In 1988, one of Northern Ireland’s most divisive Protestant politicians rose to his feet and shouted at Pope John Paul II, who was addressing the European Parliament, “I denounce you as the Antichrist!”
Perhaps nothing could have more vividly symbolized the bitterness and hopelessness of the Northern Ireland conflict. A few years later, as I began my academic career studying British and Irish history, possibilities for ending the violent conflict between Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland seemed remote.
One decade later, on April 10, 1998, the Irish and British governments and the major political parties in Northern Ireland signed a breakthrough accord. Known as the Good Friday Agreement, or the Belfast Agreement, it set forth a framework for sharing power among the opposing political parties in Northern Ireland. Two years of grueling negotiations, chaired by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, appeared to put an end to a violent 30-year period known as “The Troubles.”
As the agreement turns 20, however, the future of Northern Ireland remains unclear. Several decades of certain violence, in which 3,500 were killed, have been replaced by an uncertain peace.
Northern Ireland’s government has collapsed, leaving governing power to the British Parliament at Westminster. Meanwhile, Britain’s pending departure from the European Union — known as Brexit — threatens to re-establish a formal border between Northern Ireland and its neighbor to the south, the Republic of Ireland. This could hamper the economic interactions and symbolic partnership that open …read more