The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement

10 April 1998

The Belfast Agreement (or Good Friday Agreement) was the outcome of marathon talks, chaired by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, involving all the major political groups in Northern Ireland and representatives of the British and Irish governments. It was endorsed on 22 May by referenda held in both parts of Ireland, with a vote of 71 percent in favor in Northern Ireland, and over 94 percent in the Republic of Ireland. Unedited excerpts from the agreement follow.

SEE ALSO Adams, Gerry; Constitution; Decommissioning; Economic Relations between North and South since 1922; Economic Relations between Northern Ireland and Britain; Equal Rights in Northern Ireland; Northern Ireland: Constitutional Settlement from Sunningdale to Good Friday; Northern Ireland: History since 1920; Northern Ireland: The United States in Northern Ireland since 1970; Royal Ulster Constabulary (including Specials); Ulster Politics under Direct Rule

AGREEMENT REACHED IN THE MULTI-PARTY NEGOTIATIONS

Declaration of Support

1. We, the participants in the multi-party negotiations, believe that the agreement we have negotiated offers a truly historic opportunity for a new beginning.

2. The tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. But we can best honour them through a fresh start, in which we firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all.

3. We are committed to partnership, equality and mutual respect as the basis of relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between these islands.

4. We reaffirm our total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues, and our opposition to any use or threat of force by others for any political purpose, whether in regard to this agreement or otherwise.

5. We acknowledge the substantial differences between our continuing, and equally legitimate, political aspirations. However, we will endeavour to strive in every practical way towards reconciliation and rapprochement within the framework of democratic and agreed arrangements. We pledge that we will, in good faith, work to ensure the success of each and every one of the arrangements to be established under this agreement. It is accepted that all of the institutional and constitutional arrangements—an assembly in Northern Ireland, a North/South Ministerial Council, implementation bodies, a British-Irish Council and a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and any amendments to British acts of parliament and the constitution of Ireland—are interlocking and interdependent and that in particular the functioning of the assembly and the North/South Council are so closely inter-related that the success of each depends on that of the other.

6. Accordingly, in a spirit of concord, we strongly commend this agreement to the people, North and South, for their approval.

Constitutional Issues

1. The participants endorse the commitment made by the British and Irish governments that, in a new British-Irish Agreement replacing the Anglo-Irish Agreement, they will:

  • (i) recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland;
  • (ii) recognise that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland;
  • (iii) acknowledge that while a substantial section of the people in Northern Ireland share the legitimate wish of a majority of the people of the island of Ireland for a united Ireland, the present wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, freely exercised and legitimate, is to maintain the Union and, accordingly, that Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom reflects and relies upon that wish; and that it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people;
  • (iv) affirm that if, in the future, the people of the island of Ireland exercise their right of self-determination on the basis set out in sections (i) and (ii) above to bring about a united Ireland, it will be a binding obligation on both governments to introduce and support in their respective parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish;
  • (v) affirm that whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities;
  • (vi) recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.

2. The participants also note that the two governments have accordingly undertaken in the context of this comprehensive political agreement, to propose and support changes in, respectively, the constitution of Ireland and in British legislation relating to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.

Annex A

Draft Clauses/Schedules for Incorporation in British Legislation

  1. (1) It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1.
  2. (2) But if the wish expressed by a majority in such a poll is that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland, the secretary of state shall lay before parliament such proposals to give effect to that wish as may be agreed between her majesty's government in the United Kingdom and the government of Ireland.

2. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 is repealed; and this act shall have effect notwithstanding any other previous enactment. . . .

Annex B

Irish Government Draft Legislation to Amend the Constitution

Add to Article 29 the following sections:

7.

  1. The state may consent to be bound by the British-Irish Agreement done at Belfast on the day of 1998, hereinafter called the Agreement.
  1. Any institution established by or under the Agreement may exercise the powers and functions thereby conferred on it in respect of all or any part of the island of Ireland notwithstanding any other provision of this constitution conferring a like power or function on any person or any organ of state appointed under or created or established by or under this constitution. Any power or function conferred on such an institution in relation to the settlement or resolution of disputes or controversies may be in addition to or in substitution for any like power or function conferred by this constitution on any such person or organ of state as aforesaid.
  1. If the government declare that the state has become obliged, pursuant to the Agreement, to give effect to the amendment of this constitution referred to therein, then, notwithstanding Article 46 hereof, this constitution shall be amended as follows: . . .

Article 2

It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland. Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.

