Good Friday/Belfast agreement: a pivotal role remains for communities and philanthropy


Grassroots work within communities, often supported by private philanthropy, was vital to securing peace in Northern Ireland. Twenty-five years after the signing of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, that work remains key to sustaining progress into the future.

The anniversary of the agreement brokered on April 10, 1998 has drawn international attention, offering a reminder that the lessons from Northern Ireland remain of value to the global efforts to address conflict and build peace.

In this anniversary year, SCI will be hosting several focused engagements with those involved at community level and within philanthropy to capture learning and discuss the work that is required to sustain a peaceful future.

Independent philanthropy played a pivotal role in supporting peacebuilding work which might otherwise have never got off the ground.

SCI Director Martin O'Brien said: "As we mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Peace Agreement it’s important that we remember the dedicated years of careful effort by people working right across the community to create the conditions for peace.

"The progress made was built on those efforts.  Similar efforts are being made day in and day out to sustain the peace.  They are the key to sustaining the peace and require ongoing support.”

The agreement secured in 1998 was hard won and the work to sustain peace requires ongoing work.

SCI’s Migration and Peacebuilding Executive Avila Kilmurray is a founder member of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, which took part in the negotiations that led to the agreement. Avila was also director of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland from 1994-2014.

She said: “The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement required foresight and courage from many individuals, but it was also rooted in the collective community and organisational sense that violence would never offer an acceptable solution in a deeply contested society.

“It can be hard to be solution-focused in the midst of conflict, but the peace process offered the hope for something better.

“The Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition was formed in response to this hope; but it also marked the tireless efforts of so much grassroots activism that was supported by both EU PEACE Programmes and independent philanthropy.

“During these uncertain times, philanthropy played an important role in taking risks for peacebuilding, working with local activists as the R&D of conflict transformation.”

The Good Friday/Belfast agreement bridged historic divisions and provided a detailed framework for power-sharing government, demilitarisation, the release of prisoners, police and criminal justice reform, support for victims, plus new institutions and guarantees to advance human rights and equality for all.

It created a new political architecture between Britain and Ireland, linking the UK and Irish governments and replacing centuries of divisive Anglo-Irish history with a new framework of partnership.

The Northern Ireland Assembly

Communities in Northern Ireland were to share power and work together to improve society, while building reconciliation.

The Brexit era has tested the institutions of the agreement, but they have also provided the framework within which accommodations can be reached.

While the agreement has shown it can be adapted to meet changing needs, we have also seen that it is built on a foundation of core values. It is these core values which will sustain us into the future.

SCI Director Martin O'Brien added: "The agreement was built on core values of inclusion, a commitment to non-violence and it recognised the importance of protecting rights. These values remain key to reconciliation."

More on the Northern Ireland peace process:

  • SCI resources from peacebuilding in Northern Ireland here
  • Find out about our work on making change with government in Northern Ireland here
  • Read our analysis of the impact of media decline on community relations in Northern Ireland here