Belfast Agreement 25 years on

The role played by European Union

Sir, – You have given much excellent coverage to the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement. In all of it, we should not overlook the contribution of the EU. After the 1994 ceasefires, the EU quickly launched its peace programme. The EU publicly showed its support to build on the ceasefires in statements at the highest political level.

The EU programme was intended to (and did) bring together people of the different communities – and in the Border counties – to work on practical matters. Projects addressed youth, local infrastructure, urban improvements, enterprise development, cultural and environmental heritage and so on. Through collective action, communities saw results, which began to demonstrate the benefits of cooperation rather than confrontation.

As an EU official working on the first edition of the EU peace programme (which is still active a generation later), I saw communities start to realise that they shared as many ambitions and concerns across divides as they had points of difference. John Hume, in particular, highlighted this point calling it the added value of Europe.

I found striking the voice it gave to those who wanted to develop a new politics to work together for a shared future. It gave increasing numbers the conviction to speak out, and gave volume and credibility to their new perspective.


The EU programme required political opponents to meet on practical matters. Opportunities arose to communicate on more divisive topics. People with previously no desire to be in the same rooms had to relate to each other to make things happen. Some of them saw that their aims were not always opposed, maybe even started to develop political relations and trust. Since the topics included controversial matters (eg prisoner reintegration), those involved were also often those most politically apart.

I do not wish to oversell the EU peace programme. However, it did – for example – facilitate republicans and others continuing to meet during the ceasefire breakdowns. The EU also provided a context – and stated its desire at the highest political level – for peace-building and reconciliation.

The programme has obvious legacies – for example, the bridge linking the two sides of the Foyle. It has continuously created networks of community action. But it is equally the message it has sent loud and clear – that cooperation trumps confrontation as an approach, whether for our continent or our islands – that deserves to be appreciated. This contribution should now, 25 years on, also be clearly recorded and acknowledged. – Yours, etc.