In light of the current British government’s rhetoric around the Northern Ireland Protocol, colloquially termed the ‘Irish Sea border’, a Fellow of St Catharine’s College has published an article exploring whether the Good Friday Agreement is actually threatened by the Protocol as several government ministers have claimed. Dr Niamh Gallagher (2009, History; Fellow 2018), Associate Professor in British and Irish History at the University of Cambridge, concludes that there is in fact no evidence based on recent statements by UK ministers to support the claim that current arrangements threaten the Good Friday Agreement.
The Agreement helped to end the thirty-year conflict known as ‘The Troubles’ and was signed by most of Northern Ireland's political parties and the British and Irish governments in April 1998. The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (commonly called ‘the Protocol’) came into effect in January 2021 as part of the UK–EU Withdrawal Agreement, in essence avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Writing in the journal History & Policy, Dr Gallagher concluded:
“The use of the Good Friday Agreement in protests over the Protocol is a political construction that bears no relation to the historical reality of why the Agreement was signed or its internal content. This amounts to policy by spin in a matter that is far too important for such an opportunistic approach, riding rough-shod over both history and law. Policymakers should instead focus on the real issues rather than politicized misrepresentations.”
Dr Gallagher examined the content of the Good Friday Agreement and statements made by UK ministers in connection with the passage of the Northern Ireland Bill in Parliament, and concluded that the Bill will override aspects of the Protocol and ultimately break international law. She explored issues around a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont, cross-community consent, trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland (positioned by the foreign secretary as Strand Three of the Agreement) and most seriously, the preservation of peace in the region.
Speaking to The Irish News about what had led her to write the paper, Dr Gallagher explained:
“No one’s opened up the document and looked at it thoroughly and compared it to the rhetoric that’s coming out of the government ministers’ mouths – I think that’s especially important because we’re now in the committee stages of the bill.”
Speaking to St Catharine’s, she added:
“The UK government is about to embark on legislation which will not only damage its relations with international partners but will compromise the very Agreement it allegedly seeks to protect.”
Gallagher, N. The misuse of the Good Friday Agreement in Ministerial protests over the Protocol. History & Policy. 6 July 2022. Available online: https://www.historyandpolicy.org/policy-papers/papers/the-misuse-of-the-good-friday-agreement-in-ministerial-protests-over-the-protocol