by Kevin Meagher
Nineteen years ago this week, Tony Blair, Mo Mowlam, Bertie Ahern the Irish Taoiseach and the various political parties were in the final stages of agreeing what became the Belfast Agreement, better known, given the day it was finalised, as the Good Friday Agreement.
It was a triumph for all involved and, whatever else his critics point to, Blair’s crowning achievement; a superb piece of leadership and political tradecraft.
It was a deal that ensured cross-community power-sharing and a devolved assembly.
The end of the British Army’s presence in Northern Ireland and the release of paramilitary prisoners.
Strengthened east-west links between the Irish and British governments and north-south bodies to create all-Ireland institutions.
It is a deal that has provided two decades of relative peace and normality and become a lodestar in the field of conflict resolution.
But the Good Friday Agreement settlement is now faltering.
The collapse of the power-sharing executive in January, (following Arlene Foster’s woeful handling of a £500m heating subsidy), Sinn Fein’s strengthened mandate in the subsequent assembly elections and the current difficulty with restoring the executive are testing its resilience as a model.
The broader truth is that the Good Friday Agreement was never meant to last. It was always a stop-gap solution. An interregnum. A transition space between the conflict of the Troubles and the advent, eventually, of a unified Irish state.