The Good Friday Agreement was the conclusion in Northern Ireland of a peace process whose success has been recognized internationally. After thousands of murders in the streets of Belfast, London and Dublin almost a quarter of a century ago, this small part of the European continent has become a magnet for high-tech and clean energy companies, as well as a destination for highly relevant investments. Many people and many countries have given their support to the peace process, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year.
There have been many ups and downs, including several years in which parts of the historic agreement signed between the UK and Ireland were suspended, or simply not applied. And yet, the conviction and momentum of the Good Friday Agreement, focused on achieving peace and stability, continues to shine.
Last Friday a historic event occurred. Sinn Féin, the Irish nationalist party whose founders traded arms for the ballot box, became the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly. A large number of votes also changed orientation, backing the Alliance party’s centrist alternative. The main unionist formation, the DUP, also had a very decent result. But when the ballot boxes were counted, the proportion of the nationalist (in favor of a united Ireland) and unionist (in favor of staying in the UK) vote was equal, at around 40%. This is a very important factor that should be taken into account.
A key concept in the distribution of power in the region is the fact that both the largest nationalist party and the largest unionist party must be present in the Government. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, both have the same powers. That is why the refusal of the DUP to re-form a government until there are significant changes in the Northern Ireland Protocol, which regulates the new border with the EU, is so worrying for citizens. The Northern Irish need room for political decision, to solve day-to-day problems. That is why the EU and its Member States have to step forward and support the stability of this part of Europe.
Beyond all the rhetoric and political positions, the only objective of the next few days should be to provide a response to the concerns of unionism. Otherwise, a shared government cannot be formed. Addressing these concerns does not mean nullifying the Protocol, but it will require creative solutions, including further detours, extensions and a heightened dose of pragmatism.
Failure in this extra effort would mean more months of paralysis and useless posturing. Just at a time when families and citizens in Northern Ireland need policy responses to rising costs of living, or long waiting lists for public health. It would be ironic if, when the Ukraine crisis has greatly improved cooperation between the UK and the EU, we are unable to find a solution between the two sides that is not difficult for us to support, after all the hard work that has been done.
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When, with the help of others, I restored the Government of Northern Ireland two years ago, we joined the long list of politicians and non-politicians from around the world who have supported and encouraged this small but fragile part of our continent for years. This weekend, I call on the EU to look beyond the current frustrating psychodrama rhetoric that is Brexit, and reiterate a renewed willingness to speak up, and to address the needs of political unionism. To make sure that all these people we care about, the men and women of Northern Ireland, get their government back.
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