This is a peace process. A peace process that emerged from a long, violent conflict. As Bill Clinton reminded the assembled congregation in Derry last week for Martin McGuinness, peace processes require tender loving care and attention from all of those committed to it in order to sustain it.
No one won this conflict, but many people suffered immeasurably. That suffering included losing cherished family members, enduring torture, living in years of brutal imprisonment, putting food on the table and sustaining a family in the midst of all of that, living with fear and anxiety as some areas were heavily militarised and oppressed. No one community or constituency has a monopoly on the pain that was suffered in so many ways for so long.
Right now it is being decided in Stormont’s various buildings and castles whether we acknowledge that and choose to nurture our peace. Every single party and both the Irish and British governments will benefit if we succeed. But most of all our transitional society and our younger generations will inherit a successful peace process that truly says never again.
The choices that are being made now are so much more positive than the choices that became inevitable in 1969. They are choices for peace, inclusion, justice and equality. And agreement could be tantalisingly close.
This applies equally to the non-neutral British Government. They need to positively re-engage with the Good Friday Agreement which their government and country was party to and was almost miraculous in its transformative power.
Is the lack of critical engagement to date because it was Labour that signed the Good Friday Agreement and not the Tories and therefore they doesn’t own it? If that is an underpinning insecurity then they must re-read the history of this peace process. Surely this government does not want to follow the path of the Tory government that oversaw the worst days of failure in the peace process.
The British government needs to stop being a reluctant co-guarantor to the peace agreement. Stop undermining it when they dismiss the Irish Government as a junior rather than equalpartner and when they undermine the human rights convention that underpins the Agreement.
The threat of direct rule is further evidence of this Tory Government’s lack of connection to the process. In 2006 the Irish and British Governments said in the event of failures to agree there would be no return to direct rule and a form of joint authority would ensue. That moment of joined up two government approach secured power sharing in 2007 with Ian Paisley’s DUP. That must be reappreciated as a positive intervention of nurturing our peace process, not a threat to an insecure British sovereignty.
However, there is now, to borrow a phrase, a short window for them to change tack.
The DUP have a few high horses to climb off of. But the British Government and James Brokenshire have significant but very doable heavy lifting and work to do. It is time for them to pack away the smothering blanket of national security with the winter woollies and replace it with human rights compliance and time to recognise that this is a peace process with an invaluable agreement at its heart which ended the conflict no one won, and everyone agreed to put behind them.