On This Day

Good Friday Agreement, tony blair bertie ahern
Dan Chung/AP
Bertie Ahern, George Mitchell and Tony Blair pose together after signing the Good Friday Agreement, April 10, 1998.

On This Day: Good Friday Agreement Signed in Northern Ireland

April 10, 2010 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On April 10, 1998, leaders of Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland signed the Good Friday Agreement, or Belfast Agreement, which addressed many of the issues of the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.

The Good Friday Agreement

For decades, during a period known as the Troubles, Northern Ireland had been the scene of sectarian violence between the primarily Protestant unionists, who supported the continued union with the United Kingdom, and the primarily Catholic nationalists, who sought to create a united Ireland.

The road to peace began in earnest in the 1990s. The Good Friday Agreement was the result of peace talks headed by U.S. Sen. George Mitchell that included leaders of Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland and most political parties of Northern Ireland, most controversially Sinn Fein, the alleged political arm of the Irish Republican Army. The agreement was reached on April 10, Good Friday, after months of intense negotiation.

The agreement ended direct British rule of Northern Ireland, creating a new Northern Ireland Assembly with conditions ensuring power sharing between loyalist and nationalist representatives. The assembly was the first of three “strands” that would govern Northern Ireland: the other two strands were a council between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland ministers and one between Great Britain and the Republic.

The Good Friday Agreement also attempted to settle the most contentious constitutional issues. It stipulated that the future political status of Northern Ireland (i.e. whether it would unite with Ireland or remain part of the U.K.) would be decided by popular vote. It forced the Republic of Ireland to relinquish a claim to Northern Ireland stipulated in its constitution.

The agreement was put to referendum in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, and passed overwhelmingly in both cases,

Implementing the Good Friday Agreement has not been easy. The Northern Ireland Assembly was shut down in 2002 after allegations that Sinn Fein members were involved in IRA activities. The assembly was not restored until 2007, when Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party, which had opposed the Good Friday Agreement when it was signed, reached a power-sharing agreement.

Background: The Troubles

The Troubles was a period of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland stretching from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Northern Ireland was formed in 1921 following the Anglo-Irish War, when six northern counties of Ireland were split off from the newly independent south. The Protestant majority was able to control the government through gerrymandering and pass discriminatory laws against Catholics.

In the 1960s, the Catholic minority organized both violent and non-violent resistance, sparking civil unrest that continued over the next three decades. Paramilitary groups on both sides became active, most notably the Provisional IRA and the Ulster Volunteer Force. Over 3,500 people were killed during the Troubles through bombings, shootings and other violent attacks.

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