- 10 Apr 23
On the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, we're revisiting a selection of comments and quotes about the landmark peace accord – taken from a variety of interviews in the Hot Press archives...
On U2 and Ash's Belfast concert in support of a 'Yes' vote in the Good Friday referendum
“The moderate vote was collapsing. Convicted loyalist killers like Michael Stone were getting released. Street bombings were still taking place. People were thinking, ‘This deal could be dead in the water’. And this concert was all thrown together so quickly! You know, you had U2 using Ash’s gear 'cause it was all on the fly.
“I was at the Waterfront the whole day when it happened, and people were just winging it. No one knew what was going to happen. But the jubilation at what did happened – David Trimble talking about his love for Elvis, John Hume in tears – was incredible. You’re watching footage after it all on the main news and thinking, ‘That’s it, the news agenda has been changed. Finally.'
"You have to consider, politics was throwing everything at this referendum because there was such a powerful opposition. There was so much at stake with this vote, and then three days before the vote itself rock’n’roll – the cavalry – came over the hill! Looking back, I’m semi-angry that that’s never fully been recognised before. The role of music, I mean.”
On ending Derry Girls with the Good Friday Referendum...
“I didn’t vote in the Good Friday Referendum because I was a wee bit too small and still in school, which became a major bone of contention when pupils were being chosen to go to the peace concert in Belfast that Ash, Bono, John Hume and David Trimble were at, and it was all the Jenny Joyces that got picked. I’m over it now… no, I’m not! One of my friends who went to a different school got chosen, and hasn’t shut up about it since.
“The show’s about teenagers, which is quite a brief period in your life and goes like a flash, so I wanted the Derry Girls ending to feel quite final. The Good Friday Agreement is kind of the day this place grew up, which parallels these kids growing up. It felt like the two things wrapped round each other quite well. It’s the favourite thing of mine I’ve ever written, and I hope people like it as much as I do when it comes out.”
On his view of the developments in Northern Ireland.
"You mean the Good Friday Agreement? I think Britain finally understood that the way to deal with terror is to pay attention to the grievances. Once you pay attention to the grievances, there’s suddenly a realistic hope of mitigating conflict and moving forward. Incidentally, the same is true of al-Qa’ida terror. If you want to deal with it, recognise that there are grievances, and they’re real. They should be dealt with. If you start paying attention to them, you invariably reduce the support for terror. There are bound to be people who just want to be murderers, that’s a fact, but they get isolated if they don’t have a groundswell of popular support. And the popular support is based on grievances which are common to much of the population, as was the case in Northern Ireland. Start dealing with them, and you begin to make progress. I know Northern Ireland’s problems weren’t solved overnight, but anyone would accept it’s better than it was 15 years ago, when people were being killed every other day."
Would he credit Tony Blair personally with a positive role in the process
"That’s to applaud somebody for being minimally decent. But in contrast to his predecessors, yeah, sure. Britain finally took a position that was reasonable."
"...we all essentially had to compromise to find a way forward. Failure to compromise was going to condemn this island to decades more of conflict. The reality is that a military stalemate ensued."
So you are saying the IRA were not defeated?
"The British Army conceded publicly that they would never be able to defeat the IRA. And the IRA effectively accepted that they hadn’t got the military strength to force every last British solider down the Lagan. I think that the IRA were not militarily defeated and I know that grates on people within the British military establishment, who have been hostile to this process for some considerable time. But the IRA concession led to the involvement of Sinn Fein in the process in the autumn of 1997. Lo and behold, within a few months of entering into all-party peace talks, we had achieved the Good Friday Agreement – something that many people thought was impossible."
But you would agree that the Good Friday Agreement was a compromise for all involved?
"Of course the Good Friday Agreement was a compromise. It was about ourselves signing up to coming back into parliament in Stormont, albeit this time on the basis of 50-50 – on equality. And the Unionists agreed to participate in the All-Ireland Ministerial Council. So, they are the foundation stones of the agreement. Around all of that, there is the whole business of human rights commissions, equality commissions, policing reform, and the whole ethos of equality running right through everything we are about. Within a few months, Ian Paisley (Snr.) and I will lead our ministers to meet with the new Southern government, in Armagh.
"Compromise has been a dirty word in Irish politics in the past – but I am proud of the compromise that we have made. And Ian Paisley would probably have regarded compromise as a dirty word in the past – he too has compromised, and we have now reached a point where we have a political agreement going forward."
On the biggest moment from the time he spent in politics, as Deputy Government Press Secretary and Head of the Government Information Services...
"The Good Friday Agreement. It was interesting because all the journalists were camped outside and I was inside and I remember meeting Bertie. I remember working in the Government press office with Joe Lennon and Tony came up with his famous, 'The hand of history on our shoulder,' and Bertie had his few metaphors. I remember having some small input into his speech and thinking, 'Jesus, this is history in the making!' It was a special time."
"I think we have a brilliant and ballsy generation coming up, and they all grew up after the Good Friday Agreement. They don’t want to write about the conflict, they want to write about gender and the environment. That, to me, shows a degree of recovery."