1 of 8 | A man walks with a cross as residents from the Falls and Shankill Roads in Belfast, Northern Ireland create a human peace wall to form a line of solidarity between the two communities to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace agreement on Friday. Photo by Mark Marlow/EPA-EFE
April 10 (UPI) -- The Good Friday peace agreement, which ended "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland in 1998 after decades of violence, marks its anniversary Monday, withstanding 25 years of challenges.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who helped broker the deal, said it remains an example for solving conflict.
"The fact that the Irish got a system that the culture of both sides could accept and that was good enough so that if neither side could prevail on ... accounting for the past, I think is something to celebrate," Clinton told Ireland's RTE TV in an interview that aired Wednesday.
Clinton was on the phone late into the night with the negotiators in Northern Ireland as they hammered out the deal, including Sen. George Mitchell, sent as a special envoy from the United States.
"I said a prayer of gratitude. I was so happy. There were people on all sides of that who wanted their children to grow up with normal lives. It was an enormous act of trust, but they trusted in a framework that should be able to work nearly anywhere if more people would accept it on the front end."
U.S. President Joe Biden, who is of Irish Catholic heritage, will travel to Northern Island on Tuesday to mark the anniversary, which comes amid renewed displeasure with the agreement and new developments from Brexit, which have complicated relations in the region.
Clinton called it nothing short of a miracle that the agreement held amid Brexit.
"Brexit was aimed right at the heart of the agreement, even if not intentionally. But the peace held," he said." The Irish peace held."
Biden is scheduled to give a speech on Wednesday at Ulster University in Belfast. And Bill and Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State, are scheduled to attend a conference at Queen's University in Belfast later this month to mark the Good Friday anniversary. Hillary Clinton serves as chancellor of the university.
Roots of 'the Troubles'
Northern Ireland was created in 1921 and remained part of the United Kingdom while Ireland became an independent state. This led to turmoil and, starting in the 1960s, periodic violence broke out between those who wanted to remain with the United Kingdom and others who wanted to join Ireland.
From the late 1960s until the late 1990s, more than 3,500 deaths were attributed to the hostilities, otherwise known as "the Troubles."
Among the many episodes, police defused a 1,200-pound bomb in the town of Newtonhamilton. In September 1991, the Irish Republican Army launched a mortar attack on a security patrol northwest of Belfast, killing a police officer and wounding a soldier.
In July 1997, a ceasefire was announced as peace talks were conducted. The peace talks held for six months, but in January 1998 the loyalist Ulster Freedom Fighters violated the ceasefire by killing three Catholics, which threatened to derail discussions.
Finally on April 10, 1998 an agreement was reached. The new deal established a new government that recognized unionists and nationalists. It also officially established that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and can only be changed through a popular referendum.
The agreement also took aim at the violence that had plagued the region, by forcing armed groups to get rid of their weapons.
During the final hours of the peace talks, presidential aides described Clinton as being involved in about a dozen phone calls to various leaders involved in the negotiations.
Among them were Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, Unionist leader David Trimble and moderate Irish nationalist and member of Parliament John Hume.
"In terms of the give and take, you know, I made a lot of phone calls last night and up until this morning -- actually until right before the last session," Clinton said at the time. "But I think the specifics are not all that important. I did what I was asked to do."
After the agreement, Adams said "We have hit over and over again until we struck a bargain."
The agreement has stood for 25 years, though not without challenges. Just several months later, on Aug. 15, 1998, the Real Irish Republican Army exploded a bomb in the town of Omagh, killing 29 people. UPI reported at the time it was the single biggest massacre of the Troubles.
While the ceasefire has held since 1998, the agreement has run into trouble recently, particularly with the turmoil in the United Kingdom caused by Brexit.
Peter John McLoughlin, a professor at Queen's University Belfast has said the Biden White House "helped steer Boris Johnson toward a Brexit deal which prioritized peace in the region."
The Democratic Unionist Party, the second-largest party in Northern Ireland, has refused to participate in a power-sharing government with Sinn Fein, the largest party, over a trade agreement that they argue treats Northern Ireland differently than other parts of Britain.
Biden had expressed discontent with the dispute, which had placed his potential involvement with the Good Friday Agreement ceremonies in doubt.
However, in February, the British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attempted to address the dispute by signing the Windsor Framework.
That deal creates a customs check-free "green" lane for goods destined for Northern Ireland and a "red" lane for goods passing through the province en route to the Irish Republic and establishes an arbitration panel made up of Northern Ireland and EU judges.
Still, the agreement faces an uncertain future. A recent poll showed that a majority of unionists in Northern Ireland would vote against the agreement if a referendum were held today.