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Lessons from Northern Ireland’s Peace

The Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland, was signed 25 years ago. Although every conflict is unique, differentiated by cause, duration, outside support, and many other factors, some lessons from the process that led to the accord are discernible and worth discerning.

LONDON – Twenty-five years ago, I, along with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, US President Bill Clinton, and the leaders of Northern Ireland’s four main political parties, presented what became known as the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). That accord resolved a conflict that had caused thousands of deaths and untold grief and destruction for decades, arguably for centuries.

The peace, like the political institutions to which the GFA gave rise, was imperfect and fragile, and it remains so. But compare Northern Ireland today with how it was a quarter-century ago, and you can legitimately call what has been achieved a transformation. The peace has held, the economy has doubled in size, and Belfast, a city which used to be dressed in barbed wire and covered with military patrols, is now a thriving European city with a burgeoning technology sector and a bustling night life.

So, we have grounds for cautious celebration on this anniversary. It is hard to think of another truly successful peace process in recent history.

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