Life

Lynette Fay: The Good Friday Agreement reminds us life is about negotiation – and we still have much to do

As Fatboy Slim told us, "We've come a long, long way together, through the hard times and the good", but we still have a way to go to fulfil the promise of the Good Friday Agreement

Lynette Fay

Lynette Fay

Lynette is an award winning presenter and producer, working in television and radio. Hailing from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, she is a weekly columnist with The Irish News.

David Trimble, Tony Blair and John Hume were central to making the Good Friday Agreement a reality. The deal was a triumph of negotiating skills
David Trimble, Tony Blair and John Hume were central to making the Good Friday Agreement a reality. The deal was a triumph of negotiating skills David Trimble, Tony Blair and John Hume were central to making the Good Friday Agreement a reality. The deal was a triumph of negotiating skills

When you break it down, most things in life are a negotiation. We negotiate in work, with family and friends, with ourselves. These days, I spend most of my time trying to negotiate with a husband, with teenagers and a three-year-old.

My skills or lack thereof are put to the test on a daily basis, particularly when it comes to getting the child dressed in the mornings. It takes a while to work out a strategy that has a chance of working, and its application demands buckets of determination and the patience of angels.

At time of writing, I have just arrived home after a rare visit to The Lyric theatre, to see Agreement. Trying to get out of the house before the toddler's bedtime is a testing negotiation. We just about made it in time, took our seats and had a little time to decompress. We were then we were treated to an expert, sharp telling of a successful negotiation process which has changed all our lives.

Walking up to The Lyric that evening, I struggled to remember if I had ever been in the building 25 years ago. I doubt it. I was 20, at university in Galway. Visits to Belfast were to see my friends and go to the Bot or Renshaws.

We all remember news reports from that time. John Cole and Denis Murray were constantly telling us about the 'talks about talks'. You would forgive any 20-year-old for disengaging.

We had grown up in normalised chaos, just wanted to have the craic, and the only negotiations I was interested in were to secure an extension on an essay deadline or one that would secure 'the court' on a night out.

We tried to live our best lives through the most extraordinary time. Just how extraordinary it was will be revisited again and again over the next week.

A quarter of a century later, I find myself wanting to know how on earth a group of politicians who couldn't agree on the day of the week, somehow torturously battered out what we now know as the Good Friday Agreement.

I am fascinated by the demands, the tactics, the pressure, the trust that was involved. There had to be an element of trust. We sat in the stalls looking down on the negotiations – this production focused on David Trimble, John Hume, Gerry Adams, Mo Mowlam, George Mitchell, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern.

We could observe the way they engaged with others, gauge how managing the different personalities was key to getting across the line. We were presented with intensity, stubbornness, delirium, compromise, frustration and exhaustion all in equal measure.

The Good Friday Agreement was an extraordinary achievement which will be revisited again this month as its 25th anniversary is marked
The Good Friday Agreement was an extraordinary achievement which will be revisited again this month as its 25th anniversary is marked The Good Friday Agreement was an extraordinary achievement which will be revisited again this month as its 25th anniversary is marked

I was fascinated by the portrayal of the various personalities involved. The fear of the one side's demands being fully met over the other's, and the pressure to the right thing by everyone was palpable.

We were reminded of their ages. Mo Mowlam was only 49. Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern were in their mid 40s – the age I am now.

I had the chance to speak to Professor Monica McWilliams about her experience of the GFA negotiations with her colleagues in the Women's Coalition. I was really struck by a comment she made about the women, some of whom were teachers, sitting around the kitchen table the night before a negotiation, making sure to have all their homework done, all possible exchanges worked out and all possible retorts and rebukes answered. They were mothers wanting a better future for their children.

I was driving through north Belfast the other day listening to an interview with Paddy Kielty talking a lot of sense about this place. I got out of the car at the Valley Leisure Centre, looked up at the Union Flag flying from the mast with historic Cavehill in the background, and made my way in to a GAA event.

To quote the prominent 1998 poet Fatboy Slim, "We've come a long, long way together, through the hard times and the good", but we have a way to go to completely eradicate fear of the other, and any sense of entitlement if we truly want to build the future.