The Northern Ireland peace process includes the events leading up to the 1994 Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) ceasefire, the end of most of the violence of the Troubles, the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, and subsequent political developments.[1][2]


Towards a ceasefire

Main article: Downing Street Declaration

In 1994, talks between the leaders of the two main Irish nationalist parties in Northern Ireland, John Hume of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin (SF), continued. These talks led to a series of joint statements on how the violence might be brought to an end. The talks had been going on since the late 1980s and had secured the backing of the Irish Government through an intermediary, Father Alec Reid.

In November it was revealed that the British government had also been in talks with the Provisional IRA, although they had long denied it.

On Wednesday 15 December 1993, the Joint Declaration on Peace (more commonly known as the Downing Street Declaration) was issued by John Major, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and Albert Reynolds, then Taoiseach (Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland), on behalf of the British and Irish governments. This included statements that:

Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) opposed the Declaration, James Molyneaux of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) argued that it was not a "sell-out" of unionists, and Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin requested dialogue with the governments and clarification of the Declaration.

Towards negotiations

On 6 April 1994, the Provisional IRA announced a three-day "temporary cessation of hostilities" to run from Wednesday 6 April – Friday 8 April 1994.

Five months later, on Wednesday 31 August 1994, the Provisional IRA announced a "cessation of military operations" from midnight. Albert Reynolds, the Irish Taoiseach, said that he accepted the IRA statement as implying a permanent ceasefire. Many unionists were sceptical. UUP leader James Molyneaux, in a rare slip, declared "This (the ceasefire) is the worst thing that has ever happened to us."[7]

In the following period, there were disputes about the permanence of the ceasefire, whether parties linked to paramilitaries should be included in talks, and the rate of "normalisation" in Northern Ireland. Loyalist bombings and shootings, and punishment beatings from both sides, continued.

This is an abbreviated list of events of significance in the lead-up to all-party negotiations:

Towards another ceasefire

Towards agreement

The agreement, known as the Good Friday Agreement, included a devolved, inclusive government, prisoner release, troop reductions, targets for paramilitary decommissioning, provisions for polls on Irish reunification, and civil rights measures and "parity of esteem" for the two communities in Northern Ireland.

The referendum campaign

The agreement was to be approved by a referendum in Northern Ireland, and a separate referendum was to be held in the Republic to approve the necessary change to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. The people of the Republic overwhelmingly endorsed the agreement, but the campaign in Northern Ireland was more controversial, and the result less predictable. The referenda were held on the same day, 22 May 1998.

The pro-agreement campaign framed the question as progress versus stalemate, as a struggle between intolerant bigots with no solutions on the one hand, and moderates with a constructive way forward on the other. The agreement was promoted to the nationalist community as delivering civil rights, inclusive government, recognition of their Irishness, and a peaceful route to Irish reunification. To the unionist community, it was presented as bringing an end to the troubles, a guaranteed end to paramilitaries and their weapons, and a guarantee of the Union for the foreseeable future. There was a massive government-funded campaign for the "Yes" vote, with large posters posted across Northern Ireland. One such poster featured five handwritten "pledges" by Prime Minister Tony Blair in an attempt to obtain the unionist "Yes" vote – this is despite the fact that none of the wording from these "pledges" was actually contained within the agreement that was being put to the electorate. These "pledges" were:

On the republican side, the "No" campaign seemed to concentrate on the purity of the republican ideal of complete and absolute independence from Britain. In this view, any compromise, however temporary, on the goal of Irish unity (or the right to pursue the armed struggle) was depicted as a betrayal of those who had fought and died for Ireland. Decommissioning of weapons and an end to paramilitary activity was portrayed as surrender to the British. The principle of consent was represented as a unionist veto, as it meant political progress would be almost impossible without unionist participation. It was pointed out that the agreement accepted partition. The state and its institutions would remain hostile to the republican community, claimed the critics. Despite these misgivings, the vast majority of republicans voted yes, with only some tiny unrepresentative parties (such as Republican Sinn Féin) on the nationalist side advocating a No vote.

On the unionist side, the "No" campaign was much stronger and stressed what were represented as concessions to republicanism and terrorism, particularly the release of convicted paramilitaries from prison (often those who had killed friends and relatives of unionist politicians and were serving "life" sentences), the presence of "terrorists" (by which they meant Sinn Féin) in government, the lack of guarantees on decommissioning, the perceived one-way nature of the process in moving towards a united Ireland, the lack of trust in all those who would be implementing the agreement, the erosion of British identity, the destruction of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the vague language of the agreement, and the rushed nature in which the agreement was written.

