Disarmament Is the Only Logic; with the Endorsement of the Agreement There Was Created a Strong Moral as Well as a Political Obligation for Paramilitaries to Acknowledge the Changing Constitutional and Political Circumstances

By Farren, Sean | The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), June 22, 1999 | Go to article overview

Disarmament Is the Only Logic; with the Endorsement of the Agreement There Was Created a Strong Moral as Well as a Political Obligation for Paramilitaries to Acknowledge the Changing Constitutional and Political Circumstances


Farren, Sean, The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland)


PUBLIC impatience to see progress towards the full establishment of the political institutions envisaged by the agreement is palpable.

With this impatience a sense that the hopes and expectations raised by the agreement may be betrayed is also becoming evident.

And yet the view persists that having come so far and having mobilised so much effort, that somehow the agreement will be made to work.

Perhaps it is the realisation that an acceptable alternative does not exist, or worse, the very thought of what it might be is too unbearable to think about, which sustains such hopes.

As we face the critical days ahead and before we begin to lose hope we should recall just how far we have come and what we have achieved in the Good Friday agreement.

With the absence of regular paramilitary violence of the kind familiar to us before the ceasefires, people are now enjoying a much greater level of personal security and are living lives of a normality to be seen elsewhere in these islands.

As a result there is a real sense that lasting peace is now within our grasp.

Tensions persist and inter-communal violence continues to occur.

The intimidation and violence at Drumcree, Antrim, Larne, Carrickfergus and parts of Belfast are daily reminders of the distance yet to be travelled before a real and enduring peace is enjoyed by all.

Politically, however, attitudes are changed as a result of the very bold steps that have been taken over recent years.

Unionists who less than ten years ago had as their primary objective the removal of the Dublin government's influence and role in Northern Ireland's affairs, negotiated and accepted a new relationship with Dublin.

This relationship is evident in the arrangements for the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Conference.

Complementing these arrangements are the changes to the Republic's constitution to take effect when the agreement's political institutions are fully operating.

These changes enshrine the principle of consent as the only acceptable basis to change in the status of Northern Ireland.

Republicans who, not so long ago, had as their sole objective an enforced end to Northern Ireland's relationship with Britain, now not only acknowledge that relationship but are willing to participate fully in political institutions operating within that context.

These institutions include the Assembly and its Executive, the Civic Forum and the British-Irish Council. This must signal a change of quite historic proportions, above all to Unionists who were, so often the victims of republican violence.

In the light of such profound constitutional and political changes is it not curious that the current impasse relates not to these changes but to a matter which is essentially temporary - the decommissioning of paramilitary arms? In the scale of things, therefore, is it not obvious that what must not be sacrificed are these same political and constitutional gains?

Was it not these aspects of the Good Friday agreement more than any of the others which attracted support for the agreement in both referendums?

In simple terms is it not the political partnership based on respect for our different identities and aspirations promised by the agreement that people want to see in operation? …

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