February 1, 2018

Bringing the Agreement Home: in all its parts

The “Bringing the Agreement Home” project provided an accessible analytical review of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent related agreements, as well as a series of workshops and an “All-Island Conversation” to inform and engage community organisations on the island of Ireland about the provisions of the agreements and the institutions and bodies they created.

There was renewed interest in the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement (GFA) as it marked twenty years since of being endorsed by significant majorities in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland. The GFA became a core issue in the negotiations over the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, with all the main negotiating parties expressing their desire to avoid undermining it as a result of Brexit. Indeed, the directives guiding the European Commission’s approach to the negotiations stated that “Nothing in the [Withdrawal] Agreement should undermine the objectives and commitments set out in the Good Friday Agreement IN ALL ITS PARTS and its related implementing agreements” (emphasis added).

However, from its analysis of relevant policy and position papers, discussions with Westminster Committees and organisations based in Great Britain, and especially through our work with grassroots community groups in Northern Ireland and Ireland, CCBS realised there was a lack of understanding of the GFA in all its dimensions – “in all its parts”. For understandable reasons given its origins, the GFA can often be seen principally as a solution to a Northern Ireland problem (Strand 1 of the GFA), with the Irish and UK Governments as its co-guarantors, but divorced from its other dimensions. Whereas there is a level of awareness of the cross-border or all-island dimension of the GFA, this is not necessarily translated into knowledge of the institutions and areas of cooperation under Strand 2. Moreover, there is even less understanding of how the GFA links the island of Ireland and Great Britain under Strand 3. Brexit has brought this situation into focus, with the challenges it poses being seen as potentially affecting the GFA in general terms, but without necessarily seeing how it may do so in terms of all of its interrelated parts.

Community organisations that took part in this project’s workshops were selected in order to achieve sufficient geographical spread, representation from both of the main communities in Northern Ireland, representation from younger people, and with balanced gender representation (with at least 50% women).