"Good Friday Agreement". Perspectives on the Northern Irish peace process

Term Paper, 2016

13 Pages, Grade: 2,3




The Peace Process up to the Good Friday Agreement

The Post-Agreement Reconstruction Model

Conflict potential within the Good Friday Agreement

Difficulties in the Peace Process





The Troubles in Northern Ireland were one of the main concerns for both British and Irish politics ever since the late 1960s. However, the roots of the conflict reach back centuries and have been the cause for immense bloodshed and more than 3,200 casualties. (cf. Fay in Wolff 2002c, 94)

These earlier stages of the conflict as well as its course in general are to be neglected in this paper, whereas the emphasis is to be on the Good Friday Agreement or Belfast Agreement of 1998 as the political marking line between war and peace, as well as the developments up to the present. Although the end of violence as primary goal of the Agreement was largely achieved in most parts of Northern Ireland, there are still developments that run contrary to a notion of peace. (cf. Hayes & McAllister 2013, 226) These developments will subsequently be analyzed to identify weaknesses of the Good Friday Agreement and make statements about the success of the peace process possible and ultimately make assumptions about the hindrances of said peace process to this day.

The indicator used to make said assumptions will be Wolff’s post-agreement reconstruction model which was already used to analyze the progress of the peace process in 2002, which lead to a very cautious prognosis for the coming years. This paper’s task is therefore to apply the post-agreement reconstruction model to today’s situation to make a statement about the success of the Good Friday Agreement more than 18 years after it was signed. Due to the shortness of this paper, an emphasis will be laid on social, psychological and security indicators for the success of post-agreement reconstruction.

Furthermore, the particular contents of the Belfast Agreement in their entirety are not to be listed here. However, for an analysis of the current situation in Northern Ireland it is necessary to consider at least some of the crucial points that contain the potential to obstruct the peace process or further entrench the sectarian division of Northern Ireland.

In terms of Literature, much has been written on the subject of the Troubles and the politics around them. As a general introduction may serve Frank Otto’s Der Nordirlandkonflikt, which was first released in 2005 and has been republished and updated several times, the last time in 2014. Among a compact description of the events and processes from the Middle Ages up until after the Good Friday Agreement, the book features a bibliography of newer scientific works on the topic.

Furthermore, Stefan Wolff’s work both on the concept of post-agreement reconstruction as well as his analysis of the effects of the Good Friday Agreement together with Jörg Neuheiser which were both published in 2002 have to be named. Although not exactly a recent publication, Peace at last? The Impact of the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland contains a detailed analysis of the Belfast Agreement from different perspectives. His publication The Peace Process in Northern Ireland Since 1998: Success or Failure of Post-Agreement Reconstruction? contains theoretical thoughts on the structure and strategy of bringing peace to a post-conflict society as well as a first résumé which both serve as the basis for the success of the Agreement 18 years later.

The Peace Process up to the Good Friday Agreement

The beginning negotiations about a lasting peace between the IRA, militant loyalist groups and Northern Irish authorities in the late 1980s were a reaction to the devastating Enniskillen bombing and the increasing number of casualties in the conflict on the one hand and an admission of the impossibility of a military defeat of the IRA on the other. (cf. Otto 2014, 122ff)

As a prerequisite to the peace negotiations, discussions with the four major confessional parties that were involved had been held by the minister for Northern Ireland affairs, Peter Brooke, concerning their conditions for all-party talks. The parties involved were the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APNI) representing the Unionist Camp on the one hand and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) as representative for the Irish Nationalists. Additionally, loyalist paramilitaries had announced a ceasefire but Brooke’s approach soon came to a halt because of disagreements between the parties. (cf. Otto 2014, 125f)

The decreasing influence of Sinn Féin among Irish nationalists in connection with a more moderate political course made a future participation in Northern Irish peace negotiations possible and led to the acceptance of their role as a partner by both the Irish and the British government. At the same time, all major paramilitary organizations announced ceasefires that were not limited to a specific period of time. (cf. Wolff 2002a, 12)

The moderation of the all-party talks was to be held by the former US senator George Mitchell as the leader of an independent commission set up to outline the conditions for the peace negotiations. Among these conditions was the exclusive use of democratic and nonviolent means as well as the disarmament of all paramilitary organizations. (cf. Otto 2014, 131)

Despite the growing interest in a compromise solution, the IRA’s refusal of a decommissioning of their weapon arsenal and a new outbreak of Irish Republican violence in 1996 were the major hindrances of Sinn Féin being admitted to talks including all major political parties despite winning more than 15% in that year’s elections. Only after the IRA renewed the ceasefire in the following year and Sinn Féin signed up to the Mitchell Principles of nonviolence, the party was admitted to the negotiations. This in return led to the resignation of the DUP and the United Kingdom Unionist Party (UKUP) from the talks. The eventual consent of all other parties involved led to the Good Friday Agreement, which was passed on 10 April 1998. (cf. Wolff 2002a, 13)

The Post-Agreement Reconstruction Model

The term post-conflict reconstruction is often used for the policies of a country after a civil war. However, Wolff pointed out the inaccuracy of this terminology in the context of Northern Ireland, as the “fundamental conflict between the proponents of two competing visions of national belonging is far from over” (Wolff 2002b, 205) and both parties merely agreed on new ways to pursue their political goals. As an alternative, he proposes post-agreement reconstruction, which embraces the three main tasks or dimensions of Northern Ireland as a society after the agreement: the creation of political institutions, economic development and the reconciliation of the communities. (cf. ibid.)

