What next for #GFA25?

26 April 2023 - by Anna Mercer

As the dust settles from the departed motorcades ferrying various former and current Heads of State and VVIPs after the QUB conference last week, this week in politics tells a very different story.

Further cuts to the education budget in the shape of no new school buildings or extensions in the next financial year and an open letter on behalf of more than 50 public bodies stating that critical services are being put at risk by a lack of a Stormont budget; the contrast between the past, present and future brought into focus by the anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is stark.

Reflecting on the journey we have come since 1998, and the incredible efforts it took to bring us to this point, not only by politicians, but by quiet heroes in communities keeping the peace, is important, and it was timely that we give pause to understand the changes and progress made in our recent history.

It is also important to be ambitious and look forward, to encourage the next generation to lead in creating the kind of society that represents people born after 1998, and who have grown up in a society of relative peace.

However, the piece that is most difficult, but which now needs attention, is the present. Just as in 2019 and indeed before then there are distinct dangers to deploying a  “problem pile-up approach” to political management. In pressurising our political parties to return to the institutions through the threat of water charges or education cuts, we are recreating conditions that we are all familiar with - short-term resolutions and crisis interventions; tinkering at the edges to get people back around the table.

But this approach has only got us so far and it is time to invest energy into creating a more sustainable system and structure.

While much heralded, the New Decade New Approach deal didn't attract sufficient investment to drive the reforms required to implement the ambitions of the agreement. 

The scale of the pressures on public funding are unprecedented, and this year’s budget is particularly challenging with some improvement expected in 24/25; but it is clear that things are going to get worse before they get better, and we will hear many more voices speak out on the devastating impact that cuts will have – more often than not – on the most vulnerable.

There are no instant solutions, but there are actions that can be taken to start addressing the problems we are seeing. Many of these are technical; few are electorally enticing; and they need commitment and staying power from politicians, officials and the UK and Irish governments if we are to deliver the recalibration required for more sustainable politics and public policy.

Only then can we start to address the legacy of problems from a system that delivered peace but whose potential for prosperity and wellbeing remains untapped. In focusing on generating agreement to govern, we need to equip our politicians and civil servants to do this for the long term.

This requires support from a range of people, including the UK and Irish governments.  From businesses to charities and academia, we have the expertise, skills, services and insights to bring stability, and with the right conditions that’s entirely achievable.