London Daily

Focus on the big picture.

'Extraordinary rollercoaster', Good Friday talks remembered 25 years on

'Extraordinary rollercoaster', Good Friday talks remembered 25 years on

On April 7, 1998, the head of Northern Ireland's largest unionist party drafted a letter to the British prime minister announcing that he was leaving talks and that the latest attempt to end three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland was over.

Three days later one of the most significant peace deals of the late 20th century had been signed.

The anecdote was recounted by former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who only recently learnt that Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble had put in writing how close he was to walking away.

"I didn't know he (Trimble) actually did that until the other day," Ahern, Ireland's prime minister from 1997 to 2008, told Reuters in an interview near his home in north Dublin.

"That's how serious it was."

Trimble's near walk-out typified - in the words of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair - the "extraordinary rollercoaster" of the days and long nights leading up to April 10, when the historic agreement was struck between Irish nationalists seeking a united Ireland and pro-British unionists wanting to remain part of the United Kingdom.

As Northern Ireland prepares to mark 25 years of peace, Blair, Ahern and former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams recalled the tense mood in the cramped group of buildings at the seat of the local Northern Ireland government where the talks were held.

A deal looked possible one minute but in tatters the next.

"When we turned up in Belfast that April, the thing was in a state of collapse so I didn't think we would get an agreement. Sometimes it would be on, sometimes it would be off," Blair said in an interview in London.

Many unionists, drawn mostly from the Protestant majority, would not talk directly to representatives of Sinn Fein, the political ally of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and instead used the two prime ministers, who joined the local politicians during the final days, as middlemen.

Adams, who had been banned from speaking on British airwaves until just four years earlier, his words instead dubbed by actors, said his best discussions with unionists "was always in the men's room because that was the only time that they were on their own".

Ahern said the turning point came a day after Trimble drafted his letter to Blair. The Irish leader shifted Dublin's position sufficiently to get the key unionist leader back on side.

Trimble would go on to share the Nobel Peace Prize with nationalist leader John Hume, whose party was the main voice of minority Catholic voters at the time.

"It went from 6:30 in the morning hitting the wall to ending up that night... I won't say done and dusted but certainly moved along," Ahern said, referring to back-and-forth negotiations through Wednesday, April 8, during which he had also flown back to Dublin for his mother's funeral before returning to Belfast.


The compromise struck in the early hours of Friday acknowledged Northern Ireland's constitutional status as part of the UK, but also that a united Ireland could come about if a majority voted for it. It introduced a powersharing executive, reformed the Protestant-dominated police force and led to the disarming of paramilitary groups.

The agreement, which ran to fewer than 40 pages, has largely ended three decades of violence that killed more than 3,600 people and made Northern Ireland unrecognisable economically and socially 25 years on, Blair, Ahern and Adams say.

"If you look at Northern Ireland today and you compare it with how it was, it's a world of difference," Blair said, pointing to a doubling in income per capita among the region's 1.9 million people and in the number of tourists who visit each year.

Once conflict-ridden Belfast is now "a great and thriving city", he said, noting that leaders such as Adams and Trimble had had to show huge courage and skill to bring their communities on side while critics were willing to "cry betrayal".

"I was reading that half a million people have been born since the Good Friday Agreement was agreed," Adams told Reuters in a building in Belfast's nationalist Falls Road that was subjected to multiple attacks during the "Troubles".

"So that's half a million people - unless they have had personal or family experience of the conflict - that know nothing about it at a personal level. That a great boon."

There have been shortcomings too.

More than 90% of schools in Northern Ireland remain segregated along religious lines, as is housing in many areas, entrenching some of the decade-old divisions, while politics has lurched from crisis to crisis.

"It (the agreement) is seen worldwide as being massively successful and one of the few peace processes that has worked. I find myself always looking at the bits that didn't work," Ahern said.

"(But) I think maybe people forget the dilemma that we were facing was that if we didn't get the Good Friday Agreement done, the alternative was back to the mayhem... It's made an enormous difference to the island."


Related Articles

London Daily
Homeless Man Turns in Wallet with 2,000 Euros at Amsterdam Station
Apple Faces EU Charges Over Digital Markets Act Violation
Macron Warns of Civil War Risk as French Elections Approach
Julian Assange Freed After US Plea Deal
Chaotic Portugal Win Over Turkey at Euro 2024
Global Headlines: Hajj Heatwave Tragedy, Flynn's Family Enterprise, and Rising Geopolitical Tensions
Political Shifts in France, Legal Battles in the UK, and Public Protests in Israel
UK's Richest Family Convicted for Exploiting Servants
Hollande Declares End to Macron’s Political Ascendancy
Hindujas Appeal Swiss Court's Human Trafficking Verdict
Prince William Celebrates Birthday at Taylor Swift Concert
Singapore to Implement Screen Time Regulations for Children
Hello and welcome back. Here we are with your latest news update from around the world.
Hello and welcome back. Here are today's top stories from around the world, you don't want to miss:
UK PM Sunak and the Election Betting Scandal
Climate Activists Target Taylor Swift's Private Jet in UK
United States Bans Kaspersky Antivirus
US to Supply Taiwan with Suicide Drones Amid Rising Tensions with China
Bodyguard of UK Prime Minister Arrested for Alleged Election Betting
Global Displacement Crisis: Record Numbers in 2023
Muslim Community Leader Criticizes Nigel Farage for Undermining Muslims
Melinda Gates Discusses 'Horrible' Divorce from Bill Gates
Child Obesity Surge in England: A Deep Concern
U.S. Sues Adobe Over Hard-to-Cancel Subscriptions
Deadly Heat Wave Claims Dozens of Lives During Hajj Pilgrimage in Mecca
Here are today's top worldwide stories you don’t want to miss:.
World’s Largest Pilot Union Calls to Eliminate Terms Like ‘Cockpit’ and ‘Manpower’ for Equity
Woman Suing UK Intel Services Denies China Spy Allegations
Iran Sentences Nobel Laureate Narges Mohammadi to 1-Year Prison Term for Propaganda
News roundup
Good day, everyone! We've got some gripping stories for you today, spanning from the Middle East to Europe, and even a touch of Hollywood.
Britain’s Refugee Visa Rules Stranding Children in War Zones
UK Elections Predict ‘Electoral Extinction’ for PM Sunak’s Conservative Party
Italian Activist Ilaria Salis Returns Home After Election to European Parliament
Good morning!
England Faces Serbia in Euro Opener with Defensive Concerns
Dermatologist Warns Against Sunbed Usage
Fake Pro-Reform UK Social Accounts and Their Influence on Elections
UK Man Jailed for Non-Consensual Condom Removal
Reform UK Surpasses Conservatives in Historic Poll
US, Britain, Canada Accuse Russia of Interference in Moldova’s Election
Taylor Swift Fans Create Seismic Activity in Edinburgh
Sunak Aide Under Investigation for Election Bet
Labour Leader Starmer Focuses on Wealth Creation for Upcoming UK Elections
G7 to Use Frozen Russian Assets for $50 Billion Ukraine Aid
Anti-Israel Irish MEP Clare Daly LOST her seat in the EU Election
Johnson & Johnson Settles Talc Safety Claims for $700 Million
EU Urged to Welcome Skilled Russians to Weaken Putin
EU Elections Overview: Far-Right Gains and Major Political Shifts
Israel Rescues Four Hostages from Gaza