Northern Ireland. House prices in Northern Ireland have risen dramatically by 37% since last year, this implies that Northern Ireland is an nice, attractive place to visit and the society is stable.

The whole economy of Ireland is rising after increased population and a significant decrease in crime. Lasting peace is on the horizon but there are still lots of obstacles that Northern Ireland together have to overcome. The lord Saville enquiry is still in progress and when he reveals his discoveries it could spark of violence, as if it is found that the British troops murdered the protestors then this could spark and anger the Nationalists into violence.

Also, if lord Saville reveals that the British troops were defending themselves from oncoming fire from protestors this could also spark violence, as nationalists would feel injustice and that the murders have been covered up. So this Saville inquiry is like a time bomb waiting to explode. Also the continuing Gun crime, drugs and Prostitution levels in Northern Ireland is a major problem and an obstacle to peace.

In addition in some parts of Belfast and Londonderry there are huge electric fences dividing Protestants and Catholics because youths from both sides are vandalising property, throwing missiles and grenades over the fence by the houses. Also, the council have spent over a million pound building brand new state of the art leisure facilities for youths and teenagers however, if the leisure centre is built in a majority Catholic community then the protestants will not visit the centre in fear of their own safety; so if the youths and teenagers of Northern Ireland are behaving like this now years after the troubles finished, this really dents he hope of a peaceful Northern Ireland, were Protestants and Catholics begin to trust and respect one another. Overall, Northern Ireland has changed dramatically over recent years, it is at the moment a stable integrated society, with non violence, this is massive progress compared to the violence/terror there once was in Northern Ireland.

It is clear that the trust is growing between citizens in Northern Ireland both in integrated communities like Derry and Belfast and in the Northern Ireland government; However in March 2008, Ian paisley has resigned which suggests this sudden departure could have been caused by conflict in parliament. So in both parliament and in the communities of Northern Ireland, people need to forgive, trust and respect each other, if there is ever going to be lasting peace in Northern Ireland.