NI to mark 20 years since Good Friday Agreement

The Good Friday Agreement was the biggest political development in a generation. Credit: UTV

Northern Ireland will mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement with the occasion overshadowed by the current political impasse at Stormont.

The Good Friday or Belfast Agreement was signed on 10 April 1998, changing the course of history.

Painstaking and often fraught negotiations saw the full weight of the British and Irish administrations brought to bear.

Then Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern flew in - the latter leaving his mother's funeral to do so.

Reflecting on that process now, Mr Blair told UTV: "As the days went on of the negotiation ... the enormity of what we were trying to achieve, and therefore the enormity of the defeat if we were unable to achieve it, came home to people."

Twenty years ago, US Senator George Mitchell chaired the talks, while calls from President Bill Clinton helped push the deal over the line.

Then US President Bill Clinton with then SDLP leader John Hume. Credit: Pacemaker

Referendums were held on the same day in Northern Ireland and in the Republic to ratify the deal.

Turnout was huge on both sides of the border and over 70% of people in Northern Ireland voted yes, while it was even higher - nearly 95% - in the Republic.

Then, in December 1998, the Good Friday Agreement became a reality when the parties took their seats in the Stormont Assembly.

Then UUP leader David Trimble and SDLP leader John Hume won the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. Credit: Pacemaker

But it seemed there was to be no fairy-tale ending.

The Assembly stuttered on through three suspensions before a fourth saw direct rule return in 2002.

It took another five years before Stormont returned.

The signing of the St Andrews Agreement in 2006 saw the DUP’s Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness become First and deputy First Minister – political enemies who became unlikely friends.

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness went on to forge the most unlikely of friendships. Credit: Presseye

But fast-forward to the present day and the future of Stormont is once again in doubt, following its collapse more than a year ago.

Twenty years on from the most important political development in a generation, politicians must now find a way to make good on the hope and aspiration contained in the pages of the accord.

As yet, there is no clear indication of how - or when - that may happen.

Hillary Clinton speaking in New York about the political stalemate in Northern Ireland. Credit: The Detail

Hillary Clinton spoke to The Detail in New York last week and said: "Now I'm just wondering - those who refuse to come together to create a government, what is the future they expect?

"Are they hoping to just maintain a status quo where no decisions, good, bad or indifferent are made, and where some of the promise of a peace dividend will not be fulfilled?

"Do they honestly think that can be a long-term strategy? I don't."

Northern Ireland has been without a sitting government at Stormont for well over a year. Credit: Presseye