Reflections on the past: The Good Friday Agreement

I am writing this column in the week of the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, signed in Belfast on April 10, 1998.

How well I remember that date. It was Good Friday at 5.30pm when we got the welcome word from Belfast that the agreement was just about to be signed by all of the political parties and the civic leaders who had gathered in Stormont.

We listened to people like Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern, David Trimble, George Mitchell and so many others who were deeply interwoven in that Good Friday Agreement and who, thankfully, are still with us to recall, to tell their tale, and to hope for the future in Northern Ireland.

We were gathered together at Dublin airport to welcome back Bertie Ahern, John O’Donoghue, Liz O’Donnell and so many others when they landed into us at about 10pm. As you can all imagine, there was such huge excitement, euphoria almost, and it is easy to understand.

Peace, the overriding objective, had been signed up to. The bombing and the shooting was going to stop, and all of the political leaders of the various parties had taken a huge step forward in order to ensure that this could come about.

To my mind, the chief architect of it all was Senator George Mitchell, who was the chairman and did his best during all those months to bring the disparate elements together. Particularly in that last Holy Thursday night/Good Friday morning and at so many times during that 24 hours, when it looked as if it could all come unstuck.

The chief “magic” in it all, if that is what it could be called, was the personal chemistry between Bertie Ahern, as Taoiseach in Ireland, and Tony Blair, as Leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister in the UK. Without the determination of those two men, it would not have happened.

They got on so well together and shared so many attributes of hope and optimism. Even when the news was bad, they just kept ploughing on, quite determined that they were going to bring it about.

No matter what has happened since, we will never be able to express our thanks and appreciation to so many, but particularly to those two people. And, of course, so many have passed away. The wonderful John Hume who, if you like, started the whole movement of talking to Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin.

Mo Mowlam, the wonderful Northern Ireland Secretary, who features in my book Letters In My Life, she was a fine, open, determined woman and played a huge role in that Holy Week and again later when matters had to be subsequently sorted out in so many ways.

Do you remember when she went into the Maze Prison and walked among the prisoners to sow the seeds of what their leaders had done. And the wonderful, idealistic Martin McGuinness. So many fine people who have passed on and to whom we still pay tribute. And, of course, to Albert Reynolds, who was our Taoiseach at a very important time in the whole process.

I was deputy leader of Fianna Fáil, and this week on Tuesday night I did a TV programme recounting many of the events of that torrid time, in the company of so many who had been involved.

Yes, of course, the Northern Assembly, at the moment, is in abeyance and it ill-behoves the DUP and Sinn Féin to leave it like that in the light of so many fine sacrifices which have been made by so many before them. The problems they face now are small compared to the problems faced 20 years ago by those who laboured to bring about the Good Friday Agreement.

I know I have spent some time on this issue, but it is time, I believe, well spent. As all of the participants 20 years ago faced hope with their heads held high, we should be doing the same, seeking in every way we can to bring about the functioning of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

I go directly from what was such a happy remembrance occasion to the dreadful war presently being undertaken in Syria. Who could not be moved by the vivid TV pictures of the young children who had been gassed in the rooms and cellars of that part of Syria.

Of all of the evils to be done, that one, the gassing young children, is the worst of all. Let us hope some sort of sanity arrives in Syria and with it an end to the bombing and killing of citizens and, in particular, the shameful attacks on young children.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been declared elected again with a two-thirds majority in parliament. He is a distinct right-winger but, clearly, the Hungarian people love him. He has been very defiant of Europe with regard to taking of quotas of asylum seekers. He likes to be in Europe, but he like to be his own man and his own country in it, so I do not know for how long that sort of a co-existence can continue. One way or another, anyway, he is back in office in Hungary.

Hungary is a beautiful country. I was there one time for three or four days. I went with a couple who were very good friends of mine and we stayed in a lovely hotel near the Danube. It was a truly lovely country.

Anyway, I will be back to rugby and GAA and all those other everyday matters next week again.

This is my lot for this week.

In the meantime, go safely.

Slán go Fóill,

Mary O’Rourke

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