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The Belfast Agreement – widely known as the Good Friday Agreement – was signed 25 years ago on 10 April 1998 following three decades of conflict known as “The Troubles”. The Agreement created a new power-sharing arrangement, which included a Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive. It was based on a series of fundamental principles, including:

  • “parity of esteem” between the Nationalist and Unionist communities.
  • a “principle of consent” underpinning Northern Ireland’s constitutional status.
  • the “birthright” of the people of Northern Ireland to identify and be accepted as either British or Irish, or both, and to hold both British and Irish citizenship.

What is in the Agreement?

The Agreement comprises a Multi-Party Agreement between the UK and Irish governments and political parties in Northern Ireland, and the British-Irish Agreement between the UK and Irish governments, an international treaty. Both were approved by voters in concurrent referendums held in Northern Ireland and Ireland on 22 May 1998 and came into force on 2 December 1999.

The Agreement resulted in the creation of the three strands of political structures, respectively covering Northern Ireland’s governance, North-South relations and East-West relations. The UK government is committed to upholding each of these strands, which all carry equal importance:

  • Strand One established the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive to make laws and decisions on most of the issues affecting everyday life in Northern Ireland.
  • Strand Two established North-South institutions – the North/South Ministerial Council and the North/South Implementation Bodies – which support co-operation between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
  • Strand Three established the East-West institutions – the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the British-Irish Council – which support co-operation between the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The Agreement also set out a series of important rights for the people of Northern Ireland, including on identity and citizenship, and made commitments on decommissioning, security, policing and prisoners.

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