It was widely expected that the nationalist community would endorse the agreement. As the vote approached, unionist opinion appeared divided into those who supported the agreement, those who opposed the agreement on principle, and those who welcomed agreement, but still had major misgivings about aspects like prisoner release and the role of paramilitaries and parties associated with them (particularly Sinn Féin). The fear among the Agreement's supporters was that there would not be a majority (or only a slim majority) of the unionist community in favour of the agreement, and that its credibility would be thereby undermined.

The votes

In the Republic of Ireland, the results of the vote to change the constitution in line with the agreement were:

Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland referendum[13]
Choice Votes %
Referendum passed
1,442,583 94.39
No 85,748 5.61
Valid votes 1,528,331 98.90
Invalid or blank votes 17,064 1.10
Total votes 1,545,395 100.00
Registered voters and turnout 2,747,088 56.26

In Northern Ireland, the results of the vote on the agreement were:

Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement referendum, 1998
Choice Votes %
Referendum passed
676,966 71.1
No 274,979 28.9
Invalid or blank votes 1,738 0.18
Total votes 953,683 100.00

There is no official breakdown of how the nationalist and unionist communities voted, but CAIN, the Conflict Archive on the Internet, estimated that the overwhelming majority (up to 97%) of members of the largely Catholic nationalist community in Northern Ireland voted 'Yes'. Their estimate of the largely Protestant unionist community's support for the agreement was between 51 and 53 per cent.

Complicating matters for the calculation was the turnout, with a substantial increase over elections in many traditionally unionist areas, whilst the turnout was close to that for elections in staunch nationalist areas. Approximately 147,000 more people voted in the referendum than in the subsequent Assembly elections, though it is estimated that there was also some deliberate abstentions by hardline republican voters.

The referendum was calculated centrally so it is not clear what the geographic spread of voting was, but an exit poll found that out of all eighteen constituencies, only Ian Paisley's North Antrim stronghold voted against the Agreement.

The pro-agreement result was greeted at the time with relief by supporters of the agreement. However, the scale of sceptical and anti-agreement sentiment in the unionist community, their continued misgivings over aspects of the agreement, and differing expectations from the Agreement on the part of the two communities were to cause difficulties in the following years.

Tensions and dissident threats

Although the peace process initially progressed mostly trouble-free, tensions escalated in 2001 with increasing sectarian conflicts, rioting, political disagreements and the decommissioning process. Real IRA bombs at the BBC and a commercial district in London threatened to derail the peace process.[14][15] The Holy Cross dispute in north Belfast starting in June 2001 would become a major episode of sectarian conflict. Widespread rioting occurred in July,[16] and that same month the loyalist Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) pulled out of the Good Friday Agreement whilst the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) withdrew from the "current phase" of the peace process.[17] On 26 July two hardline Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) MPs, David Burnside and Jeffrey Donaldson, both called for their party's withdrawal of supporting the new power-sharing Stormont assembly.[18]

Much of the disturbances are thought to have been caused by the alienation of loyalists in the years following the Good Friday Agreement, who increasingly feared that the Agreement was largely in the Catholics' favour and that Irish unity was inevitable. Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid told unionists in a speech that they are "wrong" to think so, and that the Agreement would be a failure if Protestants no longer felt at home.[19] The number of loyalist paramilitary shootings increased from 33 at the time of the Agreement to a peak of 124 in 2001/02.[20]

On 9 September 2001 a gang of 15 Provisional IRA members beat and shot two youths.[21] Major loyalist rioting and violence broke out amid the Holy Cross dispute on 27 September. The next day, journalist Martin O'Hagan was killed by Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) members.[22] On 13 October 2001, Reid declared the ceasefires of two loyalist paramilitary groups, Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the LVF, to be over due to their violent shooting and rioting incidents.[23] Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams urged the Provisional IRA to disarm amid Stormont's near-collapse.[24] In December 2001, two army watchtowers were attacked in South Armagh by republicans that caused many injuries.[25] Throughout 2002 rioting and sectarian clashes continued, the most tense incident being the clashes in Short Strand.[26][27]

On 6 May 2002 Progressive Unionist Party politician David Ervine said that continuing violence, doubts among loyalists and uncertainty about the IRA has left the peace process in a "substantial and serious crisis".[28] On 14 October 2002, the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended and direct rule from Westminster imposed.[29]



In January 2005, Robert McCartney was murdered after a pub brawl by IRA members. After a high-profile campaign by his sisters and fiancée, the IRA admitted its members were responsible and offered to meet them. The McCartney sisters turned down their offer, but the episode badly damaged the standing of the IRA in Belfast.[31]

In April 2005, Gerry Adams called for the IRA to lay down its weapons. It agreed on 28 July 2005 calling for its volunteers to use "exclusively peaceful means".[32] It would not disband, but simply use peaceful means to achieve its aims.

