The search for peace

Om fredsprosessen i Nord-Irland.

I tillegg til overnevnte, er oppgaven også skrevet av Victoria Stewart.


This chapter describes major “Peace Process events” in the period of the history of Northern Ireland from 1992 until 1999. It is often defined as the latest round of the peace process. It is clear that the chapter can only cover those of the events that seem to have certain significance for the process as such of that period. The chapter also talks more significant about the most recent event, “The Good Friday Agreement.” The Good Friday Agreement is the most momentous event in the Peace Process and we felt it exceedingly relevant to discuss this momentum more attentively.


1992 - 1993: The peace process begins


On April 10, 1992, two IRA bombs exploded in the centre of London. The tension in Northern Ireland rose when the Ulster Defence Force was banned in August. 76 people were killed by republican and loyalist terrorists in this year. There was little cause to believe that 1992 could bring peace closer.


Sinn Fein’s close connection to the IRA raised the question whether the governments in Dublin and London should ban Sinn Fein. If the British government had decided to ban the party, the current peace process might not have been possible. But both governments decided to avoid confrontation with the IRA in late 1992, and instead draw the republican movement’s leaders into constitutional discussion.




SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) leader John Hume and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams met several times and launched a peace initiative (in April 1993), confirming that negotiations were very important for reaching a settlement in Northern Ireland. The British and Irish governments responded positively to the moves, and supported multi-party talks on Northern Ireland, one of the key requirements of Sinn Fein. But the situation deteriorated in October 1992, when an IRA bomb killed 10 people and wounded 61 in a busy Belfast shopping district. A week later, loyalist gunmen opened fire in a nationalist pub, killing seven and wounding 11. This wave of violence forced both Dublin and London to act.


The Joint Declaration (The Downing Street Declaration)


On 15 December 1993, John Major, then British Prime Minister and Albert Reynolds, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) of the Irish Republic, issued a Joint Declaration, also known as the Downing Street Declaration. It was intended to complement and underpin the political talk-process and the search for a comprehensive political settlement.


All parties, which acted with peaceful methods, would be free to participate fully in democratic politics and join dialogue between the Government and the other political parties on the way ahead.


The two main messages of the Declaration were quite simple:


1.      The agreement accepted a possible end to Ireland’s partition, but promised no change without approval of the majority.


2.      The agreement promised to hold all-party talks on the future of Northern Ireland, with Sinn Fein being allowed to enter talks if the IRA laid down its arms. All parties, which acted with peaceful methods, would be free to participate fully in democratic politics, and join dialogue between the Government and the other political parties on the way ahead.


It is clear that the Downing Street Declaration is one of the milestones of the history of Northern Ireland’s conflict, especially because it offeredrepublicans to enter politics if IRA violence ceased, and stressed that Britain did not have any selfish interests in the province.


The IRA cease-fire


The IRA and republican circles pondered the Downing Street Declaration and its consequences through much of the spring of 1994, "seeking clarification". On March 11, the IRA launched two mortar attacks on Heathrow airport. Gerry Adams commented on the attacks by saying that they will "accelerate the peace process".  In April 1994, IRA called for a three-day cease-fire, the first outside the traditional Christmas truces since 1975.


And then, on August 31, 1994, the historic moment came. The IRA announced in a statement to the media a complete cessation of military operations. In September, it declared an indefinite cease-fire.


We quote a significant part of the IRA statement, as it can serve as a good illustration of this stage of the peace process. 




“Our struggle has seen many gains and advances made by nationalists and for the democratic position. We believe that an opportunity to secure a just and lasting settlement has been created. We are therefore entering into a new situation in a spirit of determination and confidence, determined that the injustices which created this conflict will be removed and confident in the strength and justice of our struggle to achieve this. (…) We note that the Downing Street Declaration is not a solution, nor did its authors present it as such. A solution will only be found as a result of inclusive negotiations. Others, not least the British government, have a duty to face up to their responsibilities. It is our desire to significantly contribute to the creation of a climate, which will encourage this. We urge everyone to approach this situation with energy, determination and patience."  


There are no doubts that the IRA cease-fire was a key moment of the peace process.


