Category: Archive

Two years after GFA, life goes on in North

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Patrick Markey

BELFAST — Two years ago the Good Friday agreement brought a new era of hope for Northern Ireland.

But on Monday, no fireworks burst over Belfast’s skyline. The document’s two-year anniversary passed with little celebration: A weariness has set in as the politicians struggle to get beyond a deadlock that has plagued the peace process since the accords since they were signed on April 10, 1998.

Newspaper headlines herald another crisis almost weekly and the peace negotiations are often relegated to the inside pages.

But away from the gloomy forecasts, Northern Ireland’s people seem content to get on with their lives in an imperfect peace and let the politicians thrash out the stalemate.

"Is it two years? You’re right, it’s two years today," said Belfast barber Ted Johnston on Monday when he was asked did he know about the anniversary.

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"I just read in the paper that the peace process is on its last legs. But I remember reading that at Christmas, too. It just rolls on and on, and people are just getting on with it."

For people like Thelma Mehaffey, who have lost family to the Troubles, the faltering of the process over the issue of paramilitary weapons decommissioning does little to tame concerns that the violence will return. But they remain hopeful, if still a little distrustful, that the political promise of 1998 can be delivered.

Mehaffey’s husband, who was a former UDA member, and her father were shot to death on Nov. 13, 1991 when two gunmen burst through the back door of her house in a predominantly Protestant area of South Belfast.

They brushed past her and sprayed the front room with an AK47 machine gun and a handgun, killing her husband and father. Her 5-week-old granddaughter, Terri Louise, was shot in the leg and later required hours of surgery.

Mehaffey campaigned for the Good Friday agreement after it was signed and is now part of the victim’s support group HAVEN. While the fledgling government is suspended, Mehaffey and others in her South Belfast area hope they can use the time to mend their community. For Mehaffey, now it is more about building a better life for her children and her grandchildren.

"I like to think there is still hope in the peace process. If I lost that hope within myself, I’d be finished," Mehaffey said.

A community and human rights activist in the nationalist heartland of West Belfast, Clara Reilly agrees. Reilly’s brother, an IRA volunteer, was shot and killed on February 23, 1981 in Belfast’s St. James area, a small Catholic enclave in the city suburbs.

"I was hopeful, yet I realized that whatever we we’re going to get from this would have to be fought for," she said of the Good Friday agreement.

Reilly believes the RUC colluded with the UVF gunman who shot her brother as he lay in bed in his home in the early morning.

Since her brother’s death, Reilly has worked on numerous human rights campaigns with the Association for Legal Justice, and now is a volunteer with the Relatives for Justice campaign, which helps families of those killed by the RUC and the British Army.

While the political negotiations falter, Reilly presses for recognition of those killed by the state forces. The Good Friday agreement’s criminal justice review is equally important as policing, she said, especially an examination of inquiries in RUC and army shootings.

"Human rights is non-negotiable. Human rights has to be at the heart of what is happening here no matter what tradition you are from."

Despite the difficulties, she refuses to give up on the political process. "People are tired and we have all buried too many people to go back to all that," she said.

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