Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Good Friday Agreement and Decommissioning of Weapons

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the seventh in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of how reality itself was a stepping stone that forced both sides to turn toward peace. Next, he relates to us the pivotal Good Friday peace agreement of 1998 and the role of US leaders in it:

After the initial meetings of the IRA leaders with the British state, there were a whole series of political meetings: Sunnydale being one of the main ones. People said all these meetings failed.

But did these agreements fail? There is no question they did not succeed in bringing peace, but they did help to lead on to the next step. Each one showed why something would not work and caused people to change their perception. Taken together, these failed attempts brought the process forward.

Most important they brought about international facilitation, and this lead to the involvement of the United States. The United States made an immense contribution to the peace process. There were some Irish-Americans who reached out to young people. President Clinton, for one, took an amazingly personal interest in Ireland. President Clinton wasn't really an Irish-American. Someone claimed on his behalf a connection to someone from County Armagh, but it was very tenuous.

Clinton gave the Irish the gift of Senator George Mitchell, who is now better known for his work in the middle east. George Mitchell sat all the parties down except Mr. Paisley's party, as Mr. Paisley's party would not come into it.

After slogging through days, and literally through nights, George Mitchell said to them on the Thursday before Good Friday 1998, if you all are not ready to agree tomorrow, I'm off. They worked through that night and on Good Friday, April, 1998, the parties involved, of course except for Mr. Paisley's party, had agreed. Some of the points of the agreement were aspirational, and some were to be realized more quickly than others.

The agreement was put to the people in a referendum. The vote was 73 percent in Northern Ireland in favor of the agreement. That was hugely important. Reverend Good asked what politician could ever get 73 percent agreement on something.

Across the entire island, something like 90 percent were in favor. People were saying there's got to be a way forward and this is the way forward. A commitment to exclusively peaceful means is the way.

Two parts of the agreement took longer than the rest. One was decommissioning of the weapons. That meant the weapons had to go. The other was devolution of policing and justice.

The parties said, they couldn't sit at a table where there were weapons under the table.

On the 26th of September, the International Commission on Decommissioning led by General John de Chastelain, former head of the Canadian Army, and his two colleagues, were responsible for bringing this accord forward. People were saying, “How do we believe this will be done?” There had been one or two attempts to complete this decommissioning that hadn't worked. So people were not ready to believe it would be done.

Then two clergymen were selected, one from each tradition to witness the decommissioning and to come back and tell their people, “I've seen it with my own eyes.”

Father Alec Reid, a Redemptorist Priest from Clonard Monastery, nearby to the Forthspring Community Center, and Reverend Good, himself were asked to be those two witnesses.

Reverend Good said he could talk to us a bit about that, without violating the confidentiality aspect, and trust to which he was sworn.

This talk continues in a blog posting entitled "The Super Secret Decommissioning of IRA Weapons".

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