Article 3

1. It is the firm will of the Irish nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities and traditions, recognising that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island. Until then, the laws enacted by the parliament established by this constitution shall have the like area and extent of application as the laws enacted by the parliament that existed immediately before the coming into operation of this constitution.

2. Institutions with executive powers and functions that are shared between those jurisdictions may be established by their respective responsible authorities for stated purposes and may exercise powers and functions in respect of all or any part of the island. . . .

'8. The state may exercise extra-territorial jurisdiction in accordance with the generally recognised principles of international law. . . .

Strand One: Democratic Institutions in Northern Ireland

1. This agreement provides for a democratically elected assembly in Northern Ireland which is inclusive in its membership, capable of exercising executive and legislative authority, and subject to safeguards to protect the rights and interests of all sides of the community.

The Assembly

2. A 108-member assembly will be elected by PR(STV) from existing Westminster constituencies.

3. The assembly will exercise full legislative and executive authority in respect of those matters currently within the responsibility of the six Northern Ireland government departments, with the possibility of taking on responsibility for other matters as detailed elsewhere in this agreement.

4. The assembly—operating where appropriate on a cross-community basis—will be the prime source of authority in respect of all devolved responsibilities.

Safeguards

5. There will be safeguards to ensure that all sections of the community can participate and work together successfully in the operation of these institutions and that all sections of the community are protected, including:

  • (a) allocations of committee chairs, ministers and committee membership in proportion to party strengths;
  • (b) the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and any bill of rights for Northern Ireland supplementing it, which neither the assembly nor public bodies can infringe, together with a Human Rights Commission;
  • (c) arrangements to provide that key decisions and legislation are proofed to ensure that they do not infringe the ECHR and any bill of rights for Northern Ireland;
  • (d) arrangements to ensure key decisions are taken on a cross-community basis;
    • (i) either parallel consent, i.e., a majority of those members present and voting, including a majority of the unionist and nationalist designations present and voting;
    • (ii) or a weighted majority (60%) of members present and voting, including at least 40% of each of the nationalist and unionist designations present and voting.

Key decisions requiring cross-community support will be designated in advance, including election of the chair of the assembly, the first minister and deputy first minister, standing orders and budget allocations. In other cases such decisions could be triggered by a petition of concern brought by a significant minority of assembly members (30/108).

  • (e) an Equality Commission to monitor a statutory obligation to promote equality of opportunity in specified areas and parity of esteem between the two main communities, and to investigate individual complaints against public bodies.

Operation of the Assembly

6. At their first meeting, members of the assembly will register a designation of identity—nationalist, unionist or other—for the purposes of measuring cross-community support in assembly votes under the relevant provisions above.

7. The chair and deputy chair of the assembly will be elected on a cross-community basis, as set out in paragraph 5(d) above.

8. There will be a committee for each of the main executive functions of the Northern Ireland administration. The chairs and deputy chairs of the assembly committees will be allocated proportionally, using the d'Hondt system. Membership of the committees will be in broad proportion to party strengths in the assembly to ensure that the opportunity of committee places is available to all members.

9. The committees will have a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the department with which each is associated, and will have a role in initiation of legislation. They will have the power to:

consider and advise on departmental budgets and annual plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;

approve relevant secondary legislation and take the committee stage of relevant primary legislation;

call for persons and papers;

initiate enquiries and make reports;

consider and advise on matters brought to the committee by its minister.

10. Standing committees other than departmental committees may be established as may be required from time to time.

11. The assembly may appoint a special committee to examine and report on whether a measure or proposal for legislation is in conformity with equality requirements, including the ECHR/bill of rights. The committee shall have the power to call people and papers to assist in its consideration of the matter. The assembly shall then consider the report of the committee and can determine the matter in accordance with the cross-community consent procedure.

12. The above special procedure shall be followed when requested by the executive committee, or by the relevant departmental committee, voting on a cross-community basis.

13. When there is a petition of concern as in 5(d) above, the assembly shall vote to determine whether the measure may proceed without reference to this special procedure. If this fails to achieve support on a cross-community basis, as in 5(d)(i) above, the special procedure shall be followed.

Executive Authority

14. Executive authority to be discharged on behalf of the assembly by a first minister and deputy first minister and up to ten ministers with departmental responsibilities.

15. The first minister and deputy first minister shall be jointly elected into office by the assembly voting on a cross-community basis, according to 5(d)(i) above.

