Rishi Sunak has praised the “bravery, perseverance and political imagination” shown by the leaders who shaped Northern Ireland’s peace deal.
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement ended Northern Ireland’s decades-long violent conflict known as the Troubles.
But, on its 25th anniversary, the PM has called on local politicians to “get on with the business of governance”.
As part of the milestone date, Mr Sunak will welcome the US President Joe Biden to Northern Ireland on Tuesday.
Mark Simpson explains the details of the Good Friday Agreement
Praising the Good Friday Agreement, Mr Sunak said: “This is an agreement born of partnership between the British and Irish governments and, as we will see from President Biden’s visit this week, it continues to enjoy huge international support from our closest allies.
“But, most importantly, it is based on compromise in Northern Ireland itself.
“As we look forward, we will celebrate those who took difficult decisions, accepted compromise, and showed leadership – showing bravery, perseverance, and political imagination.
“We commemorate those who are no longer with us and the many who lost their lives by trying to prevent violence and protect the innocent, and we give thanks to them as we reflect on the new generations that have grown up and continue to grow in a world in which peace and prosperity has prevailed.”
When Northern Ireland was created in 1921, it remained part of the UK when the rest of Ireland became an independent state. This created a split in the population between unionists, who wish to see Northern Ireland stay within the UK; and nationalists, who want it to become part of the Republic of Ireland. From the late 1960s until 1998 – a period known as the Troubles – thousands of people were killed and injured as violence flared between the two sides.
‘Work to be done’
Mr Sunak said that while it was important to reflect on the progress made, “we must also recommit to redoubling our efforts on the promise made in 1998 and the agreements that followed”.
“One of economic opportunity, prosperity, and stability – it is a promise we must continue to fulfil.”
Less than two weeks ago, Northern Ireland’s terrorism threat level was raised from substantial to severe, meaning an attack is highly likely. The move, based on an MI5 intelligence assessment, follows a rise in dissident republican activity, including the shooting of a top police officer in Omagh, County Tyrone, in February.
Mr Sunak added that it was his responsibility to deliver for people in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland has been without a power-sharing government since February 2022, when the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) collapsed the Stormont executive.
The DUP is boycotting Stormont because of objections to post-Brexit trade rules agreed between the EU and UK.
However, the DUP believe it cuts Northern Ireland off from the rest of the UK, and voted against a key aspect of the deal.
“We stand ready to work with our partners in the Irish government and the local parties to ensure that the institutions are up and running again as soon as possible,” Mr Sunak said.
“There is work to be done.”
On Sunday, Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said he plans to “intensify” engagement with Mr Sunak on the Windsor Framework and power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
He said history showed that political stability in the region depended on the Irish and British governments working “in lock-step”.
What will Biden do in Belfast?
Rishi Sunak will welcome the US president to Northern Ireland on Tuesday evening.
President Biden is due to make a speech at Ulster University’s newly-opened Belfast campus on Wednesday.
He will also address business and civic leaders and may speak to political parties.
His visit to Northern Ireland will be shorter than many people had expected when it was first announced last month.
It is understood that he will leave Northern Ireland that afternoon to travel to the Republic of Ireland.
Where will Biden Visit in Ireland?
During his three days in the Republic of Ireland, Mr Biden will attend engagements in Dublin, County Louth, and County Mayo.
The White House has said he is expected to address the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) on Thursday.
Mr Varadkar has said he is delighted that President Biden would be visiting Ireland.
“When we spoke recently in the White House President Biden was clear that in celebrating the Good Friday Agreement we should be looking ahead, not backwards,” he said.
Declan Harvey and Tara Mills explore the text of the Good Friday Agreement – the deal which heralded the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
They look at what the agreement actually said and hear from some of the people who helped get the deal across the line.
Listen to all episodes of Year ’98: The Making of the Good Friday Agreement on BBC Sounds.
Source : BBC