20th anniversary of Good Friday Agreement

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The leaders gathering today will say the Good Friday Agreement was never an instantaneous deal to make Ireland flawless, and that this generation of political leaders need to ensure it's kept save in hard circumstances.

In a statement marking the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, and the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Richard Clarke, joined together "to give thanks to God for all that has been achieved in building peace since that historic moment" when the agreement was signed on 10th April 1988.

"The Good Friday agreement is the work of genius that's applicable if you care at all about preserving democracy", Mr Clinton said.

But the collapse early past year of the power-sharing administration at the heart of that deal meant there was no devolved government to greet them - and little sign of the province's Irish nationalists and pro-British unionists resolving the differences that have again divided them. And there are hard questions over how to avoid a hard border with the Republic after Brexit.

The agreement largely ended the 30-year sectarian conflict that claimed more than 3,000 lives.

Prisoner releases nearly torpedoed the agreement in the final frantic hours before it was signed on April 10 1998 - Good Friday.

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It enshrined the principle of consent - that Northern Ireland's constitutional position as part of the UK would only change if a majority in the region voted for it - while at the same time offering provisions that legitimised nationalist aspirations to strive for a united Ireland.

Paramilitaries undertook to destroy weapons and the IRA did so in 2005.

"What we must do now is not to despair, not to look backwards, but to reaffirm to the people and the leaders of Northern Ireland - our dedication to the principle of political differences here and elsewhere must be resolved through peaceful and democratic means, not through the use or threat of violence".

It has since served as a blueprint for how to solve conflict around the world.

Referring to the current political impasse in Northern Ireland - in January 2017, the power-sharing government in Stormont collapsed over a row between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin and the institutions remain suspended - the two archbishops challenged, "it is worth asking ourselves: is it because the principles and structure of the Good Friday Agreement have failed us, or, rather is it that we have together failed to make the most of those supportive principles which it offered?"

Former US Special Envoy Senator George Mitchell says it's made the country better: "Oh I think northern Ireland is a much better, much safer, greater place than it was twenty years ago".

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