The Good Friday Agreement: The Alliance View
1. Alliance believes that this is a Good Deal for all the People of Northern Ireland. We have always argued for an honourable compromise or accommodation, and shaped our policies on the constitutional question accordingly. This is now what we have achieved.
2. While it is a ground-breaking document, it is not perfect, and is not a solution to all our problems. No party can be entirely happy, every one has had to compromise. This is true for Alliance as much as any other party. NI has been paralysed for years through Unionists and Nationalists insisting on mutually incompatible objectives.
3. The Agreement must be either accepted or rejected as a whole package. After years of negotiations, there can be no cherry-picking. No other Agreement is capable of generating broad-based support across the community.
4. The Agreement reflects many of our ideas: 1. a power-sharing regional Assembly with legislative powers and a proper Executive; 2. accountable North-South structures; 3. a new more democratic East-West relationship; 4. protections for every person’s human rights; 5. entrenchment of the Principle of Consent.
5. There have been two types of compromise. The first are the political ones between Nationalists, Unionists and Alliance. The old quarrel over Northern Ireland’s constitutional status has been aside through near universal acceptance of consent. Institutions have been created that involve sharing. Uniting people within Northern Ireland is more important than fighting over territory.
6. The second type of compromise is about ending the violence. The deal is essentially between the parties with firm democratic roots, such as Alliance, SDLP & UUP, and the paramilitary parties – the UDP, PUP, and Sinn Fein. These compromises involved issues such as decommissioning and the release of politically-motivated prisoners.
7. Alliance is uneasy over these elements of the Agreement. There pose a moral dilemma for us all. These parts of the package where necessary to ensure that the paramilitary parties would accept the deal. Having them on board may increase the prospects of peace, but there are no guarantees.
8. These concessions are not all one way. The release of prisoners will be linked to the wider confidence of the community in the quality of the ceasefires. The places of these parties in the Executive are subject to the acceptance of purely democratic and peaceful means.
9. A strong Alliance voice will be necessary to make the Agreement work. We need to overcome the rigid divisions in our society, otherwise our future remains fragile. Too many people think about ‘two communities’ rather than realising we have one community whose divisions must be healed. Sectarian divisions must not be entrenched. People must be encouraged to move from fixed positions, otherwise the whole structure could eventually collapse. Alliance will designate themselves as “non-aligned” in the Assembly, rather than Unionist or Nationalists. The number of people so described will be an important indicator of any realignment.
10. Finally, the Agreement by itself does not guarantee peace, justice, stability and prosperity, nor the end of sectarianism. But it does provide a solid foundation on which we can build a better tomorrow. This Agreement can lead to the type of non-sectarian society that Alliance wants to see. But to achieve this vision we must work hard.
This is a edited version of an article from John Alderdice to appear in the Belfast Telegraph.