16. Following the election of the first minister and deputy first minister, the posts of ministers will be allocated to parties on the basis of the d'Hondt system by reference to the number of seats each party has in the assembly.

17. The ministers will constitute an executive committee, which will be convened, and presided over, by the first minister and deputy first minister.

18. The duties of the first minister and deputy first minister will include, inter alia, dealing with and coordinating the work of the executive committee and the response of the Northern Ireland administration to external relationships.

19. The executive committee will provide a forum for the discussion of, and agreement on, issues which cut across the responsibilities of two or more ministers, for prioritising executive and legislative proposals and for recommending a common position where necessary (e.g., in dealing with external relationships).

20. The executive committee will seek to agree each year, and review as necessary, a programme incorporating an agreed budget linked to policies and programmes, subject to approval by the assembly, after scrutiny in assembly committees, on a cross-community basis. . . .

Legislation

26. The assembly will have authority to pass primary legislation for Northern Ireland in devolved areas, subject to:

  • (a) the ECHR and any bill of rights for Northern Ireland supplementing it which, if the courts found to be breached, would render the relevant legislation null and void;
  • (b) decisions by simple majority of members voting, except when decision on a cross-community basis is required;
  • (c) detailed scrutiny and approval in the relevant departmental committee;
  • (d) mechanisms, based on arrangements proposed for the Scottish parliament, to ensure suitable coordination, and avoid disputes, between the assembly and the Westminster parliament;
  • (e) option of the assembly seeking to include Northern Ireland provisions in United Kingdom-wide legislation in the Westminster parliament, . . .

Relations with Other Institutions

. . . 32. Role of secretary of state:

  • (a) to remain responsible for NIO matters not devolved to the assembly, subject to regular consultation with the assembly and ministers;
  • (b) to approve and lay before the Westminster parliament any assembly legislation on reserved matters;
  • (c) to represent Northern Ireland interests in the United Kingdom cabinet;
  • (d) to have the right to attend the assembly at their invitation.

33. The Westminster parliament (whose power to make legislation for Northern Ireland would remain unaffected) will:

  • (a) legislate for non-devolved issues, other than where the assembly legislates with the approval of the secretary of state and subject to the control of parliament;
  • (b) to legislate as necessary to ensure the United Kingdom's international obligations are met in respect of Northern Ireland;
  • (c) scrutinise, including through the Northern Ireland grand and select committees, the responsibilities of the secretary of state.

34. A consultative civic forum will be established. It will comprise representatives of the business, trade union and voluntary sectors, and such other sectors as agreed by the first minister and the deputy first minister. It will act as a consultative mechanism on social, economic and cultural issues. . . .

Strand Two: North/South Ministerial Council

1. Under a new British/Irish Agreement dealing with the totality of relationships, and related legislation at Westminster and in the Oireachtas, a North/South Ministerial Council to be established to bring together those with executive responsibilities in Northern Ireland and the Irish government, to develop consultation, cooperation and action within the island of Ireland—including through implementation on an all-island and cross-border basis—on matters of mutual interest within the competence of the administrations, North and South.

2. All council decisions to be by agreement between the two sides. Northern Ireland to be represented by the first minister, deputy first minister and any relevant ministers, the Irish government by the taoiseach and relevant ministers, all operating in accordance with the rules for democratic authority and accountability in force in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas respectively. Participation in the council to be one of the essential responsibilities attaching to relevant posts in the two administrations. If a holder of a relevant post will not participate normally in the council, the taoiseach in the case of the Irish government and the first and deputy first minister in the case of the Northern Ireland administration to be able to make alternative arrangements.

3. The Council to meet in different formats:

  • (i) in plenary format twice a year, with Northern Ireland representation led by the first minister and deputy first minister and the Irish government led by the taoiseach;
  • (ii) in specific sectoral formats on a regular and frequent basis with each side represented by the appropriate minister;
  • (iii) in an appropriate format to consider institutional or cross-sectoral matters (including in relation to the EU) and to resolve disagreement.

4. Agendas for all meetings to be settled by prior agreement between the two sides, but it will be open to either to propose any matter for consideration or action.

5. The council:

  • (i) to exchange information, discuss and consult with a view to co-operating on matters of mutual interest within the competence of both administrations, North and South;
  • (ii) to use best endeavours to reach agreement on the adoption of common policies, in areas where there is a mutual cross-border and all-island benefit, and which are within the competence of both administrations, North and South, making determined efforts to overcome any disagreements;
  • (iii) to take decisions by agreement on policies for implementation separately in each jurisdiction, in relevant meaningful areas within the competence of both administrations, North and South;
  • (iv) to take decisions by agreement on policies and action at an all-island and cross-border level to be implemented by the bodies to be established as set out in paragraphs 8 and 9 below.

