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PASSIA Training Program on

Ireland and Palestine – Divided Countries United By History
10-14 October, 2004 at PASSIA, RAMALLAH


The Good Friday Agreement and its Relevance to the Palestinian Situation

Niall Holohan

Niall Holohan
Head of the Irish Representative Office to the PA, Ramallah

The Irish Representative to the Palestinian Authority, Dr Niall Holohan, concluded the formal part of the seminar with a lecture on how the peace process in Northern Ireland progressed and took shape following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. He explained how the Irish and British Governments began to work more closely together thereafter in order to find common ground between nationalists and unionists. This led in sequence to the Downing Street Declaration of 1993, the Framework Document of 1995 and the so-called Mitchell Principles of democracy and non-violence put forward by the US peace envoy, Senator George Mitchell, in 1996. Meanwhile talks between the various parties were being conducted on a three-stranded basis reflecting the three sets of relationships underlying the Northern Ireland situation, namely relationships within Northern Ireland, between the North and the South of the island and between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In response to these moves in the peace process, the IRA announced a ‘complete cessation of military operations’ in August 1994 but this ceasefire was terminated in February 1996. The ceasefire was re-instated in July 1997. The multiparty negotiations then resumed and culminated in the Good Friday Agreement which was finally approved on 10 April 1998.

Dr Holohan described how the precise wording and structure of the Good Friday Agreement was put together by the two Governments and by those of the Northern Ireland political parties who subscribed to it. He gave an outline of the workings of the various institutions which had been established in order to ensure the full and proper implementation of the Agreement, namely:

  • The Northern Ireland Assembly
  • The North-South Ministerial Council
  • The British-Irish Council
  • The British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference

He pointed out how some of these institutions were designed to meet the specific needs of the unionist parties while others were essential to meet the needs of the nationalists. He added that new provisions in the agreement for equality and human rights as well as the release of prisoners were of particular importance to the nationalist community whereas commitments for the decommissioning of weapons were vital in order to obtain unionist acceptance. Simultaneous referendums were subsequently held on 22 May 1998 in which 71% of the electorate of Northern Ireland and 94% of the electorate of the Republic of Ireland endorsed the Agreement.

In conclusion, an effort was made to draw lessons from the Northern Ireland experience which could be relevant to seeking a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Following some lively interaction with the seminar participants, there was wide agreement that the following principles and practices might help the peace process in Palestine to move forward:

  • Build up international support and seek out key allies (e.g. as was achieved by the Irish in relation to President Bill Clinton and the Irish-American political leadership in Washington).
  • Make use of favourable elements in international legal conventions at all appropriate times (e.g. the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Court of Justice)
  • Violent resistance can prove to be a very dangerous and volatile weapon; the killing of innocent civilians is not only morally wrong but is also likely to be counterproductive to one’s cause.
  • A peace envoy or mediator introduced by a neutral third party can be immensely useful in brokering an agreement.
  • Logical creativity and openness to new concepts is essential during the negotiation process (i.e. do not insist endlessly on longstanding demands which may be impossible to achieve and which in any event may be very difficult to implement in practice).
  • Seek an inclusive agreement involving all parties to the conflict if at all possible.
  • Territorial partition may provide a short-term solution in an intricate situation but can create long-term problems.
  • A rights-based society and equality for all citizens should be a major objective in all negotiations.
  • The strengthening of civil society is essential if popular resistance to oppression is to be successful.

It was generally agreed that there are indeed some striking similarities between the Irish experience and the complexities of the situation facing Palestine at present. Many believed that a further study of these similarities might lead to an increased understanding of the deeply divisive inter-community differences which currently exist between Arabs and Israelis.


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