Columnist Ruth Wishart looks at the Good Friday Agreement 20 years on.


Most of the main players in the long running negotiating saga turned up for the birthday party.

When a peace agreement holds good – with minor infringements – for a couple of decades, then the architects are entitled to a modest bit of self congratulation.

But Belfast, transformed as it is from the days when gunmen, official and otherwise, roamed at will, is still a troubled place where tribalism is far from dead.

The fact that the two “traditions” cannot manage to re-activate a power sharing administration 15 months after its collapse tells you a lot about the wounds still festering underneath the carefully overlaid healing process.

On the surface, the sticking points seem marginal to outsiders. The status of the Irish language, the flying of flags. Get a bloody grip, we shout from the sidelines.

But when you visit this now peaceful, modernised city the signs of persistent divisions are all too evident.

It can’t be altogether normal for a modern European city to build “peace walls’ physically separating predominantly Catholic and Protestant housing areas. Or to keep erecting more of these.

It makes me uneasy to think that one of the tourist attractions these days are black taxi tours round these walls and the gable end murals which celebrated paramilitary groups.

It surely can’t be in the best interests of long term peace to have most of your children educated in faith schools where youngsters learn from the age of five that they are irretrievably different from each other.

It’s surely strange in the 21st century that people still talk darkly of “mixed marriages” and ostracise couples who break the inter faith marital taboo.

The last time I was in this city, whose people are friendly towards its visitors and who are rightly proud of the stunning scenery in its rural hinterland, I was shocked to still see overt signs of division.

Like kerb stones painted either red, white and blue or green, white and orange, depending which street you were in.

So it’s right to mark an outstanding achievement in persuading the province and its more recalcitrant denizens that the ballot box should always triumph over the bullet and the bomb.

It’s admirable that so many people in Belfast have worked tirelessly to try to transform the local economy and the entertainment offer in what is a vibrant city.

But there is much that still cannot be filed as normal in the context of a 21st century modern democracy. There is much that needs to be done to ensure the refuseniks from both sides are never again allowed to ply their bloody trade.

And it’s essential that the border issue post-Brexit isn’t allowed to give the smallest comfort to the enemies of a peace all civilised folk want to endure. Not just for 20 years but for all the generations still to come.