The wave of Troubles that began in Ireland in 1968 may now be nearing its end. Last week, fittingly enough on Good Friday, negotiations between British and Irish, Catholic and Protestant politicians ended successfully with an agreement all major parties supported. An agreement has been ironed out between the parties whose hatred of each other has resulted in the deaths of thousands and the misery of millions. Now it is up to the Irish public and its elected representatives to support the agreement and out it into practice.
The agreement was reached after 22 months of talks mediated by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, which included moderates and hard-liners from both sides who renounced the use of violence. This was key to the agreement – any final compromise would have to be acceptable to both Catholic and Protestant militants. This inclusion of the different parties who had waged war against one another for years resulted in an agonizingly slow pace of negotiations. Frustration with that slow pace several times led to the breaking of guerrilla groups’ cease-fires.
But the public’s exhaustion after decades of hostility, terrorism and death kept negotiations alive. How much longer could the killings go on? How many more murders of Protestants, only to be avenged by a fatal retaliation against Catholics, and vice versa, would be necessary until people had enough? Though some splinter groups have vowed never to accept any peace, the Irish people seem to have decided that it was time to start resolving the Troubles.
As this Easter weekend passes, the Irish have more of a reason to celebrate than in years past. But much more remains to be done. The agreement is worthless unless the public actively supports it and works to transform what is written on paper into an everyday reality. Generations of distrust and hatred will not disappear overnight. Nor will this agreement resolve all the concerns of the different segments of the Irish population. This agreement is, however, the best chance in a long time for the beginning of a real peace. It is now up to the general public to make it happen.