This was followed by the announcement of the cease-fire of the loyalist paramilitary groups on 13 October 1994:


“… The Combined Loyalist Military Command will universally cease all operational hostilities as from 12 midnight on Thursday, Oct. 13, 1994. The permanence of our cease-fire will be completely dependent upon the continued cessation of all nationalist/republican violence; the sole responsibility for a return to war lies with them. (...)Let us firmly resolve to respect our different views of freedom, culture and aspiration and never again permit our political circumstance to degenerate into bloody warfare. We are on the threshold of a new and exciting beginning with our battles in future being political battles, fought on the side of honesty, decency and democracy, against the negativity of mistrust, misunderstanding and malevolence, so that together we can bring forth a wholesome society, in which our children and their children will know the meaning of peace."  


People living in Northern Ireland agreed that the IRA cease-fire was one of the greatest moments of their lives, as it gave them hope and a chance to live in peace after 25 years of violence. For many of them, there was only one interpretation of the IRA cease-fire - the IRA and extreme republicans were more or less satisfied with recent developments and gave up their armed struggle. Peace had reached the province and the war was over. A new chapter of the history began. Analysts warned that this was not what the IRA statement meant, but doubts like that was lost in waves of optimism. As a result of the cease-fire, the British Army announced its first Northern Ireland troop reduction


It is relatively easy to evaluate the second half of 1994 from the point of view of its significance for the peace process. This period was probably the most promising period in the history of the conflict. Both sides committed themselves to use and support only peaceful and democratic methods. British government started dialogue with representatives of Sinn Fein, security measures in Northern Ireland were dramatically reduced, and the Province was experiencing a level of normality unknown for many years. But as Gerry Adams told republican rally in Belfast, "The IRA haven’t gone away."


From the Frameworks for the Future to the Mitchell Commission


On 22 February 1995, John Major and Prime Minister John Bruton launched "A New Framework for Agreement”. This document set out the British and Irish governments proposals for relationships within the island of Ireland and between the two governments.  The document dealt with issues, which were not relevant to any of the stages of the peace process. At the time of their publication, peace talks seemed to be too far away to consider them seriously.


From the point of view of the peace process, another event turned out to be very important. The British government and the leader of the UUP David Trimble formulated a new precondition that some IRA weapons had to be decommissioned. Only after this "confidence-building measure", Sinn Fein could be included in all-party talks. This was practically impossible for the IRA and "the peace process ground to a halt." Republicans felt betrayed and Sinn Fein broke off talks with the British government.


The Irish government postponed summit talks with Britain, refusing to accept the precondition.


In order to push the process ahead, the governments in London and Dublin announced what they called a "twin-track. One track was intended "to bring all parties together for substantive negotiations aimed at a political settlement based on consent."



The other track concerned the decommissioning of arms, and established an International Body to provide an independent assessment of the decommissioning issue. At the end of November, Bill Clinton became the first US president to visit Northern Ireland, what was seen as an important gesture supporting the peace process.


On January 24, 1996, the International Body on Arms Decommissioning (generally know as the Mitchell Commission), chaired by formed U.S. Senator and Clinton’s Ireland economic advisor George Mitchell, published its report.

The report on illegal arms in Northern Ireland concluded that paramilitary groups would not decommission weapons in advance of all-party talks, as demanded by the British government.


It also laid out six principles (known as "the Mitchell Principles") of non-violence and democracy. The report recommended that all parties involved in talks should make a commitment to them. All sides of the conflict, except Unionists welcomed the suggestions. They rejected the multi-party talks without arms decommissioning. The Mitchell’s suggestions seemed to create a new path to the beginning of negotiations, especially because they stressed the impossibility of the IRA’s surrender in advance of talks. A new opportunity for peace seemed to have been created.  The Independent wrote: "The Prime Minister should seize upon it. (...) Not to accept it would risk derailing the peace process completely."  


The British government claimed that it was under no obligation to accept any of the report’s recommendations. After a short hesitation, John Major accepted the possibility of parallel decommissioning.


The situation was generally evaluated as a little bit more optimistic, and there are no doubts that the Mitchell Commission played a significant role in the peace process.


But after 17 months, the dream about peace ended….


The end of the cease-fire


On February 9, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams told a local radio station in Ulster in the afternoon that the IRA’s cease-fire was "total and permanent". Just before 6 p.m. that same day, RTE (the Irish Republic’s radio and television network) was told in coded warning that the cease-fire was at an end. At 7.01 p.m. the explosion of a huge home-made device, planted in a small lorry in the Docklands area of London, caused immediate damage estimated at £ 85 million. This brought the IRA cease-fire, after 17 months of peace, to an end. Two people were killed, more than one hundred were injured.


