CEO Blog: ’25 years on, the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement underpins everything we do’

CEO Blog: ’25 years on, the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement underpins everything we do’

Wed 12 Apr 2023 by Peter Sheridan

3.‘We are committed to partnership, equality and mutual respect as the basis of relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between these islands.’

Rereading The Agreement as we marked the anniversary of its signing, I found myself repeatedly returning to clause three of the declaration of support contained within the document.

The Agreement was a huge achievement – lives saved; society transformed – the benefits are there for all to see while acknowledging we still have a ways to travel.

But it is these three lines that I am struck by. It is a much as challenge to us all in 2023 as it was a commitment by the politicians who signed the documents that day in 1998. 

It encapsulates the driving force of Co-operation Ireland and in 2023 fits almost perfectly with our strategic plan to bring people together. 

There are very few documents written a quarter of a century ago can claim to have as much relevance now as they did then.

When The Agreement was signed, I was the police commander in Derry/Londonderry. That position gave me a ringside seat to the painstaking work that went into delivering that document.

I was honoured to be in the new Ulster University campus in Belfast on Wednesday (April 12) to hear President Biden acknowledge this hard work and pay tribute to some of the people involved in the negotiations.

I like many others of my generation know the difficulties people faced back then, fearful it was another false dawn and questioning whether the sacrifices everyone had to make would be worth it.

The President is a close friend of Senator George Mitchell so will be familiar with the mood at the time, saying as much when he told the audience, “It took long, hard years of work to get to this place.  It took a people willing to come together in good faith.”

But that good faith saw fear turn to hope, and as I moved into my new role with Co-operation Ireland in 2008, I saw then and see now on a daily basis how our work through the programmes we deliver is underpinned by the spirit and words of The Agreement.

We only have to look at the #Film25 video we partnered with The British Council to produce where young people born around the time of the signing of The Agreement speak of how much it means to them and their hopes for the future.

From our Local Authority Programme which brings council chief executives from across the island together, to the Our Kids Future Leaders programme which two weeks ago saw 30 young people from the Lower Ormeau and Donegall Pass awarded certificates at Queen’s University – partnership, equality and mutual respect remain the core tenets of everything we do.

So, what now? Every day we are inspired by the words in The Agreement and at Co-operation Ireland we are focused on preparing the current generation to meet future challenges.

There is a theory that it takes two generations to deliver a peace process, and we are determined to give the next generation a solid grounding in practical skills to play a full part in this.

We have put almost 500 young people from across our islands who are committed to making a difference though the Co-operation Ireland Future Leaders Programme.

We are confident that these inspirational young people will go onto be the civic leaders of the future, and the ties they are developing – east west, north and south – will guarantee a peaceful future for us all.

The Agreement is what has made this possible.

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