The Good Friday Agreement ended (for the most part) decades of violence in Northern Ireland 25 years ago. More than 3,500 people died in the so-called ‘Troubles’. What caused the conflict? And how did this resolve the deal? NU.nl explains.
The seeds of the bloody conflict were sown in 1921. Then the Irish War of Independence between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the British Army comes to an end. The island of Ireland is divided into two parts: an independent southern part, with a Catholic majority, and a northern part, where Protestants form the largest population group. The northern part, Northern Ireland, is still part of the United Kingdom.
The division leads to clashes: a large part of the population of Northern Ireland remains Catholic, while Protestants dominate. Catholics in Northern Ireland have been discriminated against for years and revolted in the late 1960s.
The situation then gets completely out of control: paramilitary groups from both sides carry out bombings and shelling. The British Army even sent troops to Northern Ireland in 1969, but they were unable to nip the violence in the bud.
After the British intervention, the violence intensified. Especially between the aforementioned IRA – the paramilitary group that wants to separate Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and pursue a united Ireland – and its counterpart Ulster Defense Association (UDA). The UDA then fights for Protestants who wanted to remain part of the UK.
1972 is seen as the worst year for ‘The Troubles’. On January 30 of that year, known as ‘Bloody Sunday’, the British army shot dead 28 unarmed protesters. Fourteen of them die. Six months later, another nine people die, then as a result of a series of IRA attacks.
Since the 1980s, people have been talking more and more about peace. In 1994 this even led to a ceasefire between the IRA and their loyalist counterparts the UDA and UVF. But with little success: talks go nowhere and the ceasefire quickly breaks down.
That changes when Tony Blair takes office in the UK in 1997. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Blair, the peace negotiations are gaining momentum. The British and Irish governments, as well as eight Northern Irish political parties, are at the table. Among them Sinn Féin, then the political wing of the IRA.
On April 10, 1998, Good Friday, an agreement was finally reached after a few tense days. The Good Friday Agreement (or Belfast Agreement) is signed. With the agreement, ‘The Troubles’ come to an end.
The Good Friday Agreement changes a lot. The agreement stipulates that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom, but can join Ireland through a referendum. It is also agreed that there will never again be a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Also, the government of Northern Ireland is being restructured: the board should be made up of unionists (who want to keep the UK) and republicans (who want to have a single Irish republic). In this way, both groups are represented, which should prevent any conflict.
Brexit brought the Good Friday Agreement back to the fore. The desire of the British to leave the European Union will cause quite a few headaches in 2016. With an EU exit, customs posts should be re-created between Ireland and the part of the UK with which the Irish share an island. But according to the agreement, this is not allowed.
So, after years of negotiations, a compromise is reached in 2020: Northern Ireland remains in the European single market, while the rest of the UK leaves it. Although this avoids the dreaded hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, it creates new problems.
The British speak of a new border in the Irish Sea: between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Transporting British goods to Northern Ireland is difficult, leading to frustration in London.
After months of wrangling between the EU and the UK, a deal will be finalized in February this year, which should eliminate the biggest headaches.