The bombing provoked a huge wave of condemnations around the world. John Major called the bombing an "evil act.Also the Irish government said it wanted "the cease-fire to be restored immediately." Bill Clinton promised to do all he could to ensure that the enemies of peace did not succeed. Gerry Adams stressed he had "no pre-knowledge" of the operation.


After 17 months of peace, security was dramatically stepped up on the British mainland and in Northern Ireland the army returned to the streets.


Very interesting details of the resumption of the IRA violence were published by the Sunday Times. As the article suggests,  "The IRA was given an ultimatum by its own hard-liners: we bomb or we split. It chose to bomb." It claims that the whole new offensive had been planed for a long time, by hard-liners from the border regions of Northern Ireland. The resumption of the bombing campaign may have been forced by the determination, to avoid a split. The article also names the man the police believe made the Docklands bomb (Ciaran Chambers) and members of the IRA army council. The newspaper also speculated on whether Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams knew about the preparations or not.


In the period after the Docklands bombing from the point of view of the peace process. Both the British and the Irish governments stressed that it was crucial to do everything possible to restart the process, and eventually, to start multi-party talks. However, for long time they were not able to agree on how to do this.


There were three main options how to push the peace process ahead at this stage:




1. Referendum


One of the possibilities, suggested by the SDLP leader John Hume, was a referendum, to be simultaneously held in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The first question would have asked voters whether they disapproved of violence for any purpose. Second, whether they wanted to see all parties to start talks. Both questions would almost certainly produce a "yes" verdict by a large majority. Results of such a referendum would -the SDLP believed - help to push the peace process ahead.


2. Dayton-style proximity talks


The Irish government called for Dayton-style proximity talks, in which all the parties would convene in one building for parallel sessions on the model of the Dayton peace conference, leading to peace in Bosnia. The Irish government strongly opposed an election for long time. The Taoiseach John Bruton said an election - proposed by Unionists - would be "a mistake" which would "pour petrol on the flames". He added that proximity talks could restore the cease-fire. John Hume said elections would lead to chaos and warned against "slamming the door" on Sinn Fein.




3. Elections to an assembly


The British government, however, insisted on its original plan for elections to "give the electoral mandates and confidence", which would lead to multi-party negotiations. As analysts stressed, it was practically impossible for Major to abandon this plan as its abandonment could be interpreted as a concession to terrorists.


The negotiations took several weeks. The Irish Premier pushed for an announcement of a fixed date for multi-party talks, because - he claimed - if Sinn Fein was given a date, the IRA could consider a new cease-fire. John Major was reluctant, stressing that it would show that terror paid off. In the end, a compromise solution was reached: Dublin agreed with elections to set up an assembly, London granted a firm date for multi-party talks - the concession which Sinn Fein had demanded above all others in recent months.


Both Premiers agreed that an elective process would have to be broadly acceptable and lead immediately, without further preconditions, to the convening of all-party negotiations with acomprehensive agenda. They also made it sure that multi-party negotiations would be convened on Monday 10 June 1996. Both Premiers repeated the demand that the IRA had to resume its cease-fire before Sinn Fein was allowed to participate in talks.


At this stage of the peace process especially Sinn Fein and the IRA, scored one of the greatest victories of recent years, proving that "violence pays off" and terror as "the only thing London understands." The British government was forced by the renewal of the bombing campaign of the IRA, to take decisive steps by setting up dates for elections and peace talks.


Inching towards a deal and the build up to the God Friday Agreement




The multi-party negotiations began as planed Monday 10 June 1996 in Stromont, Belfast. These talks involved the two Governments and Northern Ireland political parties. The talks were chaired by Senator Mitchell, assisted by former Finnish Prime Minister Mr Harri Holkeri and retired Canadian General John de Chastelain. The following parties have been successful in a specially convened election in May 1996: the UUP, DUP, SDLP, APNI, PUP, UDP, United Kingdom Unionist Party (UKUP), Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (NIWC) and Labour, but excluding Sinn Fein.  Sinn Fein was excluded because of the absence of an Irish Republican Army cease-fire. But they did not waste their time, exploding bombs in Manchester, Dublin and Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, causing substantial damage. Analysts could not agree on if this was the IRA’s way of protesting.


For the first year they made little progress, as the decommissioning of arms issue continued to dominate, and the peace-talks ended in July with agreements on procedures for the talks, but without coming to terms with the use of arms. The forum met for business again after a break for the summer, on Friday 6 September 1996, and continued until the middle of December. If we should evaluate this year’s progress from the peace process’ point of view, it was both an advance and a setback going on. The optimism faded more and more in a year filled with terror, but at the same time the all-party talks kept a hope of future peace alive.


