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Dublin: 13 °C Tuesday 10 December, 2019
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Column: Addressing the legacies of Northern Ireland's past and contributing to the future

Dominic Hannigan explains why former members of Northern Ireland’s fiercest paramilitary organisations are being invited to speak to TDs at Leinster House today.

Dominic Hannigan TD for Meath East

Later this morning, representatives from both sides of Northern Ireland’s sectarian divide will visit Leinster House to attend a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Among the attendees will be Seán Murray, a former member of the IRA who has served 12 years in jail, and Jackie McDonald of the UDA who has served four years in prison. They will join a discussion on how the peace process will progress in the next ten years.

Here the chairman of the committee, Dominic Hannigan TD, explains the work of the committee and outlines the need to hear voices from both communities in Northern Ireland.

The Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement was established after the peace agreement was overwhelmingly voted for through referenda in the north and south of Ireland. The committee is unique in Ireland and Britain, as the membership consists not only of TDs and Senators from the Oireachtas, but also of the 18 Northern Irish Westminster MPs.

This provides political representatives from across the island with a forum to discuss issues directly relating to the Good Friday Agreement, but also more generally issues that affect both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

I was elected chairperson of the committee in June of this year. During my term as chairperson, whilst of course addressing the economic problems challenging us North and South, I intend to concentrate on ensuring progress on work already underway – such as in the all-Ireland tourism strategy, language promotion and North/South economic cooperation.

Additionally I hope to encourage movement on outstanding issues in relation to the Agreement. I also intend to place a strong emphasis on peace and reconciliation on our island.

A fragile peace

More peace walls have been erected since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. Unfortunately, scenes of rioting appear on our TV screens all too often. Still not enough children get to participate in cross-community projects. This is why we must make a more coordinated and determined effort to tackle the societal problems that continue to divide communities in the North.

Last week, the committee visited an Irish language and culture centre in the Belfast Gaeltacht Quarter. The centre recently had a new extension opened by President McAleese, and now provides the community with a wide range of cultural facilities. The centre is part funded by Foras na Gaeilge, which along with the Ulster-Scots Agency forms the North/South Language Body, established under the Good Friday Agreement.

Members then went on to a presentation delivered by the Special EU Programmes Body – also established under the Agreement – which co-ordinates projects in the North and the Border Region funded by the European Union. Members were shown several peace and reconciliation initiatives, including the recently opened gate in a Peace Wall which has divided Alexandra Park in North Belfast for over seventeen years.

Diverse backgrounds

Today the committee will hear from speakers who come from diverse backgrounds. Two speakers, both prominent leaders from different traditions in Belfast, will address the committee. They will provide members with their community’s story – where they are and where they want to go. Joining the two speakers are the High Sheriff of Belfast and a community activist involved in promoting North/South relations.

We hope that the contributions from this diverse group of speakers will bring a new level of shared understanding of the real issues that are faced by communities in the North.

I hope to learn from the speakers so that we can determine the direction of the committee over this term. Through having speakers from different backgrounds address the committee, and visits to different parts of Northern Ireland and the border region, I hope that we will develop a better understanding of the issues.

Through addressing the legacies of the past, and developing cross border initiatives, hopefully we can then make a meaningful contribution to the future.

Thirteen years on from the Good Friday Agreement, we all, North and South, must evaluate how we have progressed in the spirit of the Agreement and where we want to go. Recent attacks on the peace process have sent us a direct signal that our hard-won peace is something we must never take for granted.

This committee provides us with many opportunities to work together to address all of these concerns – whether they be regarding the peace process, social issues, or the economic problems that affect us all. I am excited about facing the challenges of the term ahead and hope that the committee can make a real impact for the betterment of all of us living on this island.

Dominic Hannigan is a Labour Party TD for Meath East, and Chairman of the Joint Committee for the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

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About the author:

Dominic Hannigan  / TD for Meath East

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