Hand sculptures

Teaching the Agreement

Teaching conflict and peace using 'Agreement: A People’s Process'

History and background

Twenty years have passed since the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement was important as it led to a long-term reduction in violence, but most of all it indicated that people North and South of the Irish border voted together for peace, tolerance and mutual respect. Many people in Northern Ireland and Ireland have no experience or memory of a conflict that led to 3,600 deaths and the serious injury of some 40,000 people.  For many people who lived through the conflict, their memories and emotions are raw, and they remain hurt and harmed by what happened to them and their families.

A central component of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is the endorsement of the principle of consent. This means that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland cannot change without the consent of the majority of the people both sides of the border. Northern Ireland could remain as part of the UK, or one day it may become part of Ireland. The politics of consent will dominate much of the next twenty years.

The peace process belongs to all of us

Given that the people of Ireland – North and South – voted for the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, we must remember that the peace process belongs to all of us. That process requires that we all examine our identity and belief and that we practice our values and ideas in ways that are democratic so as to challenge sectarianism and prejudice between communities. Each of us has a role to play to help deliver peace. This is a civic responsibility based upon our actions and attitudes to support democracy and social justice.

Each of us should be advocates for a shared future between all communities on the island of Ireland. Our civic duty is based upon us belonging to a community but not in ways that cuts us adrift from other identities and cultures. As citizens we should owe loyalty to peace-building and the many positives it will bring to us all.  Citizenship means being "a productive, responsible, caring and contributing member of society."

The  'Agreement: A People’s Process'  exhibition

'Agreement: A People’s Process' explores conflict and the capacity of people to build the values of parity of esteem and mutual respect. In recognising victimhood and peacebuilding, it examines the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and violent conflict in Columbia, Iraq, and Argentina. It aims to make us think not only about the perniciousness of conflict but how we can work creatively to support peace-building and how to transform people out of conflict. The exhibition may help us discuss the following questions about civic duty and responsibility;

  1. What is prejudice and how do we best respond to it?
  2. What are my obligations to peace-building in Northern Ireland and Ireland?
  3. Is the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement relevant to me?
  4. How do I help us all live in shared and safe communities that respect diversity?


Key points for teaching The Agreement

What is the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement?

The Belfast or Good Friday Agreement was signed on 10 April 1998 and committed all parties involved to exclusively peaceful means of conflict resolution. The proper name is the Belfast Agreement but since it was agreed on Good Friday, it is more commonly known as the Good Friday Agreement.  Artist Raymond Watson made bronze casts of the hands of the signatories of the Agreement, responding to Tony Blair’s declaration; “These are the hands of history.” 

Key question:

How do the initial 'Hands of History' and the 'Hands of History +20' change your understanding of the peace process?


What is the Northern Ireland conflict about?

'Invitation to Observe' (photographic exhibition) goes beyond the “official narrative” of conflict. It records people’s experiences of conflict and the transition to peace in Northern Ireland, drawing comparisons with conflicts in Iraq, Columbia, Argentina, and Israel/Palestine.

Key question:

How do the 'Invitation to Observe' photographs 'start us on the way' of moral and intellectual engagement with conflict?


What are the challenges to the peace?

In none of the societies represented in 'Agreement: a People’s Process' is there a settlement. Instead, there is the structure upon which we alter and adapt our constitutional and other ideological preferences to respond to the need to embed and build upon democracy. Peacebuilding does not belong to a political elite, as this exhibition reminds us.

No-one who signed the Good Friday Agreement supported every line and word. For many, whether it was the release of prisoners, the reform of policing, the support of the principle of consent, and the acceptance of devolution, voting ‘yes’ to the Agreement was beyond political instinct. Engaging in conflict transformation does not mean anybody has to change their identity. Instead, they should focus on how they practice it and through mutual respect and tolerance.

Artist Raymond Watson’s work uses the space that is a prison to map out a journey of reflection and ideological questioning.

'Your Legacy Lives On' (textiles) articulates the human cost of terrorism and criminal violence. These memorial quilts do something that is rare: they do not select but embody difference.   

Key question:

How do these very different works of art change your understanding of the conflict?


What is my civic duty?

Twenty years after the Agreement, there is a focus on the failure of devolution, but there is much to celebrate. The sustained fall in violence is critical. Among young people, we see the same shared liberal values. It is estimated that around 1 in 5 marriages is across the traditional binary, and about 45% of young people do not choose the label British or Irish. People now work across the sectarian divide to quell violence, challenge its allure, and in so doing explore the reality of the hybridity of our identity. It's only politics that has to catch up.

  • Watch 'Lyrical Agreement', a 5-minute animated film exploring key points in the Agreement, through the voices of people now living in Northern Ireland   

Key question:

Create a work of art on your own or in collaboration with others, that responds to the question: “What is my civic duty?”.