Between July 2013 and December 2013, Dr. Richard Haass led peace process negotiations on how five political parties in Northern Ireland commemorate historical events related to regional conflict. The conflict, sometimes called The Troubles, began in the 1960s regarding the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and its two main communities; the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 addressed some of these issues.
We in Northern Ireland have come a long way. From the depths of violence, we have built an impressive, albeit incomplete, peace. More than fifteen years have now passed since the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. In those years Northern Ireland has reached se veral milestones, including the decommissioning of arms, the St. Andrews Agreement of 2006, and the Hillsborough Castle Agreement of 2010, which paved the way for policing and justice powers to be devolved. Political structures are in place and structures of cooperation are established. Power - sharing has encouraged and enabled individuals once at odds to work together as partners in governance.
Despite these positive steps, we have further distance to travel. Many continue to await the end of sectarianism and the peace dividend that should be all citizens' due. The division of our society runs through our schools and our neighbourhoods. Efforts envisaged as part of the outworkings of the peace process remain unfinished and 'parity of esteem' remains a work in progress. Despite the admirable efforts of individuals and organisations across the public and non - governmental sectors, many in our society struggle with needs stemming from decades of conflict. These trends jeopardise both the progress we have made to date and our ability to extend it into the future.
The past year has been particularly challenging. We have witnessed friction and civil disorder. We have also seen continued acts of violence committed by those who wish to thwart Northern Ireland's prog ress toward a shared and peaceful future.
Last spring saw the publication of the 'Together: Building a United Community' strategy by the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). This was the latest in a series of efforts, including 'A Shared Future,' published under direct rule in 2005, and a public consultation on the Programme for Cohesion, Sharing, and Integration of 2010. This Agreement Among the Parties of the Northern Ireland Executive stems from the work of a panel establishe d pursuant to 'Together: Building a United Community.' As this document stated:
We recognise that there remain difficult and contentious issues in our society. In order to take forward work on these issues, we will establish an All Party Group which will have an independent Chair from outside the political parties. The All Party Group will consider and make recommendations on matters including parades and protests; flags, symbols, emblems and related matters; and the Past. The Group will report to the Firs t Minister and deputy First Minister. The Group will establish mechanisms to hear from the various stakeholders across our community as to how best to address these difficult and contentious issues.