On Monday 13 January 1997 the all-party talks resumed at Stromont following the Christmas break, but were on March 5 adjourned until June 3. This break was to allow the parties to contest the forth-coming general elections in May. The Labour Party was elected to power in the British General Election, and Tony Blair became Prime Minister. Later that same month he paid a visit to Northern Ireland, and gave the “go ahead” for exploratory contacts between government officials and Sinn Fein.




July was the month of positive progress, seen with the eyes of the peace process. On Sunday 20 July 1997, following an approach from Gerry Adams, the Irish Republican Army declared a renewal of its cease-fire. One month later Marjorie Mowlam, then Secretary of State of Northern Ireland, announced that the IRA cease-fire had been sufficiently well observed for Sinn Fein to enter the multi-party talks for the first time. The week after, Sinn Fein signed up to the Mitchell Principles and entered the all-party talks at Stromont. When the talks broke for Christmas, the parties had failed to agree even on a list of issues to be discussed. People living in Northern Ireland did not know what do believe, nor if they could keep their optimism alive. Things went back and forward with Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionist Party, being forced to conduct oneself to each other.


Negotiations eventually began on 24 September 1997, and continued until April 1998. Each participant party presented its views and proposals on aspects of the agenda. The Minister led the Irish Government delegation for Foreign Affairs, Mr David Andrews TD and Minister of State, Ms Liz O’Donnell TD. On 12 January 1998 the Governments published Propositions on Heads of Agreement, which they presented as a basis for discussion. This could have possibly offered the outline of an acceptable agreement, and did help to focus the negotiations. On Monday 26 January 1998 the multi-party talks switched venue from Stromont in Belfast to Lancaster House in London in an attempt to inject impetus to the search for a political settlement. On the second day of the talks at Lancaster House, the British and Irish governments introduced a new discussion document on the proposed nature of cross border bodies. While the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Fein welcomed the document, the Ulster Unionist Party rejected the proposals as a move back to the Framework Document. The two governments said that it was up to the parties to hammer out an agreement. Following the main session of the day, Tony Blair went to Lancaster House in the evening to meet with all the parties, and to urge them to engage each other and to reach a compromise. Eventually, the independent chairmen set a deadline of 9 April 1998. In these final and intensive negotiations the Taoiseach, Mr Bertie Ahern TD, and the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair led their Governments’ delegations.


George Mitchell, independent chairman of the multi-party talks, set a deadline of 9 April for the finding of an agreement between the parties. A frantic activity reigned between the governments and the parties inching the process forward. Marjorie Mowlam ended the day on an optimistic note; saying progress had been made “on all fronts”. A major step forward was taken on 10 April 1998. All the parties taking place in the multi-party talks signed an agreement, The Good Friday Agreement. George Mitchell brought the talks to an end.


In May, the Good Friday Agreement got a 94 percent majority at a referendum in Ireland. After the agreement, Ireland renounced their territorial demands, and a prospective reuniting with Northern Ireland would have to be settled by a majority on both sides. 



The explosion in Omagh later that summer, where 29 people lost their lives, shocked a whole world. This tightened the demand from all parts of the conflict, that peace had to make its entrance as soon as possible. Two of the most important persons fighting for the peace process in Northern Ireland, John Hume and David Trimble, won the Nobel Peace Prize for 1998.


It is relatively easy to evaluate the year 1997. I wish I could use the word success, but there was still no complete practical settlement. But we must not overshadow that the progress had taken several major and positive steps forward. Few did ever imagine that Tony Blair’s first year in power would be crowned by a political settlement in Northern Ireland, and that he would devote more of his time to this Province, an area offering little obvious reward, than any other issue. One of the most important elements of US help to the peace process, was the assigning of George Mitchell and a small staff. First as economic representative, then to chair the decommissioning commission, and finally, to take over the chair of the peace talks themselves. On the other side the Multi - party talks opened possibility for further negotiations and introduced the Good Friday Agreement. 


Good Friday Agreement 1998


On Friday, 10 April 1998 a comprehensive political agreement was approved at a plenary session of the talks. The two Governments signed immediately thereafter forming a new British-Irish Agreement committing them to give effect to the provisions of this multi-party agreement.


