President of the MCI On The 20th Anniversary Of The Good Friday Agreement

President of the Methodist Church in Ireland

Statement On The 20th Anniversary Of The Good Friday Agreement

On the 20th Anniversary of the Belfast Agreement which was finalised on Good Friday 1998, the first thing for us to do is celebrate the fact that Northern Ireland is a much more peaceful place than it was in the decades leading up to the Agreement. We must never lose sight of this fact nor ever take it forgranted. We also want to celebrate, on this anniversary, the key principles which were enshrined in the Agreement. In particular the principles of consent and of mutual respect for the identities and history of the various traditions in Northern Ireland. We further want to celebrate the courage, hope and commitment to reconciliation that was displayed by many people twenty years ago.

Nevertheless, without losing sight of all that there is to celebrate on this anniversary, we also must recognise that for many the overriding feelings at present are feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness. We also must admit that respect is not always shown to each other in our society. Indeed it could be said that there is in fact less active engagement towards reconciliation at every level of our society than there was twenty years ago.

So, in this context of having much to celebrate and much to lament, what can we do now? In answer to that question the Methodist Church in Ireland calls us all to three key challenges:

1.The first challenge to every single citizen and leader in our society is to make a point of seeking out someone who you know you will disagree with to take time to just get to know them. The aim need not be to come to agreement but rather to get to know the person with whom you disagree. A segregated community where we only know people with whom we agree will never really be a place of peace.

2. Our second challenge is to politicians at every level. All of the political parties in Northern Ireland affirm that they want the best for all the people of Northern Ireland. So we would urge politicians to unite around working to fulfil their mutual desire for the betterment of life of all the people. Even as different views of sovereignty persist we call on our leaders to work together in addressing crucial issues such as hospital waiting lists, resources to education and legacy matters. In dealing with the latter our primary concern should be the welfare of victims and their dependents. Whatever ideological differences might persist we call on our leaders to forge ahead together to address these issues which affect all of the citizens of our land.

3. Thirdly, we invite EVERYONE – citizens of Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland, politicians, governments, and churches to redouble our efforts to strengthen relationships by engaging in genuine dialogue, real listening and constructive engagement. In these days of uncertainty, which can so easily lead to deep-seated fears rising up, there is an increasing need for us all to be proactive in seeking mutual understanding. Instead of slipping further apart let us all make a conscious decision to take active steps towards rebuilding trust and generating respect.

It was active, brave steps towards real engagement which generated the Good Friday Agreement and we call everyone to be courageous and proactive in building trust, respect and ultimately reconciliation. We need to stop using the word reconciliation as a noun but start living it as a verb.

Rev. Dr. Laurence Graham

President of the Methodist Church in Ireland