London considers unilateral changes to Good Friday Agreement
London considers unilateral changes to Good Friday Agreement


The British government has been warned against making unilateral changes to the Good Friday Agreement in order to appease the escalating demands of the DUP.

In the aftermath of last week’s deal for the renegotiation of Brexit, the ‘Windsor Framework’, British Direct Ruler Chris Heaton-Harris said he plans to “provide further assurances” that the Union is safe through “constitutional and democratic guarantees for the people of Northern Ireland”.

Hardline unionists have demanded new legislation to counteract a perceived dilution of the 1800 Act of Union “which is why we need to make sure Northern Ireland’s place in the UK is secure”, Heaton-Harris told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Ulster programme.

The ‘Northern Ireland’ Act, the legislation that implements the Good Friday Agreement under British law, was rewritten in 2006 and at other points to provide additional concessions to unionists in return for their support for the peace process.

But SDLP leader Colum Eastwood cautioned London against making unilateral changes to the to principles of the peace deal.

“There is a very real concern that the British government is preparing to unilaterally open up the fundamental principles of the agreement as a way to buy support from the DUP for the Windsor Framework, particularly the principle of consent,” he said.

Political commentator Brian Feeney warned Heaton-Harris that he is “treading on perilous ground” with “his intention to meddle with the Good Friday Agreement”.

Queen’s University human rights expert Professor Colin Harvey described the 1998 agreement as a “constitutional compromise” that had been “crafted with great care – every word, comma, full stop”.

“Any suggestion that the British government now plans to open this up unilaterally, in a misguided effort to reassure political unionism, is troubling,” he said.

“The last thing this place needs right now is a distracting renegotiation of the agreed constitutional basics on the right of self-determination – the British government would be well advised to leave this dimension of the agreement alone.”

Speaking to BBC Radio, Sinn Féin MP John Finucane rejected the idea that Britain could hand even further concessions to unionists.

“Negotiations are over. The deal has been made,” he said. “British government interests are moving on to the next issue – it’s the same for the EU.”

The DUP has yet to decide whether to support the Windsor Framework. Extremists in the party continue to seek a better deal ahead of local elections in May. North Antrim MP Ian Paisley has demanded further unspecified concessions to be “bolted onto” the agreement, adding that it will be for unionists to determine what those concessions should be.

The party has established a consultation panel to consider the agreement and report by the end of March. An effective deadline is the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, amid speculation that US President Joe Biden could visit the North as part of a visit to Ireland to mark the anniversary.

It was reported last week that US Secret Service agents have begun security work in Ireland ahead of a possible visit. Details will emerge next week as political leaders fly to the US to mark St Patrick’s Day for the first time since 2019.

Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill said it was time for the DUP to show “leadership” and agree to restoring powersharing while still continuing its process of examining the deal.

She said the North’s access to the single market represents a huge opportunity for the region, and that the DUP cannot deliberate “endlessly”.

“We now have this unique selling point, and I want to maximise that, and I want the Good Friday Agreement anniversary on top of that opportunity to be a huge catalyst for investment here, and that should not be missed,” she said.

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