Good Friday Agreement

The Ulster Unionist party (UUP) and the Social Demoratic and Labour party (SDLP) developed working realtionships where they gathered in tense, late night sessions to discuss unionist and nationalist differences. In addition to the two governements, all major political parties and parties representing the main paramilitary organizations began meeting in September 1997.1 After many months a breakthrough was made. The UUP and SDLP came to an agreement after 48 hours of non-stop negotiations in Belfast on the morning of Friday, April 10, 1998. This came to be known as the Good Friday Agreement or the Belfast Agreement.23

Bertie Ahern with Tony Blair signing the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998

As the parties addressed conflict resolution, they had to keep diversity in mind. They used a form of interdependency called "superordinate goals" which is when both groups must cooperate in order to achieve what they both need. They also had to make contact with members of the out-group, which helped reduce the problem of tension and violence between the two groups. In order to work toward reconciliation, the members of each party had to learn from their experience and learn the experience of the other in order to reach an agreement that would be suitable for all parties involved.4 The Good Friday Agreement used the term that Mcnair refers to as Public Policy: Diplomacy which is when a third party facilator helps see that acceptable outcomes evolve through the meetings. This helped resolve problems between the Nationalists and Loyalists because there was no level of trust between the two sides. The negotiaters helped build confidence as all major political parties contributed to the Good Friday Agreement.5

The Good Friday Agreement is a 65-page document which was provided as the new basis on which Northern Ireland politics and Anglo Irish relations would be conducted in the future. In addition, there would be a power-sharing assembly within the parties which would allocate chairs and vice chairs on an agreed basis. This would make a clear consensus necessary for agreement on issues of relevance to both communities.6 The Good Friday Agreement provided a closely interlocking system designed to take into account political relationships within Northern Ireland, between the north and south, and between Britain and Ireland.7

In the Agreement the citizens of Northern Ireland would determine the constitutional future of Northern Ireland. Citizens would have the right to decide whether they wanted a British identity, an Irish identity, or both, and would hold passports with each identity.8 The agreement addressed the republican preoccupation with self-determination. A consent requiring the citizens of Northern Ireland to decide whether it stayed with Britain or joined the united Ireland. It provided the rewriting of Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution, which worked to remove what Unionist regarded as the objectionable claim to the Northern Ireland territory.9

The Agreement set up the Northern Ireland Assembly. This consisted of 108-members who are elected by proportional representation, and Ministers to Excecutive who are appointed according to their party's strengths. Westminster would delegate full power over areas such as education, health and agriculture and including the right to make new laws. London would still retain responsibility for matters such as defence and law and order. London promised to consider transferring security powers at a later stage.10

Issues addressed in the agreement were; 1) Setting up an Equality Commission and a Human Rights Commission. 2) The development of social, economic, and cultural inclusion policies. 3) Recognize the needs of victims 4) The acceleration of paramilitary prisoner release. 5) The normalization of security arrangements as the threat of violence diminished. 6) The setting up of independent commissions for the criminal justice system and the police.11

The North-South Ministerial Conference (NSMC) was set up to bring Northern Ireland Executive and Irish government to oversee the work of six cross-border implementation bodies. The12 British-Irish Inter-Government Conference was established to promote bilaterial cooperation between the UK and Ireland. This replaced the Anglo-Irish Inter-Government Council.13 The three strands of Northern Ireland Assembly, North-South Ministerial Conference, and British-Irish Inter-Government Conference are inter-connected to provide checks and balances between the groups.

