Kennedy praises Good Friday Agreement

The Good Friday Agreement set the North on a path to reconciliation and peace 10 years ago, Senator Edward Kennedy said today.

The Good Friday Agreement set the North on a path to reconciliation and peace 10 years ago, Senator Edward Kennedy said today.

As politicians who negotiated the accord, including outgoing Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, gathered in Belfast to mark its 10th anniversary, the veteran Massachusetts senator paid tribute in Washington to the people of the North and their leaders.

"The people of Northern Ireland and the courageous leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland, Ireland, and Great Britain, all deserve special recognition on this day for their deep and unwavering commitment to peace.

"We salute them for their extraordinary accomplishment and difficult compromises they were able to achieve to create a greater and better future for the people of Northern Ireland.

"Their success is an example to the world of what can be accomplished with courage and commitment."

The Good Friday Agreement set up 10 years ago the power sharing institutions and Assembly at Stormont that existed today and was negotiated by the Irish and British governments along with the Ulster Unionists, SDLP, Sinn Féin, cross community Alliance Party, the Progressive Unionist Party, Ulster Democratic Party, Women's Coalition and the Northern Ireland Labour Party.

Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists walked out of the talks which led to the Agreement when Sinn Féin joined them in 1997.

The party opposed the involvement of Sinn Féin in powersharing while the IRA remained armed and active, police reforms and early paramilitary prisoner releases.

However, after the DUP became the North's largest party, it negotiated eight years later the St Andrews Agreement after the IRA ordered its units to stand down and completed disarmament.

After Sinn Féin signed to participation in policing, the DUP struck a powersharing deal last March with Gerry Adams party, with both parties heading up a new devolved government from last May.

Senator Kennedy said there had been extraordinary benefits and advances for the North during the past decade.

"Guns are out of politics and power is being shared on an equal basis," he noted.

"Future generations in Northern Ireland will live in peace, stability and prosperity, and they will do so because of the extraordinary commitment by leaders on all sides to a peaceful resolution of conflict based upon mutual respect for all the people.

"All Americans congratulate the people of Northern Ireland on this auspicious anniversary.

"They were truly blessed to have such extraordinary peacemakers among them, and we pray for similar leadership in resolving the other bitter conflicts that challenge our world today."

Senator George Mitchell, who chaired the Good Friday Agreement talks, will be joined at a symposium in Belfast today reflecting on the agreement by Mr Ahern, Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey, SDLP leader Mark Durkan and his predecessor John Hume and PUP leader Dawn Purvis.

During a visit to Belfast for the European Mediation Network's conference, Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern said the Good Friday Agreement had brought incredible change to the city and to other parts of the North.

He also paid tribute to Bertie Ahern, who announced last week he was retiring from frontline politics and as Taoiseach on May 6, for the role he played in the North.

"The process will miss him because of his incredible contacts and his personal dealings with people," the Louth TD admitted.

"However we are all aware in politics that nobody is indispensable. Time moves on.

"(The new Fianna Fáil leader and Taoiseach-in-waiting) Brian Cowen has great reputation in the North and with people on the world stage, and I am sure the transition will be seamless."

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