Reid’s message of hope

JOHN Reid urged people in Northern Ireland to celebrate their “normal” lives yesterday on the fourth anniversary of the Good Friday agreement.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said the integration of simple things, taken for granted throughout the rest of the United Kingdom, was proof that real progress had been made since 1998.

In a statement issued to mark the anniversary of the signing in Belfast of the document that breathed new life into the peace process, Mr Reid said people should not dwell on difficulties that have still to be resolved.

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He said: “It is always possible to dwell on difficulties facing the peace process and focusing on what has yet to be done, but we should also remember just how far we have come over the last four years.

“Away from centre-stage politics, real life in Northern Ireland has changed over the last four years and is continuing to change for the better.

“Belfast has the confidence to bid for European Capital of Culture 2008.

“Northern Ireland has two new cities.

“There are more people in employment than ever before. Manufacturing output has risen here while it has fallen in the UK generally.

“More people are visiting Northern Ireland and revenue from tourism has risen significantly since 1998.”

Just hours after Mr Reid’s statement, army explosives experts were called in to defuse a sophisticated booby trap set by dissident republicans.

The target, a former member of the Royal Irish Regiment, spotted the device which had been rigged up underneath his car outside the house where he lives in the village of Sion Mills, Co Tyrone.

The bomb contained 2lbs of Semtex and had been fitted with a mercury tilt switch which would have triggered a massive explosion once the car moved off.

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However, Mr Reid’s decision to take a noticeably upbeat tone about the peace process

generally reflected growing confidence in Northern Ireland that the IRA may use this Easter as a date to announce another significant act of decommissioning.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the outgoing chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, hinted earlier this week that security intelligence information suggests the Republicans are planning a significant gesture. Mr Reid reminded voters in Northern Ireland that their continued support for the Good Friday agreement would mean continuation of “normal politics”.

He said: “I firmly believe that four years ago we laid the foundations for a new Northern Ireland.

“If everyone applies themselves to the task and shows the will and commitment on all sides that has been shown over the last four years, it is within our grasp to build a better Northern Ireland for this and the next generation.”

However, dark rumblings of discontent among senior Ulster Unionist politicians continued yesterday.

David Trimble, the Northern Ireland First Minister and leader of the UUP, said the Good Friday agreement was being undermined by “side issues”.

He warned again against any deal between the government and Sinn Fein on an amnesty for on-the-run paramilitaries.

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Mr Trimble also dismissed out of hand plans to give Northern Ireland politicians speaking rights in the Irish parliament.

The long road from the Good Friday accord

April 1998: The Good Friday accord is drawn up, agreed to by all the major parties.

15 August 1998: Dissident republicans detonate a massive bomb in Omagh, killing 28 people.

September 1998: The assembly is elected.

September 1999: US Senator George Mitchell begins his review of the faltering peace process.

1 December 1999: Home rule is granted by London.

February 2000: Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson says he will suspend the assembly unless there is IRA decommissioning.

May 6, 2000: The IRA issues a statement saying it will begin a process that would "completely and verifiably" put its arms beyond use.

June 2001: Riot police are called to the Holy Cross Primary School in Belfast amid renewed tensions.

1 July 2001: Mr Trimble resigns, but leaves open a door for his return as First Minister.

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July 2001: The British and Irish governments draw up a "make or break" review of the Good Friday accord.

23 October 2001: The IRA carries out a "significant" act of decommissioning, prompting the return of all parties to Stormont assembly.