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The Irish Peace Process - Summary

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Text: Martin Melaugh   [last update: 2 Feb 2006]
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The Irish peace process, or peace process, is the term used to describe the series of attempts to achieve an end to the civil conflict and a political settlement for the differences that divide the community in Northern Ireland.

There is no general agreement among commentators on the start date of the peace process. The announcement of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) "cessation" of military action on 31 August 1994 was the end of one part of the process and the beginning of another phase. Some people consider that the process dates back to the 11 January 1988. This is the date on which John Hume, then leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), had a meeting with Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF). This was the first in a series of discussions that were to take place between the two men from 1988 to 1993. However, the first series of talks broke down and were not resumed until 1993. These new talks eventually lead in 1993 to something called the Hume/Adams initiative based on a document (the Hume / Adams Document) which was agreed by the two leaders. Elements of this document were to find their way into the Downing Street Declaration made jointly by the British and Irish governments.

Although some argued, at the time, that the peace process came to an end with the IRA bomb in Canary Wharf on 9 February 1996, most saw the continuing political efforts to find a political solution as part of the same process.

After two years of talks, which were never truly inclusive of all political parties in Northern Ireland, an Agreement was reached on 'Good Friday', 10 April 1998. The Agreement was endorsed in two separate referenda of the people in Northern Ireland, and the people in the Republic of Ireland, on the same day on 22 May 1998. There were delays in fully implementing the Agreement as Unionists refused to establish the various institutions of devolved government until there was movement on the issue of decommissioning of paramilitary weapons. Following a review of the working of the Agreement Unionists were persuaded to enter into an Executive with Sinn Féin and devolution of powers from Westminster in London to Stormont in Belfast occurred on 2 December 1999.

At the beginning of February 2000 Unionists remained unhappy at the lack of progress on decommissioning and indicated that they would resign from the Executive. On 3 February 2000 the British government announced that it would introduce legislation to suspend the Executive and the institutions of government in Northern Ireland and re-introduce 'direct rule' from Westminster. The institutions of the devolved government were suspended by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (then Peter Mandelson) at midnight Friday 11 February 2000. The institutions were reinstated at midnight on Monday 29 May 2000. There was a 'tactical' suspension of the institutions for 24 hours beginning at midnight on Friday 10 August 2001 - John Reid, then Secretary of State, signed the order for suspension. There was another tactical suspension for 24 hours beginning at midnight on Friday 21 September 2001 - again John Reid signed the order. A fourth, indefinite, period of suspension began at midnight on Monday 14 October 2002.

During these periods of suspension various attempts were made to find agreement between the political parties. As part of the process the IRA entered into discussions with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) and began to decommission its weapons on 23 October 2001. The IICD reported that the IRA had decommissioned all its weapons on 26 September 2005. Despite this Unionists lacked the trust required to enter a power-sharing Executive and at the beginning of 2006 the devolved institutions remained suspended and Northern Ireland was ruled by appointed ministers.

See also:
The brief note on decommissioning.


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