It was 3.30pm in Belfast, 10.30am in Washington DC. “Get me Bill Clinton,” said Tony Blair to the two secretaries manning his tiny temporary office in Castle Buildings, the venue for Irish peace talks. Minutes earlier, David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, had demanded from him a set of written assurances to save the peace deal that had been hammered out over the past sleepless 30 hours.


There was strong dissent in Unionist ranks at the prospect of sitting down in a proposed power- sharing administration with Sinn Fein, as looked as though the IRA would be allowed to keep its arsenal of weapons and even resume violence. The whole deal was about to collapse. Blair had been in contact with Clinton since arriving in Belfast, now he told the president that it would be “really helpful” if he could telephone not just Trimble, but also Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, John Hume and Gerry Adams. Clinton swung into action, and phoned all four key players, saying that there was an “amazing deal” on the table and urging them not to squander the prospect of peace. One after one, following in Timbles footsteps, all those participating in the peace talks in the 6 counties had signed the agreement. It was at that moment that the historical agreement between the British and Irish governments and the Nothern Ireland parties was sealed, bringing the prospect of peace after 30 years of turmoil.


The Good Friday (or Belfast) Agreement is in eleven sections. In the next paragraph I have tried to abridge the actual agreement, and attempted to withdraw the key points:




Democratic Institutions in Northern Ireland (Strand One)


A new Assembly will be elected by proportional representation, with executive and legislative powers and safeguards to ensure that it operates on the basis of cross- community support. Ministers will discharge executive authority, each supported by a Committee with responsibility for devolved matters (e.g. Health, Education, Social Services).


North/South Institutions (Strand Two)


A North/South Ministerial Council will be established, consisting of those with executive authority in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, to consult, co-operate and act within the island of Ireland on matters within their competence. Members of the Council from North and South will act within the mandate of the Assembly and the Irish Parliament respectively, and remain accountable to them. Implementation bodies are to be established to carry out policy decisions of the Council in a number of areas. These will be specified in discussions between representatives of the Assembly and Irish Government before the Assembly and the other new institutions take on actual powers. The necessary legislation and other preparations will then be made for these bodies to be established at or around the same time as the other institutions covered by the Agreement.


British-Irish Institutions (Strand Three)


There is to be a new British-Irish Council (BIC), comprising the British and Irish government, the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales (when established), the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The BIC will promote consultation, co-operation and possibly joint decision-making on a wide range of matters of common interest (e.g. transport, environment and culture). A new British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference (BIIGC) will be established, to replace the existing Inter-Governmental Conference. This will deal with all bilateral issues between the British and Irish governments. The BIIGC will also cover non-devolved Northern Ireland matters, on which the Irish Government may want to put forward its ideas.






Constitutional Issues


The Irish Constitution will be amended, abandoning the Republic’s territorial claim on Northern Ireland and offering formal recognition that Northern Ireland is legitimately part of the UK. The British Government too will introduce constitutional change, repealing the 1920 Government of Ireland Act and undertaking to bring forward legislation to create a united Ireland should that ever be the wish of a majority in Northern Ireland.


Rights, Safeguards and Equality Issues


The European Convention on Human Rights will be incorporated into Northern Ireland. There will be a new, independent Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission with wider functions than the present Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. The Irish Government will establish an equivalent Human Rights Commission in the Republic.




All parties are committed to work in good faith with the Decommissioning Commission for total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations within two years.


Policing and Justice


An Independent Commission will be established to make recommendations for future policing arrangements in Northern Ireland. The Commission, which will include international representation, will report by summer 1999. The British Government will undertake a parallel wide-ranging review of the Northern Ireland criminal justice system.




Both Governments will put in place mechanisms to provide for release of prisoners affiliated with organisations maintaining a complete and unequivocal cease-fire. The intention, if circumstances permit, is to release any qualifying prisoners still in custody two years after the scheme begins.


The Agreement’s two fundamental principles are those of consent and of North South co-operation. Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom is guaranteed unless a majority of its people wants to change that status. At the same time the Agreement lays the foundations for a new and deeper relationship between North and South, and for a fresh start within Northern Ireland on the basis of partnership, equality, mutual respect and mutual advantage.


The next step is for a referendum in Northern Ireland, probably on Friday 22 May, on the Agreement - and simultaneously in the Republic of Ireland on the amendments to the Constitution. If these are passed there will then be elections to the new Northern Ireland Assembly in June.