6. Each side to be in a position to take decisions in the council within the defined authority of those attending, through the arrangements in place for coordination of executive functions within each jurisdiction. Each side to remain accountable to the assembly and Oireachtas respectively, whose approval, through the arrangements in place on either side, would be required for decisions beyond the defined authority of those attending.

7. As soon as practically possible after elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, inaugural meetings will take place of the assembly, the British/Irish Council and the North/South Ministerial Council in their transitional forms. All three institutions will meet regularly and frequently on this basis during the period between the elections to the assembly, and the transfer of powers to the assembly, in order to establish their modus operandi.

8. During the transitional period between the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the transfer of power to it, representatives of the Northern Ireland transitional Administration and the Irish government operating in the North/South Ministerial Council will undertake a work programme, in consultation with the British government, covering at least 12 subject areas, with a view to identifying and agreeing by 31 October 1998 areas where co-operation and implementation for mutual benefit will take place. Such areas may include matters in the list set out in the Annex.

9. As part of the work programme, the council will identify and agree at least 6 matters for co-operation and implementation in each of the following categories:

  • (i) Matters where existing bodies will be the appropriate mechanisms for co-operation in each separate jurisdiction;
  • (ii) Matters where the co-operation will take place through agreed implementation bodies on a cross-border or all-island level.

10. The two governments will make necessary legislative and other enabling preparations to ensure, as an absolute commitment, that these bodies, which have been agreed as a result of the work programme, function at the time of the inception of the British-Irish Agreement and the transfer of powers, with legislative authority for these bodies transferred to the assembly as soon as possible thereafter. Other arrangements for the agreed co-operation will also commence contemporaneously with the transfer of powers to the assembly.

11. The implementation bodies will have a clear operational remit. They will implement on an all-island and cross-border basis policies agreed in the council.

12. Any further development of these arrangements to be by agreement in the Council and with the specific endorsement of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Oireachtas, subject to the extent of the competences and responsibility of the two administrations.

13. It is understood that the North/South Ministerial Council and the Northern Ireland Assembly are mutually inter-dependent, and that one cannot successfully function without the other.

14. Disagreements within the council to be addressed in the format described at paragraph 3(iii) above or in the plenary format. By agreement between the two sides, experts could be appointed to consider a particular matter and report.

15. Funding to be provided by the two administrations on the basis that the council and the implementation bodies constitute a necessary public function.

16. The council to be supported by a standing joint secretariat, staffed by members of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the Irish Civil Service.

17. The council to consider the European Union dimension of relevant matters, including the implementation of EU policies and programmes and proposals under consideration in the EU framework. Arrangements to be made to ensure that the views of the council are taken into account and represented appropriately at relevant EU meetings.

18. The Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas to consider developing a joint parliamentary forum, bringing together equal numbers from both institutions for discussion of matters of mutual interest and concern.

19. Consideration to be given to the establishment of an independent consultative forum appointed by the two administrations, representative of civil society, comprising the social partners and other members with expertise in social, cultural, economic and other issues.

Annex

Areas for North-South co-operation and implementation may include the following:

  1. Agriculture—animal and plant health.
  2. Education—teacher qualifications and exchanges.
  3. Transport—strategic transport planning.
  4. Environment—environmental protection, pollution, water quality, and waste management.
  5. Waterways—inland waterways.
  6. Social Security/Social Welfare—entitlements of cross-border workers and fraud control.
  7. Tourism—promotion, marketing, research, and product development.
  8. Relevant EU Programmes such as SPPR, INTERREG, Leader II and their successors.
  9. Inland Fisheries.
  10. Aquaculture and marine matters.
  11. Health: accident and emergency services and other related cross-border issues.
  12. Urban and rural development.

Others to be considered by the shadow North/South Council.

Strand Three: British-Irish Council

1. A British-Irish Council (BIC) will be established under a new British-Irish Agreement to promote the harmonious and mutually beneficial development of the totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands.

2. Membership of the BIC will comprise representatives of the British and Irish governments, devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, when established, and, if appropriate, elsewhere in the United Kingdom, together with representatives of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

3. The BIC will meet in different formats: at summit level, twice per year; in specific sectoral formats on a regular basis, with each side represented by the appropriate minister; in an appropriate format to consider cross-sectoral matters.

