northern Ireland

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  • Created on: 30-09-16 17:49

the peace process

An Anglo-Irish Proposal for Peace

In late Feb. 1995, the British and Irish governments released their joint proposal for talks on the future of Northern Ireland. The talks were to be held in three phases involving the political parties of Northern Ireland, the Irish government, and the British government. The talks would focus on the establishment of a form of self-government for Northern Ireland and the formation of Irish-Northern Irish "cross-border" bodies that would be set up to oversee such domestic concerns as agriculture, tourism, and health. Results of the talks would be put to referendums in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

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the peace process

An Early Attempt

A serious attempt to bring about a resolution to the conflict was made in 1985 when British and Irish prime ministersMargaret Thatcher and Garrett Fitzgerald signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which recognized for the first time the Republic of Ireland's right to have a consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland. However, Protestant politicians who opposed the Agreement were able to block its implementation.

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The IRA Declares a Cease-fire

Further talks between rival Catholic and Protestant officials and the British and Irish governments occurred during the early 1990s. Then, in late Aug. 1994 the peace process received a big boost when the pro-Catholic IRA announced a cease-fire. This made it possible for Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, to participate in multiparty peace talks; hitherto Sinn Fein had been barred from such talks because of its association with the IRA and its terrorist tactics.

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Sinn Fein Participates in Official Talks

On Dec. 9, 1994, the first officially sanctioned, publicly announced talks took place between Sinn Fein and British officials. Negotiators for Sinn Fein pushed for a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland; Great Britain countered that the IRA must give up its weapons before Sinn Fein would be allowed to negotiate on the same basis as other parties. The issue of IRA disarmament would continue to be a sticking point throughout the negotiations.

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The U.S. Gets Involved

In Dec. 1995, former US senator George Mitchell was brought in to serve as mediator for the peace talks. His report issued in Jan. 1996 recommended the gradual disarmament of the IRA during the course of the talks, thus breaking the deadlock caused by the IRA's refusal to disarm.

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Good Friday Agreement

The historic talks finally resulted in the landmark Good Friday Agreement, which was signed by the main political parties on both sides on Apr. 10, 1998. The accord called for an elected assembly for Northern Ireland, a cross-party cabinet with devolved powers, and cross-border bodies to handle issues common to both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Thus minority Catholics gained a share of the political power in Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland a voice in Northern Irish affairs. In return Catholics were to relinquish the goal of a united Ireland unless the largely Protestant North voted in favor of it.

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New Parliament Is Suspended

With this compromise in place, the new government was quickly formed, and on Dec. 2 the British government formally transferred governing powers over to the Northern Irish parliament. But by the deadline Sinn Fein had made little progress toward disarmament, and so on Feb. 12, 2000, the British government suspended the Northern Irish parliament and once again imposed direct rule.

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A New Beginning

Throughout the spring, Irish, British, and American leaders continued to hold discussions to try to end the impasse. Then on May 6 the IRA announced that it would agree to put its arms "beyond use" under the supervision of international inspectors. Britain returned home rule powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly on May 30, just three days after the Ulster Unionist Party, Northern Ireland's largest Protestant Party, again voted in favor of a power-sharing arrangement with Sinn Fein.

On June 26, 2000, international monitors Martti Ahtisaari of Finland and Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa announced that they were satisfied that a substantial amount of IRA arms was safely stored and could not be used without detection.

However, while the IRA did allow for the inspection of some of its arms dumps, the months limped by without any real progress on disarmament. Caught in the middle was David Trimble, who was accused by his fellow Protestants of making too many concessions to the Republicans. On Oct. 28, 2000, he was nearly ousted by his own party, a move that surely would have spelled the end for the Good Friday Agreement. But Trimble survived, pledging to get tough by imposing sanctions on Sinn Fein.

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"The Troubles"

Although armed hostilities between Catholics and Protestants largely subsided after the 1921 agreement, violence erupted again in the late 1960s; bloody riots broke out in Londonderry in 1968 and in Londonderry and Belfast in 1969. British troops were brought in to restore order, but the conflict intensified as the IRA and Protestant paramilitary groups carried out bombings and other acts of terrorism. This continuing conflict, which lingered into the 1990s, became known as "the Troubles."

Despite efforts to bring about a resolution to the conflict during the 1970s and 80s, terrorist violence was still a problem in the early 90s and British troops remained in full force. More than 3,000 people have died as a result of the strife in Northern Ireland.

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