The Belfast Agreement or Good Friday Agreement was a major political development in the Northern Ireland peace process. The Agreement was made up of two inter-related documents: a multi-party agreement by most of Northern Ireland's political parties, and an international agreement between the British and Irish governments.
All in all then it can safely be said that the Good Friday Agreement excited little positive support on the left. It must be stated however that those who adopted a position which might best be described as 'critical support' were much more honest than those who opposed the deal without actually putting forward any credible alternative. The SWP view that a 'No' vote would have resulted in the coming to the fore of class politics ignores completely the fact that the deal's rejection would have been hailed by the most reactionary elements on both sides of the sectarian divide - from Paisley and the LVF through to the 32 County Sovereignty Committee and RSF - as their victory.
The Agreement was not perfect. Conservatives had substantial misgivings about the lack of any linkage between the early release of terrorist prisoners and the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons. The Democratic Unionist Party also had strong objections which it sought to address through the St Andrews Agreement of 2006. However, the 1998 Agreement remains the basic template for the accommodation that we see today in Northern Ireland.
[The Belfast Agreement] 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.
Ultimately, though, it was the decision by Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, to abandon its armed campaign against the British government that made any deal possible.
However, it took until 2005 for the IRA to finally disarm for good.
...the Good Friday Agreement officially put an end to the Troubles. The deal, brokered by President Bill Clinton, Senator George Mitchell, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Republic of Ireland Taoiseach (equivalent to prime minister) Bertie Ahern, represented a historic compromise. It created a semiautonomous government body comprising both Catholics and Protestants, and called for disarmament of paramilitary groups, release of jailed combatants and reorganization of the police force (at the time, 93 percent Protestant). The agreement also stipulated that Northern Ireland would remain part of Britain until a majority of its citizens voted otherwise.
Strand One deals with arrangements within Northern Ireland—the setting up of the Assembly and the transfer to it of legislative and executive authority for matters currently dealt with by government departments and non-departmental public bodies. [...] Strand Two sets up a North-South Ministerial Council [...] This (re-)states explicitly that Northern Ireland is part of the UK. [... Strand Three is a major innovation to previous ideas about an east- west dimension in an agreed Ireland but resonates with the century-old idea of ‘home rule all round’ in the new context of devolved powers to Scotland and Wales, except, of course, for the fact that the super- ordinate unit is not one state but two.]
The first paragraph of the Agreement clearly recognizes that it is for the people of Northern Ireland alone, without any outside interference, to determine the destiny of Northern Ireland.
Overall, a holistic approach is evident in the Good Friday Agreement, involving wide-ranging policy initiatives. This comprehensive review reflects a deeper understanding of how the various policy areas have interacted with each other to aggravate the conflict in Northern Ireland and how the resolution of the conflict necessitates a multi-faceted policy approach, i.e., substantive issue linkage occurs. Against this background, learning occurred in two main ways. First, original values were re-examined and, secondly, purposes were redefined.
Since the time when it was finalized, on Good Friday, 10 April 1998, the Belfast Agreement1 has dominated the political life, and constitutional development, of Northern Ireland. It was, and remains, an enormously ambitious attempt to establish a constitutional process that will enable both sides in the Northern Ireland dispute–– nationalists, who prefer a united Ireland independent of the United Kingdom, and unionists, who prefer continued membership of the United Kingdom––to participate in government together.
For the first time since 1937 the Irish Government formally recognized the territorial integrity of the British state when it accepted Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom in an international agreement.
Two crucial aspects concerned decommissioning and the release of prisoners. On decommissioning, al participants reaffirmed their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organizations. […] Prisoners of all organizations maintaining a 'complete and unequivocal cease-fire' were to be released on an 'accelerated program'.
Anxiety and expectation appeared to sum up the paradoxical experience of Northern Ireland after the Belfast agreement. To explain that experience it is important to understand how current expectation had informed political anxiety and how current anxiety had informed political expectation. Both anxiety and expectation, of course, derive their substance from different readings of the past.