Reason for the success of the Good Friday Agreement


The Spirit of optimism through out the World, especially in Ireland, proves that there must have been something preposterous about this Agreement. To make such a drastic change from the bloody veil of decades where heartache and injustice had seldom had it’s day to reckon, to offering a glimmer of hope for peace at last is somewhat a miracle. There are many different sides to explore when in understanding the accomplishment of the Good Friday Agreement:


·        Important points are the leaders involved in the peace process:



Tony Blair: Prime Minister of Great Britain, credited for not allowing random acts of violence committed by radical nationalists groups to interfere with the peace talks.


2.      Senator Mitchell: Leader of Peace Talks, unbiased negotiating skills a necessary part to maintaining communication among different leaders throughout the talks.


3.      David Trimble: Leader of the Protestant Unionist Party, became a rare voice of compromise and flexibility in his party.



Gerry Adams: Leader of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, awarded the Noble Peace Prize for his efforts in the Peace process.


5.      John Hume: Leader of the SDLP also awarded Noble Peace Prize for his involvement in the peace process.


6.      Berthie Aherm: Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, his ability to convince the Irish people to give up Amendment 2 and 3 of their constitution, therefore denouncing the nation’s claim on the Northern Ireland was an instrumental compromise in the peace process


·        Ireland is also enjoying an economic boom. It is like a country reformed. The old clericalism is being thrown off, replaced by a modern, liberal state. Today’s Irish young loathe the uncouth bombers of a lost cause.


·        America’s initiative in breaking the Northern Irish logjam has paid off, despite the British Government’s once sour objections. Gerry Adams now wears button-down collars to the peace talks.


·        The devolution proposals for Scotland and Wales give Ulster the chance to escape form its old constitutional stagnation. Strong regional government within the setting of the EU appeals to the Protestants and Catholics alike. Tony Blair’s vast and disciplined majority in the House of Commons means that there are no destabilising games to be played there by Ulster’s political leaders – as there has been for the past century.


·        In his article “Peace in Northern Ireland, Why Now?” John Stevens credits the success of the Good Friday Agreement to the formation of the European Union. He claims that this peace agreement will succeed where others have failed because of the new political and economic environment created by the EU. According to Stevens, the Irish economy has flourished because of increased trade created to the EU and because of agricultural subsidies granted to the Irish Republican from Belgium. Therefor there is broad support for the EU in the Republican of Ireland. ON the other hand, Great Britain was more reluctant to become part of the EU. Therefor it made economic sense for Northern Ireland to open political communication with the Republic of Ireland in order to reap the benefits of the EU.


·        Stevens also claims that the EU has made borders much less significant in all of Europe, including the division between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The religious conflicts, which maintain the division between the Catholics and the Protestants, are becoming secondary as both Catholics and Protestants realise the economic and strategic benefits of a united Europe.


A year and a half without progress


The Good Friday Agreement was greeted with great optimism across the island of Ireland. The vast majority of people endorsed it in referenda on both sides of the border, because they wanted to see peace and political change in the six Counties. In the referendums held on 22 May 1998, the people of Ireland, both North and South, overwhelmingly endorsed the Good Friday Agreement. In Northern Ireland, 71.1 per cent of the people voted to approve the Agreement. In the South, 94.4 per cent of the people voted to allow the Government become party to the Agreement. The combined Yes vote in both parts of Ireland was 85 per cent. This was the first occasion since 1918 on which all the people in Ireland had voted together to decide their political future. But still their hopes have yet to be realised.


Following the approval of the people, the two Governments and the political parties in Northern Ireland began the long and detailed task of implementing the Agreement and setting up the institutions for which it provides. Elections took place for the new Northern Ireland Assembly on 25 June 1998. The Assembly, in which pro-Agreement parties hold most of the seats, subsequently met on 1 July 1998 and elected Mr David Trimble of the UUP as First Minister and Mr Seamus Mallon of the SDLP as Deputy First Minister.


The autumn was dominated by efforts to achieve the full implementation of the Agreement. Legislation implementing the constitutional, institutional and human rights aspects of the Agreement was introduced and passed by the Irish and British Parliaments. The accelerated prison release programme began in September and by January 1999 over half of the prisoners were released. The British authorities began the process of security normalisation, gradually removing security installations and scaling down the army presence on the ground. The Northern Ireland Police Commission began its work and undertook a wide-ranging consultation exercise.


Unfortunately, by the looks of things now, the Agreement has turned out to be – not unlike the better known Good Friday – an anti climax. While IRA guns have been silent, the nationalist people have continued to face assassination, bomb attacks, church burnings, lynch mobs and attacks on their own homes. The RUC remains intact, fully armed and as sectarian a threat to nationalists as ever. It was anticipated that the various institutions would assume their full powers in March 1999, but continued difficulties relate to the decommissioning issue.


