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Features of the Good Friday Agreement

Updated: May 2

The Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement, was signed on 10 April 1998 and ratified in a referendum in May 1998. It brought an end to a period of conflict in Northern Ireland known as 'The Troubles'.

The Good Friday Agreement led to the following in Northern Ireland:

Devolved Government

The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive was created and politicians, from all political parties in Northern Ireland, can meet and make decisions about local issues in Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has power over:

  • Health

  • Education

  • Agriculture

  • Environment

  • Enterprise

  • Trade and Investment

  • Social Services and Justice

  • Policing

It does not have power over:

  • Taxes

  • Elections

  • National Security

  • War

  • Space Travel

This is important as now politicians from Northern Ireland can make decisions for the people of Northern Ireland.

Power Sharing

The elected Members of the Legislative (MLA's) must register themselves as nationalist, unionist or other. The political parties all have to share power and there needs to be cross-party support on major decisions. This avoids domination by one party. It also means that the offices of First Minister and Deputy First Minister must be represented by a unionist and a nationalist, with equal powers. The electoral system used for parties to gain seats must be proportional representation to prevent the domination of one party.

This is important as now all views are involved in discussions and decisions made are shared between unionist and nationalist politicians.

Principle of Consent

This acknowledges the different aspirations that exist between unionists and nationalists. It promotes the right of self-determination for the people of Northern Ireland by allowing the people to decide by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to whether they prefer to continue to remain part of the Union with Great Britain or become a sovereign United Ireland.

This is important as the people of Northern Ireland can now choose whether Northern Ireland should remain in the UK or become part of a united Ireland, there would be no change without the consent of the majority.

Dual nationality

This recognises the right of people born in Northern Ireland to identify themselves as Irish or British or both, so could hold both British and/or Irish citizenship.

This is important as the people of Northern Ireland can now chose to be Irish or British (or both) and this choice would be accepted by both the British and Irish Governments.

Pledge of Office

This is a set of promises that ministers commit to fulfilling when in office. They must carry out their duties in good faith, committed to non-violence, abide by the code of conduct, to work for the good of all their constituents and not take sides. Ministers also commit to supporting the decisions of the Executive Committee and the Assembly.

This is important as politicians have to commit to working for the interests of all the people that they represent.

Ministerial code of conduct

This ensures that ministers promote good public relations and equality of treatment, not use information for personal gain or private interests, to declare personal or business interests which may conflict with their responsibilities.

This is important as people can trust that politicians work in an open and transparent and accountable manner.

North/South bodies

There was an agreement on establishing a North/South Ministerial Council and British Irish Council to work collaboratively on issues both north and south of the Northern Ireland border.

This is important for developing relationships between the north and the south of Ireland.

Democratic Institutions were set up

Independent bodies such as the NIHRC, Police Ombudsman, Equality Commission to promote and safeguard human rights, justice and equality.

This is important as all people in

Northern Ireland should be treated equally and fairly and would have institutions to go to for advice if there ever was discrimination.

Recognition of linguistic diversity

This promotes respect, tolerance and understanding among people who speak Irish, Ulster Scots and languages of ethnic minorities. This means that action must be taken to promote these languages.

This is important so that the Irish language and Ulster Scots language are both accepted, promoted and developed through education, TV programmes and community groups.

Decommissioning of weapons

It was agreed that any weapons owned/used by paramilitaries would be handed in to be destroyed and no longer used.

This is important as the people of Northern Ireland have to learn to trust that a return to violence is not an option.

Early release of prisoners

People imprisoned as a result of their actions during the conflict were released from prison early.

This is important as everyone in Northern Ireland was offered an opportunity to begin this opportunity with a 'clean slate' and a new beginning.

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