Events being held in Northern Ireland to reflect on Good Friday Agreement

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Several events are taking place in Northern Ireland as people reflect 25 years on from the Good Friday Agreement.

While the 25th anniversary of the signing of the accord is April 10, the holy day of Good Friday will always be associated with the diplomatic feat that brought 30 years of bloodshed largely to an end.

Early on Friday morning, some victims of the Troubles gathered on a Co Down beach to watch the sunrise as they looked back on the deal that changed the region’s future and became a blueprint for resolving global conflicts.

Later in Belfast, people living on both sides of a community interface will come together to commemorate the peace agreement.

Residents from the predominantly unionist Shankill Road and largely nationalist Falls Road will form a human peace wall.

Victims and survivors of the Troubles gather in Killough
Victims and survivors of the Troubles gather in Killough (Liam McBurney/PA)

In the Republic of Ireland, Dublin Unitarian Church is to hold its annual service to commemorate all those who died in the conflict, and in the time that followed.

More than 3,600 names of the people killed in Northern Ireland between 1966 and 2019 will be read out from noon until 3pm, and will include journalist Lyra McKee who was shot dead by dissident republicans in Londonderry four years ago.

The sunrise event at Killough beach was organised by the Wave Trauma Centre, which supports victims of the conflict.

Alan McBride, whose wife and father-in-law were both killed in the 1993 Shankill bomb in Belfast, voted yes in the referendum on the 1998 deal, despite the accord involving the early release of paramilitary killers, including the man responsible for the IRA bomb on the Shankill.

Mr McBride, who gathered with fellow victims on the beach on Friday, said he viewed the Good Friday Agreement as a “breakthrough”.

“It was a watershed in Northern Irish society in terms of the Troubles and coming through it. I never thought they ever would,” he told the PA news agency.

“I voted yes back then, my dad actually didn’t vote yes, he just couldn’t do it because of the prisoner releases and stuff.

“Twenty five years on, I would have thought that we would have been much further down the road to the sort of society that I believed we were voting for in ’98.”

He added: “I do think that our politicians have really let us down if I am being honest with you.”

The anniversary of the historic deal comes as Northern Ireland’s powersharing institutions remain collapsed, in a protest by the DUP over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Bill Clinton in Northern Ireland
Former US president Bill Clinton (Brian Lawless/PA)

Next week, US President Joe Biden will visit Belfast in a trip to commemorate a quarter of a decade since the US-brokered peace accord.

The following week, further events will be held which are to be attended by former US president Bill Clinton and his wife, former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Harking back to the reaction to the GFA in 1998, Gerry Murphy, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ assistant general secretary, said that the agreement is still the way forward.

He said: “When Congress reacted to the agreement signed on April 10 1998, it stated that ‘Congress believes that overall it represents an important step towards peace and reconciliation.

“‘In the unprecedented circumstances now prevailing, Congress is therefore uniquely recommending that trade union members vote Yes in the referenda on May 22.’

“The support we pledged then is still in place. The agreement remains the road map to a decent future for all.”

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