Nationalists in Belfast, South Armagh, and numerous other areas across the North continue to live under the shadow of massive British military installations and face daily intrusions into their lives by the armed representatives of the British State in Ireland.


All this was supposed to be put behind Ireland with the Good Friday Agreement and the dawn of peace, progress and power sharing between nationalists on the basis of equality. It was supposed to be an inclusive process where vetos are removed. But it has not been so.


Factors which threaten the Good Friday Agreement




There are many reasons to why the GFA has not lived up to peoples’ expectations. Unfortunately people have yet again been let down. In the months since, we have seen hard facts of life emerging. Issues such as prisoner release and Sinn Fein in the executive (in Government) have been very hard to take for a protestant population that perceived 30 years of violence as being directed at them. Society is now seeing what 30 years of trouble has done to it. It is vital that this point be understood. Here are some important factors that, do as well, threaten the GFA:


Radical Unionists Groups who oppose the GFA


·        Many unionists fear that the Irish government will use the new assemblies established by the GFA to eventually unify Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

·        Unionists also fear continued IRA violence, as the group has yet to fully decommission its weapons despite pressure from Tony Blair.




Unionists are concerned about the fate of Northern Ireland as the growing Catholic population threatens the protestant majority. The GFA legitimated the policy o allowing the majority to determine the sovereignty of Northern Ireland made in the Anglo – Irish Agreement. In the 1920’s Catholics made up 30% of the population of N.I. According to 1991 cencus, Catholics are now 40 % of population and this number is quickly increasing, therefor it is not unreasonable for unionists to be concerned with the fate of N.I. if and when they no longer are the majority of the population.

Recent Real IRA violence


The RIRA is a breakaway faction of the IRA whose members are dissatisfied with the IRA’s compromises in the peace talks. The RIRA does not support Gerry Adams because Adams did not insist that Northern Ireland become part of the Republic of Ireland during the talks. In the recent RIRA bombing of a crowded shopping street 28 people were killed and then more recently three young boys were burnt to death in their house, leaving the peace settlement in a precarious position. However, both Catholics and Protestants alike were outraged by the bombings and there was strong public sentiment that the considerable support shown for the GFA in May referendum left no justification for continued violence. However, only future violent efforts by the RIRA could potentially limit the progress towards peace gained by the agreement.


By looking only at recent British newspapers, the set back for Northern Irelands peace is turning out to be worse than people thought it would be.


From “The Herald”, Monday, 4 October, the headline read “Little hope of progress in peace talks”. The article talked about how Ulster Unionists’ and Sinn Fein’s conceded chances of an quick breakthrough in the peace process were slim as their leader, Mr Trimble and Mr Adams, prepared to meet again. Mr Trimble still wants the IRA “to guarantee to give up its arms before he will contemplate sitting in Government with its political wing, Sinn Fein”. It is understood that Mr Trimble would only enter an administration on an “all or nothing” basis, while on the other side Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin dismissed Mr Trimble’s statement as “word play” and admitted thing were not looking hopeful at present.


Unfortunately, at this day, there does not seem to be very much progress around the GFA. The Agreement looks as though it might just turn out to be, a slightly larger, reminder that some people do care about the future of Ireland, and that they did the best that they could to improve the situation there.






Suggestions for maintaining peace in Northern Ireland




Obviously I am not surprised by the difficulties negotiators are facing. They need prayer and encouragement. But they must show courage.


The problem here is lack of trust; Unionists don’t trust Republicans and vice versa. The art of negotiation, as of politics, is “the possible”. Trimble has limited grounds for manoeuvre; and so has Adams. Unionists don’t recognise how far the Republicans have already come. Republicans must recognise the genuine depth of Unionists’ fears for the future.


The way I see it, there are always ways to fix a problem. And I think that it is vital for the peace process, that all involved try to come to a solution for the problems that recently have occurred, and at that as soon as possible. Of course the Good Friday Agreement was not going to bring peace to Ireland at once. It was known that it would take time to solve such an expansive predicament, and I know that the real battle of hearts and minds lay ahead.


There are many apexes that must be taken to account to maintain the peace Agreement; here are some that I believe are important:


·        British and Irish government must continue to pressure the IRA to decommission weapons to decrease the likelihood of future violence.


