Stephen Farry on the signing of the Belfast Agreemenrt 15 years ago

Good Friday 1998 was clearly a seminal day in the history of Northern Ireland. The original intention was that the talks would conclude on the Thursday in line with deadline for agreement set by Senator George Mitchell. So in one respect time stood still, as the talks drifted past midnight into the Friday.

One practical consequence of this was that the catering contract for the talks expired on the Thursday, and the various government officials, party delegates and increased numbers of visitors had to improvise access to food and drink.

Notwithstanding the ultimate dynamics that led to agreement, it can still be said that in one respect participants were starved into an outcome.

The moment was ripe for a breakthrough. Once in the building, it was critical that none of the parties left the process or sought to ‘kick the can further down the road’ as that moment could dissipate.

The final draft agreement arrived with parties in the early hours of Friday morning, and most of the remainder of the day was taken up with the internal difficulties within the UUP over signing up to the agreement – a theme that in turn was to be a major aspect of the early attempts to implement the Agreement.

After the immediate elation of an agreement being finally reached that Friday, like other participants I returned home to sleep. The streets of Belfast were surprisingly quiet. The real euphoria came several weeks later with the outcome of the referendum.

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