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IBIS ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2008

From Conflict to Consensus: The Legacy of the Good Friday Agreement

Clinton Auditorium, UCD
3 April 2008

Pictured (l-r): John Coakley, IBIS; An Taoiseach, Mr Bertie Ahern, TD; UCD President, Dr Hugh Brady; Rt Hon Mr Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Pictured (l-r): John Coakley, IBIS; An Taoiseach, Mr Bertie Ahern, TD; UCD President, Dr Hugh Brady; Rt Hon Mr Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The 2008 IBIS Annual Confernce, From Conflict to Consensus: The Legacy of the Good Friday Agreement, was held on 3 April at the Clinton Auditorium, UCD.  The conference, which marked the 10th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement, took place amid a whirl of activity as it coincided with the resignation of keynote speaker, Mr Bertie Ahern, TD, as Taoiseach.

The conference began with an overview of the factors that brought the Agreement into existence.  Lord Bew addressed the role of the parties in formulating the Agreement, focusing on government policy as well as social and demographic factors. Dr Martin Mansergh, TD, followed by addressing the role of the governments at the present phase of the settlement.  The first session ended with Elizabeth Meehan placing the Agreement in a British-Irish and European context, touching on how the EU both facilitated and hindered the settlement process.

Dr Hugh Brady, President of UCD, then introduced the guest of honour and keynote speaker, An Taoiseach, Mr Bertie Ahern, TD. The Taoiseach began his address by paying tribute to those who were central to teh peace and settlement process.  Looking ahead, he noted new British-Irish initiatives in Northern Ireland such as the 'massive programme of joint investment in infrastructure'. He noted too that the task of developing the economy, 'including on an all-island dimension' is crucial to the future.  The Taoiseach ended his speech to a warm standing ovation with a quote from Thomas Paine: 'If there must be trouble let it be in my day, that my child may have peace'.

The conference turned to the vital topic of the interaction between the Agreement and the groups which have been parties to the conflict. Henry Patterson examined the effects of the peace process and Good Friday Agreement on unionist politics, arguing that David Trimble's emphasis on the consent principle as the core of pro-Agreement unionism was not an adequate response to the widespread feeling in the unionist community that the process and the Agreement were producing a substantial shift in favour of nationalism and republicanism. Paul Arthur focused on teh shifting nature of relationships inside the nationalist/republican community, noting that electoral and intra-ethnic competition stretches back four decades from the remoulding of constitutional nationalism to the evolution of a civic republicanism. Jennifer Todd of UCD rounded up the session with a presentation that examined changing patterns of identity in Northern Ireland in the last decade. People's ways of being British, Irish, Protestant and Catholic are changing, she argued, and the official discourse needs to be adapted to recognise and encourage these popular changes away from opposition.

After a positive response to the Taoiseach's address by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr Shaun Woodward, MP, on behalf of the British government, the conference was brought to a conclusion by IBIS chair, Sir George Quigley, whose remarks focused on the future of the British-Irish relationship.