·        Leaders cannot allow isolated incidents of violence committed by radical groups interfere with more moderate groups’ involvement in the peace process.


·        All involved in the peace process cannot expect violence to end overnight. They can only expect a decrease in the violence acts committed in the near future.


·        Leaders of Sinn Fein and the Unionists groups must be able to convince their supporters that they can achieve political equality in power-sharing system in order to prevent losing support to more radical groups.


·        Radical groups must be kept in an unarmed minority


·        The Prime Minister of Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland must continue to be committed to the peace process. They are their own and the people of Ireland most vital hope.


·         Social Reforms in Northern Ireland must continue to remedy economic discrimination against Catholics.


Will the Good Friday Agreement bring peace to Ireland?




The Good Friday Agreement is far from a perfect solution for all the people of Northern Ireland, but it is a step in the right direction. It is positive step towards a possible future of peace and prosperity for all in hope of a settlement. I firmly believe that the agreement represents the best chance for peace and reconciliation in Ireland in our lifetimes. To reach a written agreement between most of the parties in Northern Ireland as well as the Irish and British government was a historical breakthrough. It has taken considerable courage on the part of all concerned in the peace talks to work together to produce this historic agreement – those who played key roles in the process should be congratulated. Its overwhelming endorsement shown in referenda north and south of the border confirmed the enormous strength of the desire for peace and reconciliation among the overwhelming majority of people living in Ireland.


But it was always clear that the challenges involved in implementing the Agreement would be as great, or even greater, than the difficulties of reaching agreement in the first place. Looking back at the first year and a half of the Agreement that has certainly proven to be the case. One and a half years on there is still enormous frustration that once one obstacle is overcome, another emerges.


The only way to deal with the situation is to stick to the letter of agreement, because that is what each party signed up to and what the Irish people endorsed. When they signed up, every party accepted compromises. To permit any party to re-write parts of the Agreement would de-value the entire document and allow all sides to claim the right to reject those parts of it which they find least palatable. That would be a recipe for disaster. Under the terms of the Agreement, in the final analysis, it is the British and Irish Governments who have the power to ensure that the Agreement is implemented. They may well have to use power. 


One of the most important things we can learn from the past months is that everyone who wants the GFA to succeed must make their voices heard. Success will not come automatically. The elements that want to wreck the GFA are hard at work. Every failure to meet the timetables set out a year and a half ago encourages them. This is why supporters of the Agreement in Ireland need to understand that every single one of them plays a role in helping make the Agreement work and maintaining the momentum of the peace progress. It is important to focus on what can be done here to bring some reality to the movement behind the Agreement.


In the first instance that requires showing the enormous goodwill that exists for the peace progress and the implementation of the Agreement in Ireland. Secondly it means mobilising that good will to assist maintaining the momentum of the peace process. Every individual and organisation – the trade unions, Irish community groups, woman’s organisations, actors, writers, academics, lawyers, artists, political activists – has a part to play.


Now it is time for all those who stand for peace and reconciliation in Ireland to come together in support of the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. If they are to lose heart, just remember how far we have come. The danger will always be that they could slip back, and if they did, it would take at least a generation if they were to clime back up again. Although I believe that they will “go to the wire”, I remain optimistic that they will find a breakthrough. All politicians need is time and support, and hopefully they will for one and for all solve the suffering.


Will there ever be peace in Ireland?




Will there finally be peace after several centuries filled with violence? It looks like the conflict is moving towards a future without shooting and bombing, and after the Omagh-explosion there has not been one single murder committed. But during the last 25 years, more than 3200 human beings have lost their lives and that should be “enough”! As word has it, each inhabitant of Northern Ireland has been either affected themselves by the violence or has lost a member of their family. All though 1999 has been a peaceful year there are still several political questions that have to reach a settlement or at least an answer. One of the most important decisions, which have to be settled, is the composition of a joint government. The Protestants demand that the IRA weapons have to be decommissioned. The Catholics mean that a government has to be settled first.


So near, and yet so far. The peace process in Northern Ireland is mired in its most difficult phase yet. There is one kind of peace, but it is an armed one, controlled by weapons. It might have seemed strange to certain that John Hume and David Trimble received an award for a running race, which still has not seen an end. The paramilitary part is over, but the politics have just started.   


As David McKittrick of the Independent wrote: “And the peace process, which has so often seemed so defunct, somehow moves mysteriously on, in a way no one really fully understands, full of surprises, keeping hope alive that a lasting peace can be attained.”

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