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Fr. Jun Mercado OMI

Negotiating the Good Friday Agreement

October 11, 2011 7:05pm

With the peace negotiations entering a sort of ‘winter’ season due to colliding positions on the terms of possible political settlement, International Alert in partnership with UK Embassy invited the Rt. Honorable Paul Murphy, Member of the British Parliament and former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Wales.

MP Paul Murphy belongs to the Labor Government of both PM Tony Blair and PM Gordon Brown. It was this popular Labor government under Mr. Blair that negotiated the Good Friday Agreement that has laid the peace formula not only between the warring Unionist party (Protestant) and the Sein Fein (Catholic) but also shaping the relations between and among Great Britain, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The case of Northern Ireland rings a familiar chord for the peoples of Southern Philippines albeit the differences in ‘color’, ‘shape’, religions, ideology and cultures. The many similarities touch on the relations of minority and majority cum the controversial wealth and opportunity sharing, and compounded by religious identities that are more tied to cultural ideologies and their popular expressions, including the use of violence.

Mr. Murphy’s short visit is simply to share with us – stakeholders to peace in Mindanao both in the national and regional levels - a model of peace negotiation that has proven successful not only in terms of signing a peace agreement but also implementing it with political will on the ground as workable formula for wealth and power sharing.

I cannot help but observe that the man who provided the environment and the ‘push’ is an ardent Catholic who received a papal knighthood for his peace work in Northern Ireland.

Some of the similarities between Northern Ireland and Southern Philippines are on issues touching the relations not only between minority (Catholics) and majority (Protestants) but also between the national government (the British Parliament) and the six counties (four Protestants and two Catholics) that formed Northern Ireland.

The above relationship in the recent past was marred by conflict and injustice of varying shades of colors of injustices and ideologies translated and expressed in more familiar concepts like political power, economic development and cultural identities (British Crown for the Unionists and the Republic for Sein Fein).

The other noteworthy similarity in the Northern Ireland conflict was the fact that for decades the conflict in the Northern Ireland remained distant not only to the Government of Great Britain but also to the British Constituency. It actually communicated a subtle message to the effect saying that so long as the killings, the carnage and the violations of basic rights remained in Belfast or Londonderry or in any part of Northern Ireland, the peoples of Great Britain continued with ‘business as usual’.

Things changed when the Irish Republican Army or IRA brought the conflict to London itself. The US was also brought to the picture, not only because of the historical and cultural ties to Ireland and Great Britain but more so because of the many Irish Americans’ support for the struggle of their kin and kith in the North.

What is noteworthy in the making of the Good Friday Agreement is the political will of the two governments (United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland). The two leaders, UK PM Mr. Blair and Republic of Ireland PM Mr. Beartie, were on board all the way as the full time and elected peace negotiators ironed out the formula of wealth and power sharing between the warring Protestant and Catholic groups. The US sent a powerful mediator in the person of Senator George Mitchell, with the full backing and support not only of the sitting US President (both President Clinton and later President G. W. Bush) but also by the entire US Congress. The role and support of the entire European Union were also much felt for the simple reason that the two major protagonists, the UK and the Republic of Ireland, are members of the same EU.

The equally important ingredient that went into the making of the Good Friday Agreement was the TRUST and the RESPECT accorded to one and all by the full time and elected negotiators, mediators, Governments and all stakeholders with few exceptions.

What is crucial is the fact that the Good Friday agreement is “HOMEGROWN”. NO IMPOSED peace agreement anywhere and at anytime is sustainable! The Good Friday Agreement is shaped by the stakeholders themselves through their elected negotiators (with real constituencies on the ground) and facilitated by a powerful US mediator and fully supported by the two major protagonists.

The Good Friday Agreement gives HOPE to our own peace process now experiencing some difficulties. Mr. Murphy’s sharing is a successful PEACE Story. Though we are not ‘copy cats’ of Northern Ireland, no doubt, we can draw concrete lessons from it if we are looking for a fresh wind blowing our own peace story... else we freeze in the winter of the peace talks!
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