The story of Yes #GFA20

The story of Yes #GFA20
by Raquel GOMEZ for Shared Future News
22 May 2018

Three short documentary films about the YES Campaign of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) — The Story of Yes (directed by Grace Sweeney), 54 Towns (by Ryan Ralph), and Hope on the Border (by Mairead Ní Threinir) — were screened in the Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast.

Within the framework of the 20th anniversary of the GFA referendum, these three films show, through key figures, how the campaign was carried out. ‘YES’ was a positive campaign, full of hope, with a little bit of emotion along with the rational. The films have been produced by Below the Radar and funded by the Community Relations Council and Northern Ireland Screen.

The referendum on the Good Friday Agreement can be considered as the end of a long negotiation on the way forward for Northern Ireland. Twenty years ago, the ‘YES’ won by the 71.12%. It was a vote of hope for a better future.

The ‘YES’ campaign wasn’t easy; it was a battle to convince sceptical voters. Quintin Oliver, who headed up the campaign, said: “We needed to change things, we couldn’t let them continue. This motivated me to create a better society. There was a lot of scepticism; people said politicians were talking and talking and talking and nobody was listening.”

The ‘YES’ campaign was a ‘non-party and a cross-party campaign’, which was designed in a very visual way, reflecting a complex document in a simple manner. “We had two campaigns: an air campaign through the media and a ground campaign on the streets,” explained Oliver.

Celebrities like Bono (from U2) supported ‘YES’ and big banners hung over iconic buildings. “The moment when we threw the ‘YES’ banner in the Europa Hotel was fantastic; the weather had been awful in the previous five weeks, but the sun suddenly came up,” remembers Oliver. From Belfast, the campaign was spreading across Northern Ireland to local towns and local communities.

One of the three short films, Hope on the Border, showed the hoping for peace and the support for ‘YES’ from some communities, especially those which were divided physically. The border between Co. Monaghan (Ireland) and Co. Fermanagh (Northern Ireland), where most of the roads were closed for more than twenty years, was an example of crossing the divide. Citizens reopened, on their own, one of the roads across the counties before of the GFA was signed.

Twenty years after the referendum, many things have changed. Oliver highlighted: “We have a Northern Ireland that isn’t dug in by the fear of the next bomb or the next shooting. The GFA was, as Bill Clinton said, an act of genius, not just here on this island, but across the world, because people look to us as a symbol of the democratic movement from war to peace. It rests in the history books as an important moment, when the people spoke and when the people said yes to a complex agreement that we are now still trying to operationalise and still trying to implement.”

On 22 May 1998, 71.12% of Northern Irish people voted for the end of the conflict and for a new shared beginning.

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