From conflict to cruise ships: Belfast's transformation after Good Friday agreement

John Irvine witnessed 'The Troubles' first hand as a reporter and has been back to assess the legacy of the Good Friday Agreement

The walking tour that leaves Belfast City Hall every morning is called “A History of Terror,” which perhaps better reflects 30 years of bloody conflict than the rather banal low-key description “The Troubles.”

Twenty-five years after a negotiated settlement called the Good Friday Agreement consigned most of the violence to history, it’s easy to forget just how grim things really were in Northern Ireland during those dark days.

The backdrop to the peace deal was the fact that failure to reach it would mean the resumption of the bombings and shootings, adding to the death toll of more than 3,700 people.

Against the odds political opponents found common cause and the agreement was signed by all sides.

The guided walking tour through Belfast is a tourist attraction and the number of visitors to Northern Ireland these days is a big surprise. No-one came here during the Troubles. Why would they?

Former PM Tony Blair, Irish PM Bertie Ahern and US Sen. George Mitchell after they signed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Credit: AP

This week the first cruise ship of the season arrived in Belfast, where a record year is expected.

Roughly 200 liners are scheduled to bring more than 250,000 tourists.

For many of them the lingering whiff of cordite is an attraction.

They will go and see some of the so called peace lines, the walls that still divide protestant and catholic communities in west Belfast.

Up at Stormont the barriers have gone up again politically.

The Northern Ireland Assembly remains suspended, as it has been for 40% of the time since its creation.

But the stakes aren’t nearly as high as they used to be.

Dissident paramilitaries may be a threat, but no-one expects a wholesale return to the bad old days.

Royal Ulster Constabulary Police officers stand at the scene of a car bombing in the centre of Omagh. Credit: AP

This year will also see the 25th anniversary of the Omagh bombing, the deadliest of all the atrocities.

Through the prism of an outrage that claimed 29 lives the Good Friday Agreement looks like a magnificent merciful breakthrough.

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