The new government was to consist of a First Minister, a Unionist, and a Deputy First Minister, a Nationalist. Beneath them were to be ten departmental ministers who would be allocated in proportion to the strength of the party, according to an agreed on mathmatical formula. The assembly's rules ensure important decisions must be taken on a cross-community basis, which meant they needed the support of both Unionist and Nationalist members in order to take effect.14

The controversial decommissioning issue was resolved with all parties confirming their intention to achieve the decommisioning of all paramilaitary arms within two years. The decommissioning section was very vague and open to different interpretations. Brendan O'Leary argued the document offered equal ligitimacy to both parties. The subtlest part of the agreement was a "tacit double protection" which protected rights of the Nationalists and the same rights for the Unionists in what is hoped to be a united Ireland.15

The Republican community did not take long to agree to the document, but the Unionist party had deep division between the UUP. Trimble accepted the agreement, which was a huge step since a large proportion of the Unionist community was against making a deal with nationalist or republicans. Trimble was attacked daily by some Unionists for selling out the Union.16

The north and south held simultaneous referendums on May 22 to give approval to the Good Friday Agreement. Catholics were well over 90 percent in favor, but the Protestant community was split down the middle, with around half Unionist voting 'yes' and half voting 'no.' The Good Friday Agreement was passed as the majority of Unionist voted yes to the agreement.17

Following this decisioin significant tensions created a division. Those in favor of the Agreement came to be known as the 'Yes' camp and those against the Agreement became known as the 'No' camp. In response to this division, a bomb exploded in the market town of Omagh in Country Tyrone in August of 1998. The bomb killed 29 people, including both Protestants and Catholics. This attack had a sobering affect on political leaders. In September 1998, the leader of the UUP and First Minister, David Trimble met Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein. After this meeting various aspects of the Agreement began to be implemented.18


A new era was about to start in Ireland as the following quote from the newspaper states.

It offers the chance to settle disagreements by argument instead of by force. It is not perfect; it will not simply dissolve away the ancient problems; it will face many hurdles and stiff challenges. But it has allowed all the main paramilitary groups, and nearly all the politicians, to subscribe to an agreement which is nobodys's ideal but almost eveyone's acceptable second choice. It doesn't mean the big paramilitary groupings disbanding and handing in their weaponry, for paramilitarism is a symptom of mistrust and that still abounds. But it does mean that the people of Ireland have spoken, and they have spoken of an end to violence. This is an enormous advance, for not too long ago the widely held assumption was that Northern Ireland was fated to be locked forever in endless war. That cheerless belief has now been replaced by the sense that the agreement amounts to the terms for an honourable peace.20

The Good Friday Agreement enjoyed overwhelming support from Nationalists, who viewed it as a historic departure based on the principle of inclusion. The new Northern Ireland adminsitration contains two Unionist and two Nationalist which was designed to instiutionalize inclusion.21

The old ratio of two-thirds Protestant and one-third Catholic disappeared and was been replaced with a new mathematical and political model. Since the Agreement, Nationalism has taken dramatic advances in politics but it is too early to say whether the Good Friday Agreement will create a level playing field on which the business of politics will be conducted in the future without resorting to violent conflict. A chapter has been turned and Ireland has made a chance at peace.22

This monument is called "reaching across the divide" which symbolizes cooperation of Republican and Loyalist communities in aspiration for peace.

The individuals and different organizations that helped establish the Good Friday Agreement have shared their beliefs and emotions with both sides. It took courage on both sides in order to work on a peace process to end the years of violence and come to an agreement. The people of Ireland are at the stage of forgiveness and trying to move into the promising future. Ireland has also had tolerance for ambiguity, which is the ability to live with situations that are unclear.24 The future of Ireland is unknown. The Good Friday Agreement was a turning point for the people of Ireland but there are many obstacles that still need to be faced in order to put the pieces of Ireland back together.

The Good Friday Agreement brought about both postive and negative goals. According to Mcnair, negative goals avoid the bad while positive goals achieve the good. The negative goals involved in the agreement were the prevention of specific forms of violence and injustice. The positive goals were making an attempt at building a peaceful society in Ireland.25

Although the Good Friday Agreement has helped lessen the conflict in many ways, it has helped many avoid dealing with the past history of Ireland. Many are looking forward to the future and never want to return to the violent past. The people of Ireland may not be ready for the truth of what many political parties were responsible for. This could bring back painful memories, or increase hostility once new information is gained. Northern Ireland is ready for peace, reconciliation, and unity.


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