On 28 July 2005, the IRA announced the end of its armed campaign, and committed to the complete decommissioning of all its weapons, which was to be witnessed by both Catholic and Protestant clergymen. The statement was first read by veteran IRA militant Séanna Walsh in a video released to the public and contained the following text:[34]

The leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann has formally ordered an end to the armed campaign. This will take effect from 4pm this afternoon.
All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms. All Volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever.
The IRA leadership has also authorised our representative to engage with the IICD to complete the process to verifiably put its arms beyond use in a way which will further enhance public confidence and to conclude this as quickly as possible.
We have invited two independent witnesses, from the Protestant and Catholic churches, to testify to this.
The Army Council took these decisions following an unprecedented internal discussion and consultation process with IRA units and Volunteers.
We appreciate the honest and forthright way in which the consultation process was carried out and the depth and content of the submissions. We are proud of the comradely way in which this truly historic discussion was conducted.
The outcome of our consultations show very strong support among IRA Volunteers for the Sinn Féin peace strategy.
There is also widespread concern about the failure of the two governments and the unionists to fully engage in the peace process. This has created real difficulties.
The overwhelming majority of people in Ireland fully support this process.
They and friends of Irish unity throughout the world want to see the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
Notwithstanding these difficulties our decisions have been taken to advance our republican and democratic objectives, including our goal of a united Ireland. We believe there is now an alternative way to achieve this and to end British rule in our country.
It is the responsibility of all Volunteers to show leadership, determination and courage. We are very mindful of the sacrifices of our patriot dead, those who went to jail, Volunteers, their families and the wider republican base. We reiterate our view that the armed struggle was entirely legitimate.
We are conscious that many people suffered in the conflict. There is a compelling imperative on all sides to build a just and lasting peace.
The issue of the defence of nationalist and republican communities has been raised with us. There is a responsibility on society to ensure that there is no re-occurrence of the pogroms of 1969 and the early 1970s.
There is also a universal responsibility to tackle sectarianism in all its forms.
The IRA is fully committed to the goals of Irish unity and independence and to building the Republic outlined in the 1916 Proclamation.
We call for maximum unity and effort by Irish republicans everywhere.
We are confident that by working together Irish republicans can achieve our objectives.
Every Volunteer is aware of the import of the decisions we have taken and all Óglaigh are compelled to fully comply with these orders.
There is now an unprecedented opportunity to utilise the considerable energy and goodwill which there is for the peace process. This comprehensive series of unparalleled initiatives is our contribution to this and to the continued endeavours to bring about independence and unity for the people of Ireland.

The IICD confirmed in its final report of September 2005 that the IRA had decommissioned all of its weapons.

Ian Paisley, George W. Bush and Martin McGuinness in December 2007

The definitive end of The Troubles and thus of the Peace Process came in 2007.[35] Following the St Andrews Agreement of October 2006, and March 2007 elections, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin formed a government in May 2007. In July 2007, the British Army formally ended Operation Banner, their mission in Northern Ireland which began 38 years earlier, in 1969.[36]

On 8 December 2007, while visiting President Bush in the White House with the Northern Ireland First Minister Ian Paisley, Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, said to the press "Up until the 26 March this year, Ian Paisley and I never had a conversation about anything – not even about the weather – and now we have worked very closely together over the last seven months and there's been no angry words between us. ... This shows we are set for a new course."[37][38]

Consultative Group on the Past

The Consultative Group on the Past was an independent group established to consult across the community in Northern Ireland on the best way to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

The Group stated its terms of reference as:

To consult across the community on how Northern Ireland society can best approach the legacy of the events of the past 40 years; and to make recommendations, as appropriate, on any steps that might be taken to support Northern Ireland society in building a shared future that is not overshadowed by the events of the past.

