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'What has the Belfast Agreement of Good Friday, 10 April 1998, achieved?'

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Introduction

Charlotte Lavin. 'What has the Belfast Agreement of Good Friday, 10 April 1998, achieved?' 'The peace process aimed to bring the conflict to an end through a process of negotiation that would put in place a settlement capable of commanding widespread agreement and the allegiance of all it's citizens'1 After extensive talks the Belfast Agreement (or the Good Friday Agreement as popularised by the media) was created bringing a historic return to devolution for Northern Ireland. It established a governmental structure based on the three strands laid down by Peter Brooke, the former Secretary of State2. It was also hoped that the agreement would bring about legitimacy and stability to the Northern Ireland situation (as pointed out in the opening quote). But also pave the way for reform on many issues such as policing, decommissioning, and normalisation. Perhaps most importantly the agreement was successful in bringing about legitimacy for a new government in Stormont. It was more representative of the whole society not only with the introduction of the Proportional Representation voting system, but also the incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights, thus protecting the rights of the minorities3 previously unseen in other agreements. ...read more.

Middle

Under the agreement the creation of the North/South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council could have been seen as a step further towards an untied Ireland. Both sides benefited from the prisoner releases agreed within the agreement. Though this could be seen as a floor in the agreement, for how long can this shaky compromise last? This problem underpins the whole agreement, if it were to fail in could be responsible for the self-destruction of the agreement and the executive. Conceivably the most recent success story of the agreement is on decommissioning, and now looks like 'the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations'5 may now be possible. Shown by IRA statement on decommissioning and David Trimble in talks with the loyalist paramilitaries. Of course the agreement had had earlier successes on this issue, such as the several inspections of IRA arms dumps by the former Finnish President Martti Antisaari and ANS official Cyril Ramaphosa. Yet this issue too has threatened to undermine and destroy the Good Friday Agreement, decommissioning has led to several suspensions by a number of Secretaries of State and the resignation of the first and deputy ministers. ...read more.

Conclusion

There is no denying that the Good Friday Agreement has been responsible for many advances in bringing about peace to Northern Ireland. Though it should not be seen as a final settlement to the problems, but as Crotty and Schmitt argue 'a path towards such a consensual order'7. It has made possible things like decommissioning and police reform, which even a few years ago would have seemed inconceivable. The Agreement has allowed greater co-operation with Ireland, such as trade, EU programmes, and even food safety8, though small maybe these breakthroughs they all encourage a better and more peaceful Northern Ireland. Yet it could be argued that this Agreement as well as attempting to solve the current problems it has created new ones. Such as the Loyalist feud between the UDA and the UVF, growing Unionist disenchantment, and arguments over the implementation of the Patten report on police reform. Perhaps the Belfast Agreements greatest achievement is the international message it sends out amidst these uncertain times. It is probably best summed up by Mark Davenport, a BBC correspondent reporting on the IRA's decision to decommission: 'The IRA's gesture has not only saved the peace process but also shown internationally that we can provide a beacon of hope'. ...read more.

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