The EESC celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Peace Agreement

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20th February 1954: A painted sign on a wall in Belfast reading 'Joy, Love, Peace' in the shape of a shamrock. Original Publication: Picture Post - 7029 - The Best And The Worst Of Some British Cities 5 - Belfast - pub. 1954 (Photo by John...

The Good Friday Agreement was a historic landmark. For the first time it brought a sense of real hope to an area of Europe which was suffering from the consequences of a deeply rooted conflict. It was also the culmination of the monumental efforts of the Irish and British governments, the US presidency, the European Union and representatives of the two communities themselves.

The members of the EESC believe that one of the single most important ways of delivering peace in this region is the continued and full support of all civil society organisations that work towards implementing the Agreement.

However, in celebrating this historic compromise, the EESC, which has been witness to events in Northern Ireland for long years, is not complacent. There is an acknowledgement that more than thirty years of violence brings with it a huge legacy of ongoing pain. Families who lost their loved ones are still dealing with their loss. Structures that contributed to sectarianism still remain. These may be linked to the economy, housing, education, sport and culture and of course politics itself.

The road travelled by communities in Northern Ireland on the way to signing the Good Friday Agreement on 10 April 1998, twenty-five years ago, was a tortured and troubled one. Over three thousand people died, with many more thousands injured and whole communities living in perpetual fear.

The agreement adopted by the Irish people, living on the island of Ireland, meant that the two communities, who held diametrically opposed visions of their identity, had to devise a series of new political and other mechanisms in order to live and work together in a sustained environment of peace. These mechanisms allowed a whole host of reforms to take place in policing, in guaranteeing fundamental rights and in the development of structures that allow civil society groups to flourish. Many of these are immersed in activities devised to restore a sense of normal living in areas that endured the worst of the conflict.

As a result of this accord, there is now a new generation of young people who were not part of that darkest of times, who can live peacefully in freedom, secure in the knowledge that they can go about their daily business without continual fear. There is a huge improvement in the economy and there is a real sense of personal safety for people going about their everyday business. In the spirit of the much-quoted line of the poet Seamus Heaney "and hope and history rhyme", the members of the EESC dare to believe that this first 25 years of peace is merely the beginning