by Richard Buckley, Editor, Business Eye

The 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement this week gave all of us a chance to look back at what was achieved back in April of 1998, as well as to take stock of where we are now in political terms. It’s not a great contrast, to be honest.


Back then, the messages were all about hope, about sharing, about a positive future for Northern Ireland. At least they were for most of us. But not for all of us.

Writing this week, Emma Little Pengelly introduced a bum note as only the DUP can when she suggested that……”As a teenager in 1998 who voted No in the referendum, it is interesting to hear the contributions at the GFA event. To me & many in my community, it was a time of grief – especially the concessions on release of prisoners, the destruction of the RUC and no requirement for decommissioning.”

Ah well, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and Emma is entitled to her view. Her party colleagues contributed to the ‘celebrations’ along similar lines. Gregory Campbell said that the GFA was ‘fundamentally flawed’ while Sammy Wilson called it a ‘shibboleth‘. Man of the people, is Sammy!

Apparently a shibboleth is not an illegal drinking den nor is it an Australian mammal. It’s a belief or custom that’s not considered as important as it used to be. And, for the record, Labour MP Barry Gardiner called the Good Friday Agreement a ‘shibboleth’ before Sammy decided that he liked the word too…..verbal plagiarism, Sammy, and nothing short of it.

So there are a few weary willies who harp that the Agreement wasn’t all that it has been cracked up to be. But what no one can deny, even if they try, is that the Good Friday Agreement was the political catalyst for enormous progress on the ground here. The politics up at Stormont might have been stop and start since those heady days, but the progress has been huge and it has been undeniable.

Take a walk around Belfast or Derry/Londonderry. Look at the new developments, consider the hotels and restaurants, listen to the accents of the tourists. Feel the vibe and suck it all in. Then try to muster an argument that the Good Friday Agreement isn’t all that it’s been cracked up to be.

An entire generation have known nothing about the daily diet of violence that the older amongst us used to have to live with. That, in itself, is a remarkable achievement.

So we’re right to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that remarkable achievement, an achievement which was the work of a group of politicians who look like giants alongside today’s minnows.

We’re right, too, to celebrate those who gave of their time to achieve the Good Friday Agreement, people like Clinton, Blair, Mitchell and Ahern.

The real shame is that there aren’t more of them around today. Imagine a US President interested enough in this small part of the world, and committed enough to give of his time? Or imagine a British Prime Minister with charisma and a dedication to the cause of progress in just one corner of his patch? Today’s incumbents just don’t cut the mustard, do they?

And, as for local political leaders, do we have anyone to emulate Trimble, Hume, McGuinness, Mallon, McWilliams and Ervine? No, we don’t. And that’s a crying shame.

As veteran journo Deric Henderson put it, imagine where this place could be if magnanimity existed now as it did then?

What we do have in 2018 that they couldn’t have imagined back in 1998 is the looming spectre of Brexit…..a piece of national self-harm so blatant that it almost defies belief. More importantly for this part of the world, it’s a Brexit that runs the risk of driving a stake into the heart of the Good Friday Agreement.

But let’s not end on a pessimistic note.

We’ve conquered seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the past. We can do it again and we will do it again.

On that note, we were stuck by the words of Peter Robinson at Tuesday’s Queen’s University event.

“Arlene and Michelle are capable of doing a deal,” he said. “I believe that they will.”

If that’s not optimistic enough for you, then we can’t imagine what is. Come on, Arlene & Michelle, the hand of history and all that……!

In closing, one verse from Seamus Heaney’s poem The Cure Of Troy was quoted on numerous occasions over the past days of hope. But it bears repeating one more time…….

History says don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.”

Every Saint Has A Past, Every Sinner Has A Future

On a very different note, we’ve held back from making any comment on the ongoing saga of the two Ulster Rugby players recently cleared of all charges against them (along with two others) in a Belfast court room.

But the unremitting stream of vitriol being poured out on social media makes it very hard not to throw in our tuppence worth on a case which seems to have turned almost everyone into a part-time lawyer.

Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were found not guilty of all charges after a gruelling trial for all concerned. That verdict, like any other court verdict, must be respected and it’s simply not acceptable for anyone – whatever their anger, righteous or otherwise – to suggest that there is any doubt about their innocence.

