The Good Friday Agreement and today
The Good Friday Agreement is the cornerstone of our commitment to peace and stability on this island. It was agreed on 10 April 1998 and overwhelmingly approved in 2 referendums in both parts of Ireland in May 1998.
The Good Friday Agreement gives prominence to the ‘principle of consent’ which affirms the legitimacy of the aspiration to a United Ireland while recognising the current wish of the majority in Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.
It goes on to state that...
“it is for the people of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a United Ireland, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland”.
The Agreement put in place a framework to establish a number of political institutions. This framework is made up of three strands, together representing the relationships that exist within and between the islands of Britain and Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive were set up so that the elected political parties could share power. The Assembly is located at Stormont, just outside Belfast.
The North South Ministerial Council was set up to develop co-operation between both parts of Ireland.
The British-Irish Council was set up to promote the relationship between Ireland and Britain.
These devolved institutions only operated intermittently in the years immediately following the Good Friday Agreement, and the Irish and British Governments continued to work with the parties to build trust and confidence.
Since the Good Friday Agreement
The Peace Process has been successful over the last two decades in moving definitively beyond the violence of the Troubles. Since the conclusion of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, it has been necessary to pursue a series of successive further political and legal agreements to consolidate the peace settlement provided for in the GFA.
In 2005, the Independent Decommissioning Body confirmed that IRA decommissioning had taken place. In 2006, the St. Andrew's Agreement was published, which set out a path to full devolution of policing and justice and a stable power-sharing arrangement.
In 2010, the signing of the Hillsborough Agreement allowed for the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly, which then began later that year. It also included an agreement on controversial parades which had caused ongoing conflict between communities.
In 2014, the British and Irish Governments convened talks with the Northern Ireland Executive parties, resulting in the Stormont House Agreement of December 2014. The Stormont House Agreement covers a broad range of political, social and economic issues and has the twin aims of reconciliation and economic renewal in Northern Ireland. To this end, the Government also undertook a number of financial commitments, as did the British Government. The Stormont House Agreement also provides for the establishment of a new institutional framework for dealing with the past.
In November 2015, A Fresh Start – The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan was agreed after 10 weeks of talks convened by the British and Irish Governments. The Fresh Start Agreement addressed implementation of many aspects of the Stormont House Agreement along with the additional issue of tackling the continuing impact and legacy of paramilitarism.
Regrettably, it was not possible to reach agreement on the implementation of the provisions of the Stormont House Agreement dealing with the legacy of the past within the timescale of the Fresh Start talks. The Irish and British Governments committed to continuing work on this issue with a view to securing an agreed basis for the establishment of the new institutional framework for dealing with the past as provided for under the Stormont House Agreement.
In 2017, the power-sharing Executive collapsed and the Executive and Assembly did not meet for three years as convened by the two Governments continued, to seek to restore the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement to sustainable operation.
New Decade, New Approach Agreement - January 2020
On 9 January 2020, the British and Irish Governments proposed the New Decade, New Approach agreement to the Northern Ireland political parties, providing for a balanced package to make politics and government in Northern Ireland more transparent, accountable, stable, inclusive and effective.
On 11 January 2020, on the basis of the New Decade, New Approach agreement, the power-sharing Executive and Assembly were restored, with all five main political parties in Northern Ireland participating.
In the context of the proposed agreement, the Government published a series of financial and other commitments, as did the British Government. The Irish Government’s commitments include working through the North South Ministerial Council to help deliver projects that will benefit people across the island, including to achieve greater connectivity, North and South and to invest in the North West region and in Border Communities.
The Government looks forward to continuing to cooperate with the British Government, including through the East/West institutions of the Agreement, to see that the full promise of the Good Friday Agreement is realised in terms of peace, relationships, and reconciliation.