Northern Ireland

The consolidation of peace in Northern Ireland and the promotion of partnership and cooperation between both traditions on the island of Ireland is a key policy priority for the Irish Government.

This work involves sustained contact with the Northern Ireland Executive, the British Government, with the political parties and all sections of society in Northern Ireland, and with a range of international partners. These collective efforts, which are ongoing, have transformed the social, political and economic landscape of Northern Ireland, particularly in the years since the Good Friday Agreement (see below) was signed in 1998. Northern Ireland is now a far more peaceful, prosperous and stable society than when the first steps towards peace were taken in the 1980s and 1990s.

The restoration, on 8 May 2007, of the power-sharing institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement represented a critical step forward, not only in creating effective government for Northern Ireland, but in building a common future for all its people. Devolved government was further consolidated in April 2010 by the devolution of policing and justice powers from Westminster to the Assembly and the appointment of a Northern Ireland Justice Minister. 

Top of Page

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The existing political division in Ireland dates from the passing of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 by the British Government. Following the signature of the Anglo-Irish treaty in 1921, 26 of the 32 counties of Ireland gained independence from Britain. The remaining 6 counties formed Northern Ireland, which continued to be governed within the United Kingdom.

TIMELINE OF EVENTS

1921–1972: Devolved Government at stormont in Belfast oversees local matters. Power remains exclusively in the hands of the Unionist party. Nationalists had in practice no role in government and they suffered discrimination at local level in many areas, including voting rights, housing and employment.

1969: Non violent civil rights campaigners are met with a repressive response from the Stormont authorities leading to civil unrest and the revival of violent activity by paramilitary organisations.

1972: In a deteriorating security situation, the local Northern Ireland Parliament and Government were prorogued in 1972 resulting in direct rule by the British Government until 1999, with the exception of a brief period in 1974 when a local executive was established on a power-sharing basis under the Sunningdale Agreement.

1980–1985: From the early 1980s onwards, the British and Irish Governments began to co-operate more closely in an effort to achieve a widely acceptable and durable political settlement of the Northern Ireland problem.

1985: In November, the Irish and British Governments sign the Anglo Irish Agreement which enabled the Irish Government to have an input on Northern Ireland policing and administration and created intergovernmental structures to facilitate and advance cooperation.

1993: The Irish and British Governments issue a Joint Declaration outlining a charter for peace and reconciliation in Ireland and establishing the principles of self determination and consent in relation to the status of Northern Ireland. It offers those associated with paramilitary violence a route into the political process provided they established a commitment to exclusively peaceful means and the democratic process.

1994: In August, the IRA announces a “complete cessation of military operations”, followed by a similar statement from the combined Loyalist Military command the following October. These announcements led to direct political dialogue with Sinn Féin and the two loyalist parties, the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP).

1995-1997: The British and Irish Governments publish A New Framework for Agreement, outlining their shared understanding of the possible outcome of comprehensive negotiations. An Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) is established to address the key issue of paramilitary weapons. Multi-party talks involving the two Governments and Northern Ireland political parties began on 10 June 1996.

1998: A comprehensive political settlement, the Good Friday Agreement, is negotiated between the Irish and British Governments and the Northern Ireland parties. The Agreement is overwhelmingly endorsed by referendums, North and South of the border.

2006: Further agreement between the parties on policing, power sharing and rights issues, is reached at St. Andrews.

2010: The Hillsborough Agreement, finalised in February 2010, completes the process of devolution (see detail below).

Top of Page

Good Friday Agreement 1998

The Good Friday Agreement was negotiated between the British and Irish Governments and eight Northern Ireland political parties under the chairmanship of US Senator George Mitchell. Having begun in June 1996, the negotiations ended on 10 April 1998 after a marathon final session.

The Agreement addressed all the key issues of the Northern Ireland conflict. It set out a balanced and agreed definition, based on the principle of consent, of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and how that could change in future. It provided for new political institutions: an Assembly and a cross-community executive in Northern Ireland, a North/South Ministerial Council and North/South implementation bodies, and a British-Irish Council and Intergovernmental Conference. The Agreement also covered a range of other vitally important issues, including policing, criminal justice, human rights, prisoner release, decommissioning, and demilitarisation. The text of the Agreement can be found here.

The dissolution of the Assembly in March 2011, to allow for elections to a new Assembly in May 2011, marked the longest period of continuous devolved power since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The fundamental importance of the Agreement lay in its being “a truly historic opportunity for a new beginning”, based on partnership, equality and mutual respect and on a total and absolute commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means of resolving political differences. In an unparalleled exercise of selfdetermination, it was approved by the overwhelming majority of the Irish people, voting in separate referendums, north and south, on 22 May 1998.

