Donaldson ‘doesn’t regret’ walking out of Good Friday Agreement negotiations

Twenty-five years after walking out of the Good Friday Agreement peace talks, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has insisted he has no regrets.

The current DUP leader was a senior member of the Ulster Unionists negotiating delegation in 1998.

Hours before the historic deal was reached, the Lagan Valley MP left the Castle Buildings in Stormont in protest at what his party was about to sign.

He refused to back an agreement that called for the early release of paramilitary prisoners but did not include firm commitments to withdraw terrorist weapons.

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Jeffrey Donaldson was a leading voice against the deal within the UUP and a thorn in the side of leader David Trimble (right) (Peter Jordan/PA)

The former Ulster Defense Regiment soldier was also concerned about the establishment of a commission on the future of the police and the possibility of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) being disbanded.

“Certainly when I look back on April 10, 1998 and the decisions I had to make then, they were really difficult decisions,” Sir Jeffrey told the PA news agency.

“I went into that process wanting to see peace, political stability and progress in Northern Ireland, but I was disappointed with the deal at the time.”

Sir Jeffrey said he believes the deal offered more to the paramilitaries involved in the riots than to the victims they created.

“I felt there were significant flaws in that agreement, particularly in relation to its inability to deal with the legacy of our troubled past, to establish agreements that would protect the rights of victims and survivors to seek truth and justice, and that it would have more comprehensively dealt with the whole issue of paramilitary terrorist organizations coming off the stage, so to speak,” he said.

“We’re still dealing with it, those two key issues continue to haunt the political process in Northern Ireland, they continue to hold back the kind of further progress we want to make.

“So, I don’t regret the decision I made in 1998, but what I did was dedicate my career and political involvement over the last 25 years to fixing the parts that didn’t work, to finding solutions to the parts that weren’t adequately addressed. in 1998, and I continue in that endeavor”.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson now leads the DUP (Brian Lawless/PA)

After withdrawing from the talks, Sir Jeffrey assumed the role of rebel within the UUP, leading internal opposition to the deal.

His relationship with then party leader David Trimble deteriorated rapidly, and in late 2003 he finally resigned from the party he had been a member of for over 20 years, later defecting to the DUP.

Joining him was Arlene Foster, another prominent anti-deal voice within the UUP who would eventually become leader of the DUP as well.

Reflecting on the deal ahead of the 25th anniversary, Sir Jeffrey admitted to having mixed feelings about what was achieved on Good Friday 1998.

“Well clearly Northern Ireland has come a long way in the last 25 years and there has been a lot of change, a lot of that change for the betterment of everyone here,” he said.

“However, we know that we are not out of the woods, that there are still some within our society who see violence as a way to assert their political aspirations. But of course that is wrong.

“I think what we got 25 years ago has helped create the progress we’ve made, but also the flaws in that deal have presented challenges throughout that 25-year journey.

“Indeed, one of the most fundamental elements, of dealing with our troubled past, has yet to be resolved.

“We failed to resolve it in 1998 and here we are, in 2023, and it still hasn’t been adequately addressed, and that of course is the legacy of the riots and the needs of the victims and survivors, their search for truth and justice.

“So I think as we reflect on the last 25 years, it’s a mixed report: progress has been made, there’s no question about it, but there are key areas in our society, key needs that haven’t been met, key issues that haven’t been met. have been fully addressed.

“What we have is much better than what we had 25 years ago, but it’s far from perfect.”


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