4. Representatives of members will operate in accordance with whatever procedures for democratic authority and accountability are in force in their respective elected institutions.

5. The BIC will exchange information, discuss, consult and use best endeavours to reach agreement on cooperation on matters of mutual interest within the competence of the relevant Administrations. Suitable issues for early discussion in the BIC could include transport links, agricultural issues, environmental issues, cultural issues, health issues, education issues and approaches to EU issues. Suitable arrangements to be made for practical co-operation on agreed policies. . . .

British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference

1. There will be a new British-Irish Agreement dealing with the totality of relationships. It will establish a standing British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which will subsume both the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council and the intergovernmental Conference established under the 1985 Agreement.

2. The conference will bring together the British and Irish governments to promote bilateral co-operation at all levels on all matters of mutual interest within the competence of both governments.

3. The conference will meet as required at summit level (prime minister and taoiseach). Otherwise, governments will be represented by appropriate ministers. Advisers, including police and security advisers, will attend as appropriate.

4. All decisions will be by agreement between both governments. The governments will make determined efforts to resolve disagreements between them. There will be no derogation from the sovereignty of either government.

5. In recognition of the Irish government's special interest in Northern Ireland and of the extent to which issues of mutual concern arise in relation to Northern Ireland, there will be regular and frequent meetings of the conference concerned with non-devolved Northern Ireland matters, on which the Irish government may put forward views and proposals. These meetings, to be co-chaired by the minister for foreign affairs and the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, would also deal with all-island and cross-border co-operation on nondevolved issues.

6. Co-operation within the framework of the conference will include facilitation of co-operation in security matters. The conference also will address, in particular, the areas of rights, justice, prisons and policing in Northern Ireland (unless and until responsibility is devolved to a Northern Ireland administration) and will intensify co-operation between the two governments on the all-island or cross-border aspects of these matters.

7. Relevant executive members of the Northern Ireland administration will be involved in meetings of the conference, and in the reviews referred to in paragraph 9 below to discuss non-devolved Northern Ireland matters.

8. The conference will be supported by officials of the British and Irish governments, including by a standing joint secretariat of officials dealing with nondevolved Northern Ireland matters.

9. The conference will keep under review the workings of the new British-Irish Agreement and the machinery and institutions established under it, including a formal published review three years after the Agreement comes into effect. Representatives of the Northern Ireland administration will be invited to express views to the conference in this context. The conference will contribute as appropriate to any review of the overall political agreement arising from the multi-party negotiations but will have no power to override the democratic arrangements set up by this agreement.

Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity

Human Rights

1. The parties affirm their commitment to the mutual respect, the civil rights and the religious liberties of everyone in the community. Against the background of the recent history of communal conflict, the parties affirm in particular:

the right of free political thought;

the right to freedom and expression of religion;

the right to pursue democratically national and political aspirations;

the right to seek constitutional change by peaceful and legitimate means;

the right to freely choose one's place of residence;

the right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity;

the right to freedom from sectarian harassment; and

the right of women to full and equal political participation.

United Kingdom Legislation

2. The British government will complete incorporation into Northern Ireland law of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), with direct access to the courts, and remedies for breach of the convention, including power for the courts to overrule assembly legislation on grounds of inconsistency.

3. Subject to the outcome of public consultation underway, the British government intends, as a particular priority, to create a statutory obligation on public authorities in Northern Ireland to carry out all their functions with due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in relation to religion and political opinion; gender; race; disability; age; marital status; dependants; and sexual orientation. Public bodies would be required to draw up statutory schemes showing how they would implement this obligation. Such schemes would cover arrangements for policy appraisal, including an assessment of impact on relevant categories, public consultation, public access to information and services, monitoring and timetables.

4. The new Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (see paragraph 5 below) will be invited to consult and to advise on the scope for defining, in Westminster legislation, rights supplementary to those in the European Convention on Human Rights, to reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, drawing as appropriate on international instruments and experience. These additional rights to reflect the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem, and—taken together with the ECHR—to constitute a bill of rights for Northern Ireland. Among the issues for consideration by the commission will be:

the formulation of a general obligation on government and public bodies fully to respect, on the basis of equality of treatment, the identity and ethos of both communities in Northern Ireland; and

a clear formulation of the rights not to be discriminated against and to equality of opportunity in both the public and private sectors.