1998–2011: Consolidation of the Peace Process

Following the endorsement of the Good Friday Agreement, elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly took place on 25 June 1998, with power first devolved to the new Assembly and Executive on 2 December 1999. However, the decade following the Agreement was marked by breakdowns, delays and loss of momentum in the political

Bertie Ahern greeting Ian Paisley at Farmleigh, April 2007

process. Disagreements between the parties, principally over the decommissioning of weapons, led to disruptions to the work of the Assembly, and in October 2002, the Executive and Assembly were suspended. In an effort to restore momentum, the Irish and British Governments issued a Joint Declaration on 1 May 2003 outlining areas where progress could be made, and continued to work with the parties to allow for the full restoration of these institutions and the full implementation of the Agreement.

After the 2003 Assembly elections, the Democratic Unionist Party became the largest party in Northern Ireland, and Sinn Féin became the second largest party. However, the Assembly remained suspended. The announcement in July 2005 that the IRA had ended its armed campaign led to renewed negotiations between the parties. These efforts culminated in the publication of the St Andrews Agreement in October 2006, which focused on securing progress on power sharing and justice and policing issues. These positive developments led to the restoration of the Assembly and the executive on 8 May 2007. On that day, Dr Ian Paisley, DUP Leader, and Mr Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin were appointed as First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. Peter Robinson subsequently replaced Dr. Paisley as leader of the DUP and First Minister in June 2008.

Top of Page 

Hillsborough Agreement: Devolution of Policing and Justice

In 2009, political focus in Northern Ireland shifted to finalising arrangements to devolve policing and justice powers from Westminster to the Assembly, as set out in the St. Andrew’s Agreement. To facilitate progress, the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister convened all party talks at Hillsborough in Northern Ireland on 25 January 2010. Following intensive negotiations between the parties, assisted by the two Governments, a deal was reached on 5 February which set out a timetable for devolution of policing and justice. On 9 March a cross community vote was passed requesting the devolution of these powers and on 12 April 2010, a new Justice Minister was appointed (David Ford of the Alliance Party) and a new Department of Justice was created.

Top of Page

All-Island Partnership & Co-operation

Following the restoration of the devolved institutions in 2007, the North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) could once again meet and the North/South Implementation Bodies function fully. There have been twice yearly meetings of the NSMC in Plenary format since the restoration of the Institutions, chaired by the Taoiseach and by the First and deputy First Ministers. The NSMC also meets regularly in sectoral format, where Ministers from the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland executive discuss cooperation in areas such as agriculture, education and health.

The Irish Government is committed to promoting partnership and deepening economic, social and cultural relations between both parts of the island of Ireland. Since restoration of the power-sharing institutions in Northern Ireland in May 2007, there has been greatly increased cooperation through the North/South Ministerial Council, North/South Implementation Bodies, like Tourism Ireland and InterTradeIreland, and through other contacts between key decisionmakers North and South.

Mary McAleese meets HM Queen Elizabeth

In recognition of the shared benefits that can be gained through all-island co-operation, particular focus has been placed on joint efforts in areas like infrastructure, spatial planning and the delivery of cross-border public services in health and education. In October 2006, a Comprehensive Study on the All-Island Economy was launched, which set out the economic rationale for North/South collaboration, as well as concrete proposals for joint initiatives. This was followed in the National Development Plan for 2007–2013 by a dedicated chapter on all-island cooperation and key North-South projects prioritised by the Government. Much progress has been made on agreed joint initiatives in the intervening period, including a major cross-border roads investment programme, the introduction of a single electricity Market for the island and the delivery of a major North-South broadband infrastructure project (Project Kelvin)connecting the island with North America.

Enda Kenny meets David Cameron

Eamon Gilmore meets Owen Paterson

British-Irish Relations and the Peace Process

Over the last thirty years, the context in which the Irish Government’s objectives in relation to the peace process in Northern Ireland are pursued has been transformed. The British-Irish relationship is multi-faceted, influenced by historical connections, geographical proximity and strong economic links. There is a vast network of individual connections between the two islands. Many Irish-born people live and work in Britain. The British-Irish relationship is evolving towards an enhanced degree of understanding and a greater recognition of shared interest at almost every level.

The British-Irish Council (BIC) continues to develop its work programme and strengthen links between the eight administrations of the islands. since the restoration of the Institutions in 2007, the BIC Plenary has met twice a year. 

Top of Page 

International Support for the Peace Process

The peace process in Northern Ireland has always benefited from the widespread support of the international community, including our EU partners, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and others. The focus of international support has included both political support for the evolving peace process and practical assistance in the areas of economic regeneration and cross-community reconciliation, including through the International Fund for Ireland and the EU’s Programmes for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the six border counties of Ireland. The Irish Government has committed itself to sharing its experiences of the peace process and to work with others where this would prove helpful.

Top of Page

multi_image06.jpg

Contact Details

Consulate General of Ireland,
100 Pine Street,
Suite 3350,
San Francisco,
CA 94111
Tel: +415 392 4214
Fax: +415 392 0885
Public opening hours:
Monday to Friday 9:00am to 12:00pm.

Pacific Standard Time.