— Consultative Group on the Past About Us, 28 January 2000

The Group was co-chaired by the Most Rev. Dr. Robin Eames (Lord Eames), the former Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, and Denis Bradley, and published its report in January 2009.[39]

Whilst the group met MI5 and the UVF, the Provisional IRA refused to meet with the group.[40]

The Group published its recommendations on 28 January 2009 in a 190-page report, containing more than 30 recommendations, expected to cost in total £300m.[41] The report recommended setting up a 5-year Legacy Commission, a Reconciliation Forum to aid the existing commission for victims and survivors, and a new historical case review body. The report concluded the Legacy Commission should make proposals on how "a line might be drawn", but omitted proposals for an amnesty. Additionally, it was proposed that no new Public Inquiries be held, and an annual Day of Reflection and Reconciliation and a shared memorial to the conflict.[41] A controversial proposal to pay the relatives of all victims killed in the Troubles, including the families of paramilitary members, £12,000, as a "recognition payment", caused disruption to the report's launch by protesters.[41] This estimated cost of this part of the proposal was £40m.[39]

See also


  1. ^ Colin Irwin, The people’s peace process in Northern Ireland (Springer, 2002).
  2. ^ "CAIN: Irish Peace Process - Summary". 2 February 2006. Archived from the original on 6 December 2010. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  3. ^ "Government of Ireland Act 1920 (repealed 2.12.1999)". Government of Ireland. Archived from the original on 19 October 2019. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  4. ^ Peatling, Gary (2004). The failure of the Northern Ireland peace process. Irish Academic Press, p. 58. ISBN 0-7165-3336-7
  5. ^ Cox, Michael, Guelke, Adrian and Stephen, Fiona (2006). A farewell to arms?: beyond the Good Friday Agreement. Manchester University Press, p. 486. ISBN 0-7190-7115-1.
  6. ^ "The British government agree that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively, to exercise their right of self- determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish". Archived from the original on 10 October 2010. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  7. ^ Anne-Marie Logue, "The acid test for unionist democrats is on the councils" Irish News Online 3 October 2005.
  8. ^ a b c d "Peace Polls, Northern Ireland". Archived from the original on 14 February 2021. Retrieved 9 February 2021.
  9. ^ "1997: IRA declares ceasefire". BBC News. 19 July 1997. Archived from the original on 7 March 2008. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  10. ^ "What was the Good Friday Agreement?". BBC News. 10 April 2018. Archived from the original on 21 October 2019. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  11. ^ "Good Friday Agreement was 'work of genius'". BBC News. 10 April 2018. Archived from the original on 3 December 2019. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  12. ^ "Omagh bomb". BBC News. 15 August 1998. Archived from the original on 26 December 2019. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  13. ^ "Referendum Results 1937–2011" (PDF). Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 December 2014. Retrieved 12 March 2012.
  14. ^ Taylor, Peter (6 March 2001). "Comment: The grim message of the BBC bomb". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 15 March 2016. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  15. ^ "Car bombers rock west London". BBC News. 3 August 2001. Archived from the original on 22 October 2019. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  16. ^ Cowan, Rosie (13 July 2001). "Rioting turns screw on Ulster talks". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 April 2020. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  17. ^ Oliver, Mark (10 July 2001). "UFF pulls out of Good Friday agreement". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 April 2020. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  18. ^ "Loyalists deal fresh blow to Good Friday agreement". The Guardian. 26 July 2001. Archived from the original on 14 April 2020. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  19. ^ Millar, Frank (22 November 2001). "Unionists 'wrong' to think unity inevitable". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 22 September 2021. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  20. ^ Dixon, Paul (2008) [2001]. Northern Ireland: The Politics of War and Peace (2nd ed.). Macmillan International Higher Education. p. 299. ISBN 978-0-230-50779-1.
  21. ^ Oliver, Ted (8 September 2001). "Belfast youths tortured, beaten and shot by IRA". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 26 April 2020. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  22. ^ Cowan, Rosie (28 September 2001). "Loyalist mob opens fire on police". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 April 2020. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  23. ^ "UDA ceasefire declared over". The Daily Telegraph. 12 October 2001. Archived from the original on 26 April 2020. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  24. ^ Tempest, Matthew (22 October 2001). "Sinn Fein urges IRA to disarm". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 April 2020. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  25. ^ "NI riots leave 25 injured - December 10, 2001". Archived from the original on 25 July 2018. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  26. ^ Addley, Esther (10 June 2002). "Esther Addley investigates a new kind of violence in Belfast". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 16 November 2018. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  27. ^ Cowan, Rosie (15 June 2002). "Loyalists offer truce to end upsurge in Belfast violence". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 