Obama Reflects on Northern Ireland at a Crossroads


As we approach the 15th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement we’re engaging in what has become an annual tradition: a reflection on how far Northern Ireland has come. This comes with the usual back patting. Then there’s a bit of critical analysis – people talking about how we must do better – from the commentariat outside of Stormont.

However, this anniversary has prompted one of the most critical reflections; from one of the major power brokers who made the agreement come about in 1998: the United States of America .

President Obama in a statement said of Northern Ireland:

“The people of Northern Ireland and their leaders have travelled a great distance over the past 15 years. Step by step, they have traded bullets for ballots, destruction and division for dialogue and institutions, and pointed the way toward a shared future for all. There is urgent work still to be done – and there will be more tests to come. The many who have brought Northern Ireland this far must keep rejecting their call.”

Mr Obama said that “every citizen and every political party” needed to work together in service of “true and lasting peace and prosperity.” He added further:

“I pledge our continued support for their efforts to build a strong society, a vibrant economy, and an enduring peace.”

The United States, like the other key partners, including the EU, British and Irish governments, involved in the Agreement in 1998 will no doubt be frustrated at the lack of progress on key issues.

Duncan Morrow, the former Director of the Community Relations Council, wrote a very critical analysis of the current situation and progress made since 1998 on a website created especially for the anniversary of the agreement – 15 Year On. He summed this up in his final paragraph:

“Without visible effort from the Executive – usually called leadership – 15 years will rapidly become a quarter of a century without change. There will be no more rhyming of hope and history. This is already a test of the whole political edifice constructed in 1998. Like every crisis, it contains opportunity. But 30 more years of ‘same old same old’ is not an option.”

Northern Ireland is very much at a crossroads, this is ironic given the 50th anniversary of the start of Terence O’Neill’s premiership, with key issues not addressed fully by this Executive in a successful way. With the raise of apathy among voters and the outbreak of protests, following the flag decision taken at Belfast City Council, along with the Dissident threat there is a sense that Northern Ireland is not at peace with itself. Confidence is a key problem as there is a lack of trust and confidence at this point. Without the leadership at the top there will be a vacuum created at the bottom leading to long term issues bubbling into more serious challenges.

[Commentary from Aaran Callan and cartoon from Brian John Spencer]

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  • 241934 john brennan

    There is an excellent article by Tom Kelly in today’s Irish News – in which he asserts that the present crop of Stormont politicians are failing to observe neither the letter, nor spirit, of the Good Friday Agreement – with resulting increase in sectarianism.
    Mick, perhaps you could summarise Kelly’s article and put it up for comment?

  • sherdy

    An article by a failed politician asserting other politicians are failing – his specialist subject.On April Fools Day forby – definitely worth a read.

  • BluesJazz

    Are you talking about Barack Obama or Tom Kelly?

    Both fit your description.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I wouldn’t mind seeing the Tom Kelly article. The GFA contained no provisions whatsoever for addressing the root causes of sectarianism, indeed it institutionalized it even more than before. It should not surprise anyone that sectarianism is getting worse.

  • BluesJazz

    Sectarianism is only getting worse in some ghettoised areas. It exists as a ghost entity among the middle class who have effectively marginalised it as an aside to economic considerations.
    The Tom Kelly article was, in my opinion, accurate but facile. We’re all facing an economic storm. I really don’t see the sectarian angle. Except for the fact that the marginalised are about to be even more so. Big time.
    But devolved adminisrations are powerless to intervene, as even national governments have limited remit.

  • ThomasMourne

    It’s pretty hard to take this patronising nonsense from Nobel Peace Laureate Obama as he continues his killing of innocent Afghan people with his remote-control warfare using drones.

    And his continued financial and military support for the Israeli aggression against Palestinians should put him well up the list of war criminals with his mate Tony.

  • That piece was meant as an April Fool’s joke on the Slugger O’Toole website, Mick? Surely, tell me that it be so, for who in their right mind would think it be otherwise and a true reflection of the stagnation in the province due to the excuse and dearth of leadership provided and effectively supported.

    And tell Obama to cut down on whatever he’s smoking/toking though, for it certainly lets him see things far too differently through rose tinted spectacles for anything he says to be considered real and believable.

    Such things just out one as being a fraud in real life and no more than a virtual puppet being badly used and serially abused, and in the pay of others.

  • “and pointed the way toward a shared future for all”

    The script-writer is apparently unfamiliar with the nuances and realities of Northern Ireland politics. Peter’s shared future is within the United Kingdom, Martin’s within a United Ireland, and there is no shared future strategy. Politics here isn’t so much at a cross-roads as circling a roundabout that has no agreed or agreeable exits.