New Institutions in Northern Ireland

5. A new Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, with membership from Northern Ireland reflecting the community balance, will be established by Westminster legislation, independent of government, with an extended and enhanced role beyond that currently exercised by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, to include keeping under review the adequacy and effectiveness of laws and practices, making recommendations to government as necessary; providing information and promoting awareness of human rights; considering draft legislation referred to them by the new assembly; and, in appropriate cases, bringing court proceedings or providing assistance to individuals doing so. . . .

Comparable Steps by the Irish Government

9. The Irish government will also take steps to further strengthen the protection of human rights in its jurisdiction. The government will, taking account of the work of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution and the Report of the Constitution Review Group, bring forward measures to strengthen and underpin the constitutional protection of human rights. These proposals will draw on the European Convention on Human Rights and other international legal instruments in the field of human rights and the question of the incorporation of the ECHR will be further examined in this context. The measures brought forward would ensure at least an equivalent level of protection of human rights as will pertain in Northern Ireland. In addition, the Irish government will:

establish a Human Rights Commission with a mandate and remit equivalent to that within Northern Ireland;

proceed with arrangements as quickly as possible to ratify the Council of Europe Framework Convention on National Minorities (already ratified by the UK);

implement enhanced employment equality legislation;

introduce equal status legislation; and

continue to take further active steps to demonstrate its respect for the different traditions in the island of Ireland.

A Joint Committee

10. It is envisaged that there would be a joint committee of representatives of the two Human Rights Commissions, North and South, as a forum for consideration of human rights issues in the island of Ireland. The joint committee will consider, among other matters, the possibility of establishing a charter, open to signature by all democratic political parties, reflecting and endorsing agreed measures for the protection of the fundamental rights of everyone living in the island of Ireland.

Reconciliation and Victims of Violence

11. The participants believe that it is essential to acknowledge and address the suffering of the victims of violence as a necessary element of reconciliation. They look forward to the results of the work of the Northern Ireland Victims Commission.

12. It is recognised that victims have a right to remember as well as to contribute to a changed society. The achievement of a peaceful and just society would be the true memorial to the victims of violence. The participants particularly recognise that young people from areas affected by the troubles face particular difficulties and will support the development of special community-based initiatives based on international best practice. The provision of services that are supportive and sensitive to the needs of victims will also be a critical element and that support will need to be channelled through both statutory and community-based voluntary organisations facilitating locally-based self-help and support networks. This will require the allocation of sufficient resources, including statutory funding as necessary, to meet the needs of victims and to provide for community-based support programmes.

13. The participants recognise and value the work being done by many organisations to develop reconciliation and mutual understanding and respect between and within communities and traditions, in Northern Ireland and between North and South, and they see such work as having a vital role in consolidating peace and political agreement. Accordingly, they pledge their continuing support to such organisations and will positively examine the case for enhanced financial assistance for the work of reconciliation. An essential aspect of the reconciliation process is the promotion of a culture of tolerance at every level of society, including initiatives to facilitate and encourage integrated education and mixed housing.

Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity

Economic, Social and Cultural Issues

1. Pending the devolution of powers to a new Northern Ireland Assembly, the British government will pursue broad policies for sustained economic growth and stability in Northern Ireland and for promoting social inclusion, including in particular community development and the advancement of women in public life.

2. Subject to the public consultation currently under way, the British government will make rapid progress with:

  • (i) a new regional development strategy for Northern Ireland, for consideration in due course by a the assembly, tackling the problems of a divided society and social cohesion in urban, rural and border areas, protecting and enhancing the environment, producing new approaches to transport issues, strengthening the physical infrastructure of the region, developing the advantages and resources of rural areas and rejuvenating major urban centres;
  • (ii) a new economic development strategy for Northern Ireland, for consideration in due course by a the Assembly, which would provide for short and medium term economic planning linked as appropriate to the regional development strategy; and
  • (iii) measures on employment equality included in the recent White Paper ("Partnership for Equality") and covering the extension and strengthening of anti-discrimination legislation, a review of the national security aspects of the present fair employment legislation at the earliest possible time, a new more focused Targeting Social Need initiative and a range of measures aimed at combating unemployment and progressively eliminating the differential in unemployment rates between the two communities by targeting objective need.

3. All participants recognise the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity, including in Northern Ireland, the Irish language, Ulster-Scots and the languages of the various ethnic communities, all of which are part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland.

