Coveney defends “indispensable framework for peace” as success of Good Friday deal questioned

Posted By: February 21, 2018

John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, February 21, 2018

TÁNAISTE Simon Coveney has described the Good Friday Agreement as an “indispensable framework for peace” that has helped forge political progress beyond expectations.

The Fine Gael deputy leader told The Irish News that the 1998 accord was “the people’s agreement – reflecting resounding democratic support for peace.”

His remarks come amid debate about the relevance of the Good Friday Agreement against the backdrop of a pending Brexit and the continued failure over the past year to restore the devolved institutions at Stormont.

In recent days a number of pro-Brexit English politicians have questioned the validity of the Agreement.

In a weekend newspaper column, Tory MEP Daniel Hannan claimed the 1998 agreement had “flaws,” while Antrim-born Labour MP Kate Hoey said the accord was “unsustainable.”

The tánaiste responded to Ms. Hoey on Twitter, describing those who talked down the Good Friday Agreement as “irresponsible” and “reckless.”

Mr. Coveney, who alongside Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday began a three-day visit to the US, told The Irish News the agreement had been endorsed on both sides of the border with overwhelming majorities.

“The Good Friday Agreement is, therefore, the people’s agreement – reflecting resounding democratic support for peace, for partnership and for striving in every practical way towards reconciliation, as declared in the agreement itself,” he said.

“Today, the Irish and British governments remain absolutely committed to the Good Friday Agreement, as do all of the main political parties in Northern Ireland.”

The foreign affairs minister said everybody he spoke to in The North made it clear to him that peace had been “achieved and deepened” since 1998.

“In every year since the Agreement was signed, there have been challenges and issues to overcome in the peace process, as there are again today,” he said.

“These challenges don’t diminish the standing of the Good Friday Agreement. They demonstrate the need for it as the indispensable framework for peace and for political relationships in Northern Ireland, between north and south and between Ireland and the UK.”

He said the agreement had led to progress and reconciliation that could not have been anticipated 20 years ago.

“The agreement provides us with the road map for that and its full and effective implementation in letter and spirit is where our focus should and will remain,” he said.

Britain’s Brexit secretary David Davis said he was “not conscious of anybody talking down the Good Friday Agreement.”

“Everything that we are doing is aiming towards ensuring that we meet every aspect of it,” he said.

Former Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey warned those “cheering the end” of the Agreement that they were “playing into Sinn Féin’s hands.”

He said the 1998 accord gave Unionists in The North the “strongest possible arrangements on retaining our position in the United Kingdom.”

“The principle of consent, the three-stranded approach and the Republic of Ireland giving up its territorial claim put our future in the hands of our people and meant we could go forward with confidence,” he said.

“The Agreement put in place institutions that should have grown in time with society as trust and respect developed, but then Sinn Féin and the DUP got their hands on the steering wheel, and we now have institutions that have only earned contempt from our society.”

Speaking at Westminster, Secretary of State Karen Bradley repeated the British government’s commitment to the agreement, of which it is co-guarantor alongside its Dublin counterpart.

Mrs. Bradley said the accord was the “right approach” and that it had led to “great success in Northern Ireland.”