Northern Ireland
in Understanding British and European political issues

This chapter provides the background to the Northern Ireland problem. It describes the importance of the Good Friday Agreement and the effect of the devolution process on Northern Ireland. The chapter explains the workings of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It also describes the effects of decommissioning of arms and demilitarisation. The so-called Downing Street declaration changed the Northern Ireland situation dramatically and marked the beginning of the modern peace process. For 27 years Northern Ireland suffered from violence, disruption, political initiatives bringing hope followed by disappointments, and renewed sectarian conflict. The story of direct rule is best divided into three themes - the course of sectarian violence, the fragmentation of the party system and the various attempts to find a lasting peace. Having established the reasons why so many previous attempts at peace-making had failed, the chapter examines the circumstances which allowed a convincing agreement to be reached in 1998.

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