25 years of Good Friday Agreement – Finland’s peace mediation efforts continue

The Good Friday Agreement was signed on 10 April 1998 after lengthy negotiations, bringing to an end three decades of violence in Northern Ireland.

The Good Friday Agreement is an accord between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of the Republic of Ireland on measures to achieve lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

Finland had a prominent role in the peace talks and in the peace agreement’s implementation. Finland’s former Prime Minister Harri Holkeri played a leading role in a trio that was chaired by former US Senator George J. Mitchell in 1995–1998. Their recommendations paved the way for the Northern Ireland peace talks, which they also co-chaired. President Martti Ahtisaari, too, contributed to the peace process by co-chairing the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and by overseeing the decommissioning of IRA’s weapons 2000−2001.

Finland’s central role in negotiating and implementing the Good Friday Agreement is held in high esteem in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Queen’s University Belfast hosts every year a lecture in the Harri Holkeri Lecture Series. Speakers have included President Ahtisaari and President Tarja Halonen from Finland and President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins. This year, the Annual Harri Holkeri Lecture will be delivered by Dr Anne Anderson, former Irish diplomat of long standing.

Right in photo former Prime Minister Harri Holkeri co-chaired the talks in 1995–1998 along with Senator George J. Mitchell (centre in photo) and General John de Chastelain (left in photo). Photo: Archives of the Embassy of Finland in Dublin
Former Prime Minister Harri Holkeri (right) co-chaired the talks in 1995–1998 along with Senator George J. Mitchell (centre) and General John de Chastelain (left). Photo: Archives of the Embassy of Finland in Dublin

Ambassador Timo Kantola describes the peace talks as follows: “I assisted Harri Holkeri in the process leading to the peace talks when progress was stalled by a disagreement on whether decommissioning of arms was a precondition for starting the talks. An International Body, also known as the Mitchell Commission, was formed to resolve the issue. It set out six principles in January 1996 under which parties could enter into the peace talks. In my estimation, Holkeri was incremental in introducing into the principles an emphasis on confidence-building measures that went beyond the question of decommissioning. Later this contributed to the successful completion of the peace talks,” Kantola says.

Finland as peacebuilder

Finland will continue its active peace mediation efforts. In the past ten years, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has consistently strengthened the position of mediation nationally and internationally. Conflict prevention, peace mediation and peacebuilding are priorities in our foreign policy that gain on importance. Over the years, Finland’s extensive experience in mediation has helped not only Northern Ireland but also the Western Balkans, the Aceh Province, the Horn of Africa and South Caucasus.

Finland has a great deal to offer in conflict prevention and conflict resolution. Our own history and our national strengths make us a credible and reliable mediator. Finland has a wide array of good experiences and examples of successful mediation.

Our priorities are:

    • Getting women and young people involved in peace processes.
    • Getting religious leaders and other figures involved in mediation.
    • Practicing water diplomacy that combines Finland’s expertise in water and sanitation with our expertise in conflict prevention and conflict resolution.

We must create room for mediation through normative work. Finland has been developing this actively in the European Union and the United Nations, among other forums.

It is important to forge partnerships with civil society organisations and to be active in multilateral forums. In addition, Finland implements and funds projects that support mediation and invests in measures that strengthen its national mediation capacity.

No quick results

Mediation has a long time span and it is fraught with risks and uncertainty. It takes years to reach any results, and it is important to be active at many levels, by opening a line of communication between key figures of conflict parties and by increasing dialogue between people across conflict lines. Mediation is a highly competitive field. Finland works to provide added value and support for finding sustainable solutions to conflicts.

The Centre for Peace Mediation under the Political Department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs reinforces Finland’s expertise and capacity in mediation matters and coordinates both work within the Ministry and cooperation with other actors.