4. In the context of active consideration currently being given to the UK signing the Council of Europe Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the British government will in particular in relation to the Irish language, where appropriate and where people so desire it:

take resolute action to promote the language;

facilitate and encourage the use of the language in speech and writing in public and private life where there is appropriate demand;

seek to remove, where possible, restrictions which would discourage or work against the maintenance or development of the language;

make provision for liaising with the Irish language community, representing their views to public authorities and investigating complaints;

place a statutory duty on the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate Irish medium education in line with current provision for integrated education;

explore urgently with the relevant British authorities, and in co-operation with the Irish broadcasting authorities, the scope for achieving more widespread availability of Teilifis na Gaeilige in Northern Ireland;

seek more effective ways to encourage and provide financial support for Irish language film and television production in Northern Ireland; and

encourage the parties to secure agreement that this commitment will be sustained by a new Assembly in a way which takes account of the desires and sensitivities of the community.

5. All participants acknowledge the sensitivity of the use of symbols and emblems for public purposes, and the need in particular in creating the new institutions to ensure that such symbols and emblems are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division. Arrangements will be made to monitor this issue and consider what action might be required.

Decommissioning

1. Participants recall their agreement in the Procedural Motion adopted on 24 September 1997 "that the resolution of the decommissioning issue is an indispensable part of the process of negotiation," and also recall the provisions of paragraph 25 of Strand 1 above.

2. They note the progress made by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and the governments in developing schemes which can represent a workable basis for achieving the decommissioning of illegally-held arms in the possession of paramilitary groups.

3. All participants accordingly reaffirm their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations. They also confirm their intention to continue to work constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission, and to use any influence they may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years following endorsement in referendums North and South of the Agreement and in the context of the implementation of the overall settlement.

4. The Independent Commission will monitor, review and verify progress on decommissioning of illegal arms, and will report to both governments at regular intervals.

6. Both governments will take all necessary steps to facilitate the decommissioning process to include bringing the relevant schemes into force by the end of June.

Security

1. The participants note that the development of a peaceful environment on the basis of this agreement can and should mean a normalisation of security arrangements and practices.

2. The British government will make progress towards the objective of as early a return as possible to normal security arrangements in Northern Ireland, consistent with the level of threat and with a published overall strategy, dealing with:

  • (i) the reduction of the numbers and role of the Armed Forces deployed in Northern Ireland to levels compatible with a normal peaceful society;
  • (ii) the removal of security installations;
  • (iii) the removal of emergency powers in Northern Ireland; and
  • (iv) other measures appropriate to and compatible with a normal peaceful society. . . .

Policing and Justice

1. The participants recognise that policing is a central issue in any society. They equally recognise that Northern Ireland's history of deep divisions has made it highly emotive, with great hurt suffered and sacrifices made by many individuals and their families, including those in the RUC and other public servants. They believe that the Agreement provides the opportunity for a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland with a police service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole. They also believe that this agreement offers a unique opportunity to bring about a new political dispensation which will recognise the full and equal legitimacy and worth of the identities, senses of allegiance and ethos of all sections of the community in Northern Ireland. They consider that this opportunity should inform and underpin the development of a police service representative in terms of the makeup of the community as a whole and which, in a peaceful environment, should be routinely unarmed. . . .

4. The participants believe that the aims of the criminal justice system are to:

deliver a fair and impartial system of justice to the community;

be responsive to the community's concerns, and encouraging community involvement where appropriate;

have the confidence of all parts of the community; and

deliver justice efficiently and effectively.

5. There will be a parallel wide-ranging review of criminal justice (other than policing and those aspects of the system relating to the emergency legislation) to be carried out by the British government through a mechanism with an independent element, in consultation with the political parties and others. . . .

Prisoners

1. Both governments will put in place mechanisms to provide for an accelerated programme for the release of prisoners, including transferred prisoners, convicted of scheduled offences in Northern Ireland or, in the case of those sentenced outside Northern Ireland, similar offences (referred to hereafter as qualifying prisoners). Any such arrangements will protect the rights of individual prisoners under national and international law. . . .

Validation, Implementation and Review

Validation and Implementation

1. The two governments will as soon as possible sign a new British-Irish Agreement replacing the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, embodying understandings on constitutional issues and affirming their solemn commitment to support and, where appropriate, implement the Agreement reached by the participants in the negotiations which shall be annexed to the British-Irish Agreement.

