by Charles Flanagan
I am very pleased to be involved in this special edition of the Palestine-Israel Journal, which focuses on sharing experience from the peace process in Ireland. Mindful of the enormous benefits that have accrued to people across the island of Ireland through the peace process, the Irish government feels a responsibility to support sharing the experience of that process with our partners and friends internationally.
wish to express my appreciation to all of the contributors to this edition, and acknowledge their generosity in sharing their personal experience, perspective and analysis. I want also to acknowledge the excellent work of the co-editors of the PIJ, Ziad AbuZayyad and Hillel Schenker, and their team, in bringing this special edition to fruition.
While governments and political parties have a huge role to play in achieving peace and reconciliation, wider engagement and support — by individuals, communities and through civil society — is also fundamental. I am therefore especially pleased that this edition includes a broad spectrum of contributions from civil society representatives. It is the tireless and often unlauded work of people at community level that has underpinned and deepened our peace process over the last two decades and more, and they have a wealth of insight to share.
The Irish government has its own perspective on achieving and sustaining peace on our island that may be helpful to share in other international settings. But in doing so, we are very mindful that blueprints and models of peacebuilding cannot and should not simply be replicated across time and space. Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine have different contexts and histories. However, sharing the experience of peacemaking and peacebuilding in Northern Ireland can provide an important point of reference and comparison for the process of ending conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Our peace process has moved forward with adherence to some key principles, which I believe can be effective foundation stones for the peace-builders of today and tomorrow. Principles like inclusivity, comprehensiveness, the value of international support and the powerful legitimising effect of popular endorsement will be important in different ways and to different extents in every place. They have proved vital to the establishment and deepening of peace on the island of Ireland and the progress made towards genuine reconciliation within Northern Ireland, between North and South and between the islands of Ireland and Britain.
Such principles can provide a framework for peace, but without determined work by governments and others, they will remain only principles. A major building block of our peace process was the Anglo- Irish Agreement of 1985, and intensive political and societal engagement continued through to the transformational Good Friday Agreement of 1998. However, this peace settlement and agreement has had to be sustained, restarted and re-invigorated through a series of further comprehensive political processes and agreements, up to and including the negotiations following the most recent election in Northern Ireland in March 2017. The continuing nature of the process, while demanding and at times very difficult, should not be understood as an indication of failure, or a sign that the original blueprint is or was wrong. It is in fact a reminder of the first and perhaps most broadly applicable lesson of our experience: peace is a process, not an event. It requires ongoing and painstaking work and political commitment and attention, just as much after an agreement has been signed, as before.
In my time since 2014 as Minister, with responsibility for Northern Ireland, I have been intensively engaged in two sets of political talks addressing specific difficulties. As this special edition is released, the Irish and British governments are undertaking a further round of intensive engagement with the political parties in Northern Ireland to support the re-establishment of the power-sharing administration there following an election. Our fundamental approach will be to ensure that the principles of the foundational Good Friday Agreement are upheld in letter and spirit and that all aspects of this and subsequent agreements are implemented. In Northern Ireland, as in other post-conflict settings, there are no grounds for complacency, and work to achieve true reconciliation on the island of Ireland will remain a priority for the Irish government, with constant political attention and commitment, given its importance for our people.
In short, my message to readers is that the peace process which began very tentatively in the late 1970s and was progressively developed through the 1980s, did not end in 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, nor after the St. Andrews Agreement in 2006, nor indeed in 2014 or 2015, with the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements. It continues every day, piece by piece, with every small act of courage by an individual; with every gesture of compromise or act of reconciliation by a political party; and with every principle upheld by the two Governments or the power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland.
Irish people have a deep interest in the resolution of the conflict in the Middle East, rooted in our deep sense of empathy with two peoples trying to work out their future and overcome their history in a narrow space, the service of Irish peacekeepers in the area over a long period, and our own cultural attachment to the Holy Places.
We recall that at an earlier stage, when our own peace process was experiencing great difficulty in moving forward, we derived great inspiration and encouragement from the example then of the Middle East peace process, and what creative minds, courageous leadership and patience could achieve. It is often much easier when looking at another conflict than your own to see what the next step should be, and that realization can then help shape your own thinking.
We hope now to give back some of that encouragement and example and to help in any way we can in your search for peace. This edition of the PIJ is an important part of the wider work the Irish government is doing to share our own experiences. The wealth and depth of contributions in this edition, and in the long history of the PIJ, show clearly the myriad voices of men and women of good will and commitment, in both communities and in the wider world, who continue to work to advance peace despite every difficulty. We are proud to be able to support your work.