Wolff (2002c) furthermore defines the ambition of post-agreement reconstruction as following:

The essential aim of post-agreement reconstruction is to create a set of political, economic, and social structures in accordance with an agreed conflict settlement that allow the conduct of a non-violent, just, and democratic political process.

Kenneth Bush pointed out the inaccuracy of the term “reconstruction” beforehand, as the process is not a return to a former status, as the prefix re- might indicate, but rather the creation of new institutions which are an improvement compared to the pre-conflict situation. (cf. Bush 1998, 34)

However, he simultaneously proposes the use of five distinct categories as indicators to determine the success of post-agreement reconstruction, which are connected to security, psychological, social, political and judicial factors. Those indicators may serve as reference points to make assumptions about the success of the peace process. (cf. Bush 1998, 21)

Wolff proposes the addition of economic aspects as a separate category ant the application of all aspects into the dimensions for post-agreement reconstruction he proposed. (cf. Wolff 2002c, 92) Furthermore, he classifies the political, security-related, and judicial indicators proposed by Bush as institution-building, social, and psychological indicators as rebuilding of society and provides features for a community such as Northern Ireland to make the success of the peace process testable. (cf. Wolff 2002c, 93)

Conflict potential within the Good Friday Agreement

Among the many spheres of the Belfast Agreement there are certain ones that are especially alarming in terms of their conflict potential in a post-conflict society such as Northern Ireland.

The agreement itself is comprised of three dimensions, so-called “Strands”, which deal with issues within Northern Ireland, processes concerning both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and British-Irish cooperation. (cf. Wolff 2002a, 14)

One of the most precarious aspects is the executive power-sharing that is established by article 14 and 15 of first strand of the Agreement. (GFA 1998, Art. 14/15) The positions of First Minister and Deputy Minister are to be taken by both a Nationalist and a Unionist and differ in their titles. Both ministers are to preside over an “Executive Committee”. (O’Leary 2001, 52) To ensure their cooperation, an addition to the regulations of the Good Friday Agreement was made with the Northern Ireland Act of November 1998, which contains the phrase that “ceases to hold office at any time, whether by resignation or otherwise, the other shall also cease to hold office at that time”. (NIA 1998, Art. 16B)

This is especially delicate considering the increasing number of votes for the DUP and Sinn Féin in comparison to other parties. (cf. Belfast City Council 2011) This means that Ministers from two parties with entirely contrastive political goals have to form a working coalition. While this pressures both party delegates into certain moderation not to endanger the peace process, it was considered highly unlikely to bring both communities closer together. (cf. Otto 2014, 142) In reality however, relations between the ministers have improved and thus led to a more effective government in Northern Ireland. (cf. Hayes & McAllister 2013, 229)

Both the performance of government institutions and the distribution of votes are listed as political indicators in the post-agreement reconstruction model. (cf. Wolff 2002c, 93) While the positive realization of the former may be counted as a success for post-agreement reconstruction, the increasing number of votes for more radical parties runs contrary to the peace process.

Another delicate factor of the Belfast Agreement is the constitutional status quo of Northern Ireland. Currently, Northern Ireland is to remain part of the UK for as long as its population does not demand otherwise. (GFA 1998, Clauses for Incorporation in British Legislation Art. 1(1)/1(2))

Traditionally, there was a Protestant veto against leaving the United Kingdom. However, not only the Northern Irish demography is changing rapidly but also the public attitudes towards leaving the United Kingdom and reuniting with the Republic of Ireland. Although there still is a majority of Protestants living in Northern Ireland many Unionists see their cultural identity at stake. Indeed, the Catholic population has a significantly higher demographic increase in comparison with Protestants. (cf. Otto 2014, 143) Over the past 25 years, the amount of Catholics has increased to over 44% from 41,5% in 1991. (ibid.) If this trend continues, a future referendum in favor of Catholics may be possible. However, the changing public attitudes towards such a change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland may serve as a counter argument. Among Catholics, support for the current constitutional status is at 51%, which sets a successful referendum to leave the United Kingdom further into future. (Hayes & McAllister 2013, 228) A reason for this change in attitudes may be the shift towards socioeconomic issues instead of Northern Ireland’s constitutional status whenever elections are being held. (ibid.)


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"Good Friday Agreement". Perspectives on the Northern Irish peace process
University of Rostock
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good, friday, agreement, perspectives, northern, irish
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Enrico Schlickeisen (Author), 2016, "Good Friday Agreement". Perspectives on the Northern Irish peace process, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/457942


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