Good Friday Agreement Anniversary Statement

Video Credit: William Pribyl

On Thursday, May 23, 2013 the AOH joined with other organizations to host a symposium to reflect on the importance of the Good Friday Agreement and the impact that it has had in the ongoing peace process. AOH National Freedom For All Ireland Chairman and NJAOH President Sean Pender made a presentation statement at this event. The video is embedded above and the full text is listed below

Statement read on behalf of the Irish American Good Friday Agreement 15th Anniversary Coalition. Thursday May 23rd at the historic Great Hall in Cooper Union.

We, the participants in the multi-party negotiations, believe that the agreement we have negotiated offers a truly historic opportunity for a new beginning.

The tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. But we can best honor them through a fresh start, in which we firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all.

We pledge that we will, in good faith, work to ensure the success of each and every one of the arrangements to be established under this agreement.
These words formed the preamble and framed the intentions of the document that became known as the Good Friday Agreement and 15 years ago today 85% of the people on the island of Ireland overwhelmingly ratified the agreement.
In the 15 years since the signing of the GFA there have been promising results, an entire generation has grown up in relative peace and with a lack of war. After a slow start the government institutions have been up and running since 2007. Considering that a joint executive and government of the DUP and Sinn Fein is functioning is a sign of real progress. In some areas communities that for generations were separated are coming together, there are many cross community projects to promote peace and equality.

In other areas of the world, people working toward conflict resolution often point to the Good Friday agreement as a model. For all the progress that has been made and potential promise that the agreement offers to not only the people of Ireland but the world, there are important issues that have not been addressed.
Irish Americans have been justifiably proud of their contributions to help bring peace to the North of Ireland and in that spirit we will continue to advocate for peace, truth and justice in the North. We believe that the full implementation of the GFA and condemnation of any and all violence that would attempt to jeopardize peace, is the only road forward and that a United Ireland brought about by the democratic processes defined in the Good Friday agreement will be the way to cement permanent peace with justice for all on the island of Ireland.
Our concern in this historic 15th anniversary of the agreement is that many think the situation in the North of Ireland has been sorted out and there is nothing else to do. That cannot be farther from the truth. The fact of the matter is that we have come a long way in 15 years but there is still a lot of very important work to do.

If we are to be honest in our review of the GFA, we must also address areas that need attention. It is contradictory; to say the least, that an agreement built on the ideal of parity of esteem has failed to deliver a Bill of Rights for the six counties, as the GFA envisioned. This Bill of Rights was to reflect the principles of mutual respect for the identity and culture of both communities and promote parity of esteem. The process to create this is no better defined today than it was when first introduced in 1998 and once again reviewed in the St Andrews agreement of 2006. The English government has not fulfilled its obligation on this issue.
If traditions and heritages are to be valued equally as expected by the GFA; why has the Irish Language Act been blocked? In the Good Friday agreement the British government agreed to “seek to remove, where possible, restrictions which would discourage or work against the maintenance or development of the language”. In the St Andrews agreement the British government agreed to introduce an Irish Language Act. They have failed to follow through on this commitment in the face of unionist opposition. How can those who block this justify it as anything but sectarian?

Major components of the GFA and subsequent agreements dealt with policing, justice, and “legacy issues”. These are areas that Irish Americans feel require much more attention and work.
The current policing must be impartial and fair to win the confidence of the community. The PSNI took steps to better reflect the communities in which they operate by addressing its demographic imbalance but continued failures by those in leadership positions threaten to erode any credibility that those on the ground had gained. The Police Ombudsman office which encouraged great hope for change in its early days has raised the concern of many by its recent actions. The hiring back of past RUC members without any vetting, to “civilian” positions within the Historical Enquiries Team or HET has shattered any credibility that the HET may have gained. These civilian employees are not accountable to the Ombudsman’s office and in some cases, may be investigating cases in which they were involved. This obvious lack of impartiality and fairness is lost on the powers that be.
The current justice system supports and promotes a hierarchy of victims and selective enforcement.

In the last few years the British government has apologized to many surviving family members for the murder of their loved ones by British forces. To the families of twelve year old Majella O’Hare, to those murdered on Bloody Sunday, to the family of Pat Finucane and others, after almost 40 years of denial and obstruction the British finally admitted to the families that their loves ones were innocent. But in all of these cases the soldiers and security forces that pulled the triggers, or controlled those who did, although known to the investigators, government and authorities have never been prosecuted. They remain free, while approximately 15 republicans classified as “on the runs” remain unable to return to their homes despite language in the Weston Park agreement that would promote their return free from conviction and Marian Price and Martin Corey sit in jail not even knowing the charges against them.

Just last week in a US Congressional hearing chaired by Congressman Chris Smith and attended by Congressmen Neal and Crowley we once again heard of the failure of the British government to live up to its Weston Park Agreement commitment for an independent inquiry in the murder of civil rights lawyer Pat Finucane. Despite agreeing to abide by results of the review by retired Canadian Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory the British government decided to pass legislation to allow it to obstruct the inquiry which in effect allows it to cover up its involvement in the murder of Finucane. British Prime Minister Cameron admitted to collusion in this case but will not allow the facts of the case to be known. In effect Britain is using its legal system to obstruct justice and a Prime Minister admits that there are those in his government that do not want the truth to come out.
While the Finucane case may be the best known case of collusion in the North there are so many more families that lost loved ones who deserve the same truth. We as concerned Irish Americans believe that failing to deal with the past will have a corrosive effect on the society in the North, it will build support for violence designed to tear down the institutions and put those who promote peace in jeopardy. The past hangs over the present and future of the North as the injustices of yesterday are still not addressed.

Let us be clear we believe that all of those that have experienced loss or pain deserve the truth and for that to happen all parties involved need to be held accountable to tell the truth and that includes paramilitaries, governments, and military and security forces. Unfortunately the system as currently set up promotes a hierarchy of victims. Victims of state violence and collusion are treated much differently than those of other victims. These families wait decades for the opportunity for truth and it is a painstaking process that seems to be managed with the intent to delay rather than acknowledge. Everyone deserves the truth and that is why we support an independent international truth process that is not under the control of those that govern or have governed the North Tonight our coalition calls for the continued involvement and attention of US officials and Irish America; We would like to see more hearings in Washington reviewing the full implementation of the GFA. We believe it is time for a bipartisan Congressional /Senatorial committee to re-visit to the North to see firsthand what the Good Friday Agreement has accomplished in fifteen years and see what still needs to be done.

We urge the Irish and British governments and all the political parties on the island of Ireland to be more proactive in implementing the Good Friday agreement, forums and implementation bodies set up within the GFA need to utilized if you are to deliver what was promised.

In a little more than two weeks the great powers of the world will gather for the G8 summit in Fermanagh and no doubt those leaders will praise the positive changes that have taken place in the North over the last 15 years. Our own President Obama has announced that in addition to attending the summit in Fermanagh he will travel to Belfast to as his office puts it “engage with the people of Northern Ireland and highlight the hard work, dialogue and institutional development they have undertaken together.” We hope that with this rightful praise and engagement comes an honest assessment of what is still left to be done.
We who formed this committee along with many other Irish organizations will continue to push our elected officials here and both the Irish and British governments until the time when all the promises of the GFA are fulfilled and there is equality for all the people of Ireland. It is our sincere hope that in 2018 the 20th anniversary of the signing of the GFA we can once again reconvene to celebrate the full implementation of this historic agreement.