The Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement and, more rarely, as the Stormont Agreement) was signed in Belfast on April 10, 1998 by the British and Irish Governments and endorsed by most Northern Ireland political parties. It was endorsed by the voters of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in separate referenda in May 1998.
Release within two years of paramilitary prisoners belonging to organisations observing a ceasefire.
A two year target for decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.
The modification of the Republic's 'territorial claim' to Northern Ireland in Articles 2 and 3 of its constitution.
New legislation for Northern Ireland on policing, human rights and equality.
Vague wording of some of the provisions, which helped ensure acceptance of the agreement at the time, served to postpone debate on some of the more contentious issues - most notably paramilitary decommissioning. A date of May, 2000, was set for total disarming of all paramilitary groups. In December, 2004, this had still not been achieved, although the vast majority of violence had ceased.
In May 1998 there were separate referenda in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to endorse the Belfast Agreement. The "No" vote in Northern Ireland came predominantly from Unionists opposed to concessions being made to nationalists and republicans. However opinion polls suggest a slim majority of Unionists may have voted "Yes". In the Republic of Ireland the electorate voted upon the Nineteenth Amendment. This amendment both permitted the state to comply with the Belfast Agreement and provided for the removal of the 'territorial claim' contained in Articles 2 and 3. The Republic of Ireland voted upon the Amsterdam Treaty on the same day. The results of the two, simultaneous referenda on the Belfast Agreement were as follows:
On Friday, 10 April 1998 a comprehensive political agreement was approved at a plenary session of the talks.
The Agreement also provides for a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, bringing together the British and Irish Governments to promote bilateral cooperation at all levels on all matters of mutual interest with the Conference to have a particular focus on non-devolved Northern Ireland matters, and be supported by a standing joint Secretariat.
A year of further intense negotiations brought all sides close to agreement, but on 8 December 2004, both governments announced that, while almost all outstanding issues had been agreed with the parties, differences over the process to be used to verify the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons remained unresolved.
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