Can’t you just feel autumn coming?

The leaves are starting to turn with their tinges on them promising the gorgeous golds and reds yet to come. In all the nooks and crannies of brambles the blackberries are bursting out, from dark red to black, declaring their unique deliciousness for us to scavenge, reminding us why we allow their scraggy, thorny tendrils to grow in our hedges, roadsides and behind our bins. The housemartins are flying around, more lonely now, some of their friends are already away, scooping up swarms of flies as they ready their tiny wings for the warmth of Africa. 

All of the calm and certainty of the turn of the season is there for us to smell, hear and see if we pay attention.

It seems almost incongruous as nothing else is certain. There is common talk of worrying deterioration in the public and political spheres. And of unprecedented threat to our peace. Unpicking this assertion requires a number of clean eyes talking honestly and respectfully, highlighting issues of concern, reflecting on whether they are real or contrived and painting a wider picture.

For me our precious peace is under threat as a direct result of the Good Friday Agreement being unpicked at the seams.

Many of the rights protections contained in the Agreement were undermined during the lifetime of devolution. The failure to establish a Bill of Rights is a shameful story of obfuscation, pretence and sectarianism, and the lack of Achtna Gaeilge is all of that wrapped in unadorned bigotry.

The lack of rights’ protections and respect for rights led directly to the collapse of Strand 1, the miraculous part of the Agreement where power would be shared, and responsibility shouldered. The very idea of power sharing is becoming almost dreamlike.

Strand 2 was neither strengthened nor developed during the Agreement, a failure enabled by a Southern Government that looked away following the big set piece in Stormont when Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley agreed to make history.

The new policing arrangements established as a result of the Agreement have been critically wounded by the failure to deal with the past, the long hand of the RUC and breath taking failures in judgement. The elevation of the experience of state actors, to the detriment of the rule of law and the perpetual hurt of their victims has told the nationalist community that society, and the PSNI, prefers the perpetuation of their pain to the correction of historical record.

The disregard of economic stability and the dignity of equal citizenship as English people insist on Brexit at all costs has brought the constitutional question into sharp relief. However, the Good Friday Agreement mechanisms for just such a moment are being undermined before they are even utilised.

Public confidence in our precious agreement is low, not because we do not value it, but because it is not being strengthened and enforced. That agreement is the miracle that ended conflict and prevents it from restarting. It is precious but it is not made of stone and as a living document, needs critical care. Doing nothing is not an option.

Rights enforcement, progress on legacy, and a recommitment to every strand of the Agreement are a bare minimum of what is needed. If this is not to be a winter of catastrophe, we must see courage and progress before the last of the autumn leaves fall.

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