There are those of you out there who will disagree with this view, but for us, it’s time to draw a line under the whole affair.

A group of Ulster Rugby supporters this week called for the two players to be ‘reinstated’ to the Ulster Rugby squad with immediate effect. And Ulster Rugby, as an organisation, clearly needs to make up its mind on the issue and try clear the air. How long can an internal review take?

To our minds, the club should clear the way for the players to make a return. But, equally, is they wish to go elsewhere to play…..and escape the keyboard warriors of their native Northern Ireland, then they should be allowed to do so.

Either way, Willie John McBride was on the money this week when he said that it’s time for Jackson and Olding to get back to what they do best…..playing rugby.

As a footnote, we’ll not be surrendering our season tickets unlike a few bleeding hearts and bandwagon jumpers who’ve said that they’re packing up.

Meanwhile, we’ll be making our feelings clear on Friday evening….by cheering on the team.

A Case Of Finishing The Job

We’ve been guilty of falling into the trap of thinking that any mention of legacy issues means pessimism or a lack of willingness to look to the future.

But, thanks to a few persuasive souls, we’ve realised that that’s not the case. Given our past, few issues can be more important.

So whilst we’ve been commemorating the Good Friday Agreement with the great and the good, and spreading the word about what has been achieved, it’s worth remembering – as it always is – the victims and survivors.

And a recent piece of survey work by the Commission For Victims & Survivors sends a clear message to politicians (if they’re paying attention) that a significant proportion of the Northern Ireland population want to see legacy issues progressed.

Some 26% of the population says that they or a family member continues to be affected by ‘conflict-related incident’….and that adds up to 380,000 people. When you consider that we’re 20 years down the line from the Belfast Agreement, it’s a sobering statistic.

Hardly a surprise, then, that 56% of the population says that it’s important or very important to deal with the past, and 73% would support a pension for individuals severely injured during the conflict.

As the Victims & Survivors Commissioner, Judith Thompson, puts it….whilst we’ve come a long way, it’s important to finish the job.

Hard to argue with that…..

A Chance To Vote……..

 

Here’s something you might be able to help with. Seven not-for-profit organisations across Northern Ireland have been shortlisted for grants of up to £35K in Ulster Bank’s Skills & Opportunities Fund.

 

The =diverse range of groups are; West Belfast based primary school, St Joseph’s Slate Street, Youth Action NI, Larne social enterprise company, LEDCOM Ltd, Flourish NI which provides support to survivors of human trafficking and Derry community empowerment project La Dolce Vita.

 

In the running for grant awards also are, sustainable employment initiative Mallusk Enterprise Park and Armagh group, Appleby Careers Project which supports young people with a range of disabilities helping them gain social skills and employment. 

 

All seven community organisations have been shortlisted from an initial pool of applicants, with the public invited to vote for one group in their region. Every vote makes a difference and members of the public can vote up until noon on Friday 20 April, with the winners announced on Friday 25 May 2018.

 

To find out more about the shortlisted organisations and the projects they’re seeking support for, go to the online voting page

Barnier’s Brexit Bonus

Some good news on Brexit….and straight from one of the horses’ mouths, so to speak.

The UK, said Michel Barnier this week, has until the end of 2020 to change its mind about leaving Europe’s single market.

The EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator said that if the UK changed its “red lines” during the post-Brexit transition period, the EU would also change its position.

Theresa May and David Davis, of course, maintain – often unconvincingly – that the UK will quit the EU single market and customs union.

She says this is needed to ensure the UK has the power to control borders and do trade deals with other countries.

The UK is set to leave the EU in March 2019, at which point the transition phase – which the UK government calls the implementation phase – will begin. This will last until 31 December 2020, when the final arrangements agreed between the two sides will kick in.

We’ll see……we’ll see.

GDPR……Read All About It

For a lot of you of you out there, we strongly suspect, GDPR is a steaming pile of you know what that you could happily do without. It certainly is for us here at Business Eye headquarters.

But the Government, who really should be concentrating on more important matters like the health service, education or maybe bombing Russia, is making sure that the new data protection regime comes into force on May 25th.

So, as the old saying goes, we will be in touch. And we will be in touch shortly to identify the small, potentially tiny, number of you who don’t want to continue receiving this weekly blog.

We’ll keep you posted. It’s the law…..or so they say.

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