The Main Features Of The Good Friday Agreement

2692 words - 11 pages

The Main Features of The Good Friday Agreement

A remarkable feature of Westminster's approach to the Northern Ireland
'Troubles' since 1969 has been the extent to which governments and
oppositions down the years set party conflicts aside in searching for
remedies and solutions.

When Labour came to power in 1997, the outgoing Secretary of State,
Sir Patrick Mayhew, was at pains to do all he could to help the
incoming minister, Dr Mo Mowlam. Discussions continued month after
month between party representatives. Both Prime Minister Tony Blair
and Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern involved themselves in the details to a
remarkable degree. Finally, on Good Friday 1998, all the main parties
- with the exception of the Democratic Unionist Party - announced

Essentially the SDLP MP who described the accord as 'Sunningdale for
slow learners' was not wrong. A power-sharing devolved government
would be formed with ministerial posts distributed according to party
strength. The involvement of parties representing paramilitaries
(primarily the Ulster Democratic Party, the Progressive Unionist Party
and Sinn Fein) depended on the maintenance of cease-fires and
'decommissioning' of paramilitary weapons. A copy of the agreement was
delivered to every household in Northern Ireland, and in May 1998 the
accord was approved by referendum north and south; by a narrow margin,
even unionist voters gave their approval.

Two architects of the agreement, David Trimble and John Hume were
awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. A Northern Ireland Assembly was
elected, with its representation also indicating majority support for
the agreement. The issue of decommissioning, however, constantly
delayed the formal creation of an executive, as the IRA had a policy
of 'not an ounce, not a bullet' being given up from their armoury,
while the Unionists refused to become ministers until some arms had
been handed in.

Northern Ireland remained a deeply divided society and this was most
evident in opposing views on policing and in conflicts over march
routes, notably at Drumcree near Portadown.

The Good Friday Agreement has provided Northern Ireland's divided
society with a political framework to resolve its differences. A model
of governance based on 'parity of esteem' has replaced the old
divisive system of majority rule. The two political traditions of
unionism and nationalism have agreed to proportional inclusion of each
group in government. Legislators in the Stormont Assembly designate
themselves as unionist, nationalist or other and the voting system
works to ensure that unionists and nationalists cannot vote against
each other's group interest. The Agreement respects the right of each
political tradition to pursue its goal to remain part of the United
Kingdom or to join the Irish Republic.


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