The Belfast agreement

The Agreement paved the way for power-sharing in Northern Ireland following decades of conflict between its Protestant majority and large Catholic minority

What is the Good Friday Agreement?

The Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement or Belfast Agreement) was reached between parties on all sides of the religious and political divide in Belfast on Friday 10 April 1998. It set out a plan for devolved government in Northern Ireland on a stable and inclusive basis and provided for the creation of Human Rights and Equality commissions, the early release of terrorist prisoners, the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons and far reaching reforms of criminal justice and policing.

For such a significant document, its appearance is rather dull. In contrast to the grand calligraphic vellum showpieces of the 18th century, the Agreement is available for Internet download as a mundane word-processed document. Many of its clauses were kept deliberately vague. There was no detail on methods or dates for armed groups to up their weapons, for instance. This was dubbed 'constructive ambiguity': more detail risked refusals to sign up. However, all parties agree to use “exclusively peaceful and democratic means”.

The Northern Ireland Assembly was restored in 2007. Progress since the Agreement has been sporadic and many disputes remain, but the Belfast of today is almost unrecognisable from the violent and incendiary place of two or three decades ago.

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