GFA20: Church leaders give thanks for Good Friday Agreement

Archbishop Eamon Martin. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

CHURCH of Ireland Primate Richard Clarke and his Catholic counterpart Eamon Martin have said the Good Friday Agreement still has the potential to transform society and life in Northern Ireland.

The two Church leaders issued a joint statement to mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the accord.

The archbishops said the 1998 agreement was a "complex and occasionally controversial" document which sought to address contentious political problems in the context of decades of violence, divided communities and immense suffering and death on the streets.

"However, we are convinced that its explicit rejection of the use or threat of violence, together with its emphasis on the principles of 'partnership, equality and mutual respect' as the 'basis of relationships' within these islands, has continuing potential to transform society and life for all of us – nothing remotely its equal has been outlined then or since."

The churchmen said no single political agreement could be expected to heal the deep wounds of conflict but the Good Friday Agreement offered a framework for a new beginning.

"The peace we have today took a great effort to achieve – it will equally take risk, and leadership at all levels, to maintain," they added.

"It is therefore our sincere shared prayer that this anniversary will help to rekindle a spirit of opportunity, healing and hope for lasting peace which is now needed more than ever."

Dr Noble McNeely, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, also said last night that despite political uncertainty, "we need to remind ourselves of where we have come from and how far we have travelled".

"As we mark this anniversary 20 years on, we affirm the foundational principles that underpinned the agreement and their lasting significance that have, along with other agreements, enabled us to move forward," he said.

“As we look back, there was an obvious task of healing and reconciliation that required a spirit of generosity and goodwill. While we have seen much progress, that task still remains.

"Today we remember those victims and survivors who continue to look for answers and justice and acknowledge the pressing need to find a way forward to deal with the legacy of the past."

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