“The Good Friday Agreement – Delivering the Promise of a Rights-Based Society – 20 Years On”

“A wake-up call to politicians”

Chair of the Glencree Board, Barbara Walshe and I attended this seminar on 10th April, the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Hosted by Queen’s University, Human Rights Consortium, Unison, Transitional Justice Institute and Committee on the Administration of Justice, this event was the first in a series of seminars designed to explore the unimplemented promises of the Good Friday Agreement with particular focus on human rights.

Professor Colin Harvey (QUB) outlined the current political context, saying that Northern Ireland continues to be characterized by challenging socio-economic issues, unemployment, segregation and sectarianism. The Bill of Rights which was designed to reflect mutual respect and parity of esteem for both communities has not yet been implemented due to lack of political will and the current stalemate. Patricia McKeown (Unison) spoke of divisions which have deepened in recent years with gatekeepers being a real challenge in some areas. The promise that the Good Friday Agreement would deliver public services to the most disadvantaged areas has not materialized evidenced by the growing necessity of food banks. Patricia called on civic society to be more vocal and visible and said there is a need for civic voices to be well-resourced and heard by politicians in the absence of a functioning government. Both Kevin Hanratty (HRC) and Brian Gormally (CAJ) spoke about the need for a Bill of Rights within the Good Friday Agreement and the threat of Brexit to the fundamental rights enshrined with the GFA. Brexit ignores these rights and it seems bizarre that the DUP is now supporting the British government in implementing Brexit despite the fact the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. Ann McVicar spoke about women’s participation in peace-building in Northern Ireland being under-valued and invisible. In fact Northern Ireland has the lowest percentage of women elected in all the devolved regions with only 25% as local councillors.

It was an interesting, informative and sobering morning – a wake-up call to the reality that currently exists. Civic engagement and the work of building peace in Northern Ireland’s segregated society are still as necessary today.

Laura Coulter, Glencree Board Member

Pictured from left to right: Brian Gormally – Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAG), Tom Winstone – Northern Ireland Alternatives, Kevin Hanratty – Human Rights Consortium, Patricia McKeown – UNISON, Barbara Walshe – Glencree Chair, Prof. Colin Harvey – QUB School of Law, Laura Coulter – Glencree Board, Prof. Rory O’Connell, Director of the Transitional Justice Institute, Ulster University