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DUP and Sinn Féin put 'grave pressure' on Good Friday Agreement, says Northern Ireland negotiator

A former top official in the Department of Foreign Affairs made the comments at an event in Trinity this evening.

Rory Montgomery said that both the DUP and Sinn Féin had undermined John Hume's vision for the Good Friday Agreement.
Rory Montgomery said that both the DUP and Sinn Féin had undermined John Hume's vision for the Good Friday Agreement.
Image: Brian Lawless/PA Archive/PA Images

THE GOOD FRIDAY Agreement has been under “grave pressure” for years ever since Sinn Fein and the DUP took over top roles in the Northern Ireland government, a senior negotiator of the agreement has said.

Speaking at an event in Trinity College Dublin this evening, a former top official in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Rory Montgomery, who helped negotiate the Good Friday Agreement, warned that Sinn Féin and the DUP had both damaged the principles of “understanding and reconciliation” that underpinned the document. 

Montgomery retired from the Department of Foreign Affairs earlier this year. 

Ever since the 2016 referendum in the UK, many have warned that Brexit has threatened the landmark 1998 peace agreement. These fears have increased in recent months as concern has grown that the UK is heading towards a no-deal exit.

Montgomery told the audience that while Brexit had “damaged the fabric of the Good Friday Agreement”, it had been under strain long before the 2016 vote. 

Former SDLP leader John Hume’s vision of understanding and reconciliation, Montgomery said, had been put “under grave pressure ever since the DUP and Sinn Féin took over the running of the executive”. 

In 2007, after years of negotiations to end direct rule, then-DUP leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness were sworn in as first and deputy first ministers in Stormont. 

Northern Ireland has been without a government for nearly three years after Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister over a row with the DUP. 

Since then, concerns have grown that the region is again heading towards direct rule from London. 

“The Good Friday Agreement was entirely a top down process,” he said this evening, adding that grassroots movements played only a small role in solving the decades-long violence. 

“It wasn’t until political leadership was exercised,” he said, that action was taken to end the conflict. 

The event, part of the university’s ‘Behind the Headlines’ series of talks, saw a panel discuss the future of Ireland and the prospect of a border poll. 

Alongside Montgomery, speakers included award-winning Northern Irish writer Jan Carson and Trinity law professor Dr David Kenny, as well as Trinty’s Dr Etain Tannam, an expert on British-Irish relations. 

Kenny and Tannam, alongside academics from the UK and Northern Ireland, are involved in a new project examining the practicalities of a border poll and a united Ireland. 

Diaspora referendum

Montgomery also suggested that any referendum on giving Irish people living abroad a vote in the presidential election might not pass. 

Such a referendum has long been promised but has been beset by delays. The Sunday Business Post reported last weekend that the referendum would be delayed again by Brexit. 

Describing it as a “sensitive question”, he said that “potentially you have far more people interested in voting living in Northern than living in Britain, let alone in the the US or France or wherever”. 

Adding that he was interested to see if such a referendum would succeed, he said he wasn’t “100% sure it will”. 

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