The signing of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998 was the result of a fraught discussions process convened to bring about an end to the terrible period of conflict known as 'The Troubles'.
During 'The Troubles', Northern Ireland became a war zone, with British troops deployed to the region in August 1969.
Many citizens of the Republic of Ireland steered well clear of the North due to the deteriorating security situation, and the news of bombings and shootings became a feature of the daily newsreels.
For many residents of the area, violence became an accepted part of daily life, but there was still a strong drive amongst many of the Northern Irish citizens to establish peace. The GFA has resulted in a return to normalcy for the region, and the levels of violence are nothing like they used to be. Belfast citizen Gerard Trainor recalls, 'I think back to what it was like before — endless funerals, riots, shootings and bombings, plastic bullets, British Army and RUC harassment. The peace is just great and I look forward to the GFA being implemented in full, ie bill of rights, equality and a referendum on the constitutional issue.'
Even citizens of Northern Ireland who do not believe that peace has been totally achieved concede that, 'the peace isn’t brilliant but it is a lot better than it was over 20 years ago.'
The GFA was heavily influenced by an international effort to effect change in Northern Ireland, amidst which Bill Clinton was one of it's strongest supporters. Recently, on the twentieth Anniversary of the Agreement, he has argued that the GFA is Northern Ireland's “best chance for peace in a generation”.
Statistics alone speak to the success of the GFA and the peace that has endured in the years since it was signed. During the twenty years before the GFA nearly 1500 people were killed
, while in contrast, in the twenty years since the Agreement was signed, fewer than 150 people have died.
While the continued violence is still a real concern to people living in Northern Ireland today, the scale is incomparable to the level of violence witnessed before the Agreement.
The violence was not only limited to Northern Ireland, as the IRA carried out a campaign of terror in the UK. The journalist Jonathan Freedland recalls how, 'as a schoolchild, I remember how routine it became for the tube home to be closed due to “a bomb scare''.
The IRA even attempted to assassinate the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984, planting a bomb in her hotel which exploded, killing five people. Since the GFA there have been comparatively few attacks on British soil. Although there was a car bomb outside the BBC in 2001
no one was killed.
The GFA has therefore helped to ensure peace not only in Northern Ireland, but in the rest of the United Kingdom too.