Good Friday Agreement Negotiation
But on April 10, 1998, after multi-party negotiations, an agreement was finally reached in Belfast – the Good Friday Agreement. This would allow paramilitary groups on both sides to get rid of their weapons and release the prisoners. It also paved the way for a power-sharing between unionists and Republicans and would create a number of cross-border institutions between North and South. Perhaps the best way to characterize the Agency`s role is to say that the circumstance gave each of the major players a reasonably favourable hand that allowed an agreement, but that everyone played the hand quite skilfully.99 Everyone saw earlier than many others the way to the agreement. You can imagine that others who might have been plausible in their place – even those who shared the same fundamental approach to conflict – may not have sealed the agreement when it was concluded. At the same time, the fact that the agreement was finally implemented by a pact that presented Paisley as prime minister reflects the power of forces that insist on ending the fighting. The Agency has played an important role in the time and precise conditions of the agreement, but is probably much less important in the broader abandonment of violence. Following a wave of violence in October 1993 and talks on the brink of collapse, the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland issued the declaration on Downing Street in December 1993. The declaration addressed a number of key principles for governing any settlement, opening the door for Sinn Fein to participate in formal talks after renouncing violence, including a “transfer of arms.” 62 In August 1994, the IRA announced a “complete halt to military operations”, but both governments insisted that action was insufficient and that the IRA should commit to a lasting renouncement of violence and arms closure to participate in the negotiations. In order to break the deadlock, the two governments set up an international body chaired by Mr. Mitchell to examine the issue of decommissioning.
The group wrote a report which concluded that the IRA/Sinn Fein would never accept decommissioning as a precondition63, but proposed that all parties be required to reaffirm a number of principles (Mitchell principles) that included the commitment to full disarmament.