Will the Presidential push for peace work?

Will the Presidential push for peace work?

PETER KELLY attended last week's 'Agreement 25' commemorations in Belfast. He was also in Washington recently attending the White House St Patrick's Events in Washington where many of the Good Friday Agreement participants gathered. He gives his verdict on the chances of restoring devolved government in Stormont


Colum Eastwood (SDLP), Mary Lou McDonald (Sinn Féin), Naomi Long (Alliance), Emma Little Pengelly (DUP), Doug Beattie (UUP) (image Peter Kelly)

ASSEMBLING elite figures last week from the worlds of global politics and conflict resolution was something of a coup for the Good Friday Agreement.

The gathering at Queen's University in Belfast was a history-making rallying cry for those determined to maintain the globally celebrated accord. And all against ever present odds.
Undoubtedly there was stardust quality in the participants and passers by - from Bill and Hillary Clinton, to Tony Blair, Rishi Sunak, Senator George Mitchell, Secretaries of State, Sinn Fein and DUP leaders and EU Brexit negotiators.  All within minutes of each other, entering and exiting the conference proceedings. A real 'Who's Who' of global political power.
But despite the gathering of the great and the good providing exciting optics, a sinister danger dominated the background. Now a quarter century on from the April 10, 1998 euphoria of its signing, the devolved government that Good Friday promised still lays dormant, and stubbornly inoperative.
There was a double agenda at work in Belfast at the unprecedented gathering. One - to clearly celebrate the Belfast Agreement's unlikely successes and reminiscing of the signing itself. And secondly - to provide such a 'feel-good factor' that it would melt DUP resistance to operating its institutions, and therefore restore the Stormont parliament to life after its prolonged suspension. A softly-softly approach, for now.
Both Irish and British governments, the United States, European Union and the NI civil society sector were singing from the same hymn sheet to celebrate Good Friday's benefits and to push its operation forward. It was a case of 'charm' rather than 'offensive' in their charm-offensive towards the DUP. This was the third mega-event designed to provide carrot rather than stick for those sticking to their anti-governmental stance. Firstly was the White House St Patrick's Day festivities. Then the President Biden Ireland Visit. Now followed finally by the 'Agreement 25' celebrations.
Gathered commentators mused that no progress could be forthcoming from the Paisleyite preventers until the results of next month's local council elections are known in the North. After May there is a short window of opportunity before the annual July marching season begins, and tensions are annually escalated. Time is of the essence in the tribalistic calendar of the North, which explains the energetic push for progress in this early time frame.
Optimism can be gleaned however, from the dynamic tradition that continues from Good Friday 1998 of international intervention and good will for Northern Ireland. The spoils of the Belfast Agreement - once unthinkable coalition government after bitter conflict - are heralded around the world. The narrative continues from the top seats of global power, that the North's peace process is a blueprint for the rest of the globe to follow in conflict resolution.
From Bill Clinton to Barack Obama to now Joe Biden, US presidents have prided themselves upon intervention. All eyes are now on the DUP to explain themselves to the entirety of the political globe, on how to justify the unjustifiable in holding out, especially when the Windsor Framework has been signed off and endorsed by everyone but them.
Despite the prestige of Air Force One in Belfast, former and current presidents and prime ministers making unprecedented interventions, the real coup that would outshadow all the events including at Queen's in Belfast last week, would be the ultimate restoration of Stormont power, showing it was all worthwhile.

Peter Kelly