Madigan Muses: 25 Years of the Good Friday Agreement

Madigan Muses:
25 Years of the Good Friday Agreement
By Marilyn Madigan

On April 10, 1998, the Good Friday Agreement was signed after thirty years of conflict, known as “the Troubles.”  The United States had a special role in making the Good Friday Agreement a reality. Under President Bill Clinton a Special Envoy was appointed to Northern Ireland: George Mitchell. 

George Mitchell had a very important role with the Northern Irish Peace Process. At the request of both the Irish and British Governments, he served as the Chair of the International Commission on Disarmament in Northern Ireland and of the Peace Negotiations. 

For over two years, Mitchell worked with most of the political parties in the North of Ireland, the Irish and British Governments. As described in UK government documents: “The Agreement created a new power-sharing arrangement, including an Executive and Assembly, and was based on a series of fundamental principles, including: the parity of esteem of both communities, the principle of consent underpinning Northern Ireland’s constitutional status, the birthright of the people of Northern Ireland to identify and be accepted as British or Irish, or both, and to hold both British and Irish citizenship.

The hard-won gains of the peace process have transformed the political and economic life of Northern Ireland since 1998, and the Agreement continues to serve as a framework for peace and prosperity.” 
The Good Friday Agreement was approved in an island-wide referendum on May 22, 1998, by the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. John Hume and David Trimble won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 for their role in the Good Friday Agreement. 

To find out more about the process involved in making this historic achievement, I recommend reading George Mitchell’s book “Making Peace.” Jean Kennedy Smith was the United States Ambassador to Ireland during this historic period. She spearheaded an effort for Gerry Adams to receive a visa to visit the United States. 

The United Kingdom and Northern Unionist were opposed to Adams receiving the visa. Kennedy enlisted support from her brother, Senator Ted Kennedy, who persuaded President Clinton to issue the visa in 1994. 

The following year, the IRA declared a ceasefire. Sinn Fein was able to join the peace negotiations a few years later. During her term, Kennedy received criticism, but also recognition as a catalyst for change. 

Author Tim Pat Coogan described her as helping to “change history for the better.” Leo Varadkar stated, “Her courageous and determined diplomacy helped to bring peace to our island, built bridges, opened doors to all communities, and to all those striving for peace when peace was not a certainty.” 

Upon receiving honorary Irish citizenship in 1998 for her efforts, she told the Washington Post: “I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.” Today as we commemorate twenty-five years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, America again needs to take a role. Brexit has challenged the status of this historic agreement. President Biden has appointed Joe Kennedy III as Special Envoy to Northern Ireland. Irish America is following this situation closely.  
Many individuals had a role in the historic Good Friday Agreement. I will be attending a conference at Georgetown University, Women at the Helm: The Unfinished Business of Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement on March 16. This conference will focus on the role of women in forging and sustaining peace. 

The Role of Women
The Role of Women is often overlooked in history. This conference will bring leading women negotiators to share their personal experiences in peacekeeping. Speakers include the Hon. Hillary Rodham Clinton, 67th United States Secretary of State; Honorary Founding Chair, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security; and Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach of IrelandH.E. Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland and Chair of The Elders; Monica McWilliams, Signatory to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland and Co-founder of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition; H.E. Dame Karen Pierce, Ambassador of the United Kingdom to the United States; Paul Narain, U.S. Consul General in Belfast; The Hon. Joseph Kennedy III, U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland for Economic Affairs; Michelle O’Neill, First Minister (Elect) of Northern Ireland and Deputy Leader of Sinn Féin; Jayne Brady, Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service; Liz O’Donnell, Former Minister of State of Ireland; Emma Little-Pengelly, Member of the Legislative Assembly of Northern Ireland; Patricia O’Lynn, Member of the Legislative Assembly of Northern Ireland; Emma DeSouza, Writer, Campaigner, and next generation Peacemaker, Northern Ireland; Avila Kilmurray, Founding Member of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition; Sandra Peake, Director of the WAVE Trauma Centre; and moderated by Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. 

The Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians (LAOH) and Relatives for Justice are also working on a document to highlight women and their advocacy in peace and justice issues in the north of Ireland. The document will be released in April during the LAOH Freedom for All Ireland Trip. The LAOH raises funds to assist groups in North Ireland to continue to work on peace and social justice issues. 

During the LAOH visit to Ireland in April, members will also attend a Good Friday 25th Anniversary Conference on April 17th and 18th, jointly sponsored by the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice, and Queen’s University. The Global Irish Forum will be held in Dublin on April 19-22. 

The LAOH will be well represented at this important forum for the Irish Diaspora. I am honored to be able to attend these important events representing the largest Irish American Women’s Organization.

*Marilyn Madigan is the National President of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians and a Deputy Director of the United Irish Societies of Cleveland. She received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from St. John College and retired from Nursing at University Hospitals of Cleveland. 

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