“We have an unwritten rule here for strangers. You don’t talk about religion or politics. You talk about the weather. We are very good at talking about the weather here. But we don’t talk about religion or politics to a complete stranger. Absolutely not.”
With historical antecedents going as far back as the twelfth century, the contemporary manifestation of the conflict in and about Northern Ireland claimed over 3,700 lives and caused at least 43,000 physical injuries, most occurring between 1968 and 1994, during which time the total population grew from around 1.4 million to around 1.6 million. The story of conflict in and about Northern Ireland was so ubiquitous that even travel guides take it for granted. It is easy to imply that, despite exquisite landscape, welcoming people, and astonishing cultural endeavours, nothing else ever happened in Northern Ireland except violence, sectarianism and a peace process. Ceasefires called by the pro-Irish Republican and pro-British Loyalist factions in 1994 paved the way for peace negotiations among northern Irish political parties, supported by the British and Irish governments. Chaired by U.S. Senator George Mitchell, the negotiations resulted in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which called for a power-sharing local government to be established, police reform, early release of prisoners convicted of conflict-related offenses, decommissioning of weapons held by paramilitary organizations, human rights and equality legislation, and aspired to a shared future.
Nearly two decades since the agreement have seen further successor agreements negotiated and sometimes substantive, sometimes piecemeal implementation. Violence has vastly decreased, although there is a continuing threat from a minority of dissident Republicans and protesting Loyalists. Early prisoner release, police reform, paramilitary decommissioning, human rights and equality legislation have all been completed. Power-sharing functions at a level of basic effectiveness, but a comprehensive policy for dealing adequately with the past and especially the needs of victims/survivors has not been achieved, nor has adequate shared future policy legislation been enacted.