2. Each government will organise a referendum on 22 May 1998. Subject to parliamentary approval, a consultative referendum in Northern Ireland, organised under the terms of the Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations, etc.) Act 1996, will address the question: "Do you support the agreement reached in the multi-party talks on Northern Ireland and set out in Command Paper 3883?" The Irish government will introduce and support in the Oireachtas a bill to amend the constitution as described in paragraph 2 of the section "Constitutional Issues" and in Annex B, as follows: (a) to amend Articles 2 and 3 as described in paragraph 8.1 in Annex B above and (b) to amend Article 29 to permit the government to ratify the new British-Irish Agreement. On passage by the Oireachtas, the bill will be put to referendum.

3. If majorities of those voting in each of the referendums support this agreement, the governments will then introduce and support, in their respective parliaments, such legislation as may be necessary to give effect to all aspects of this agreement. . . .

Review Procedures Following Implementation

. . . 7. If difficulties arise which require remedial action across the range of institutions, or otherwise require amendment of the British-Irish Agreement or relevant legislation, the process of review will fall to the two governments in consultation with the parties in the assembly. Each government will be responsible for action in its own jurisdiction. . . .

AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND AND THE GOVERNMENT OF IRELAND

The British and Irish governments:

Welcoming the strong commitment to the Agreement reached on 10th April 1998 by themselves and other participants in the multi-party talks and set out in Annex 1 to this agreement (hereinafter "the Multi-Party Agreement");

Considering that the Multi-Party Agreement offers an opportunity for a new beginning in relationships within Northern Ireland, within the island of Ireland and between the peoples of these islands;

Wishing to develop still further the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbours and as partners in the European Union;

Reaffirming their total commitment to the principles of democracy and non-violence which have been fundamental to the multi-party talks;

Reaffirming their commitment to the principles of partnership, equality and mutual respect and to the protection of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights in their respective jurisdictions;

Have agreed as follows:

Article 1

The two governments:

  • (i) recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland;
  • (ii) recognise that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the Agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland;
  • (iii) acknowledge that while a substantial section of the people in Northern Ireland share the legitimate wish of a majority of the people of the island of Ireland for a united Ireland, the present wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, freely exercised and legitimate, is to maintain the Union and accordingly, that Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom reflects and relies upon that wish; and that it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people;
  • (iv) affirm that, if in the future, the people of the island of Ireland exercise their right of self-determination on the basis set out in sections (i) and (ii) above to bring about a united Ireland, it will be a binding obligation on both governments to introduce and support in their respective parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish;
  • (v) affirm that whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities;
  • (vi) recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.

Article 2

The two governments affirm their solemn commitment to support, and where appropriate implement, the provisions of the Multi-Party Agreement. In particular there shall be established in accordance with the provisions of the Multi-Party Agreement immediately on the entry into force of this agreement, the following institutions:

  • (i) a North/South Ministerial Council;
  • (ii) the implementation bodies referred to in paragraph 9 (ii) of the section entitled "Strand Two" of the Multi-Party Agreement;
  • (iii) a British-Irish Council;
  • (iv) a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

Article 3

(1) This agreement shall replace the Agreement between the British and Irish governments done at Hillsborough on 15th November 1985 which shall cease to have effect on entry into force of this agreement.

(2) The Intergovernmental Conference established by Article 2 of the aforementioned agreement done on 15th November 1985 shall cease to exist on entry into force of this agreement.

Article 4

(1) It shall be a requirement for entry into force of this agreement that:

  • (a) British legislation shall have been enacted for the purpose of implementing the provisions of Annex A to the section entitled "Constitutional Issues" of the Multi-Party Agreement;
  • (b) the amendments to the constitution of Ireland set out in Annex B to the section entitled "Constitutional Issues" of the Multi-Party Agreement shall have been approved by referendum;
  • (c) such legislation shall have been enacted as may be required to establish the institutions referred to in Article 2 of this agreement.

(2) Each government shall notify the other in writing of the completion, so far as it is concerned, of the requirements for entry into force of this agreement. This agreement shall enter into force on the date of the receipt of the later of the two notifications.

(3) Immediately on entry into force of this agreement, the Irish government shall ensure that the amendments to the constitution of Ireland set out in Annex B to the section entitled "Constitutional Issues" of the Multi-Party Agreement take effect.

In witness thereof the undersigned, being duly authorised thereto by the respective governments, have signed this agreement.

Done in two originals at Belfast on the 10th day of April 1998.

For the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland For the government of Ireland

A full text of this document is available at the Northern Ireland Office Online at http://www.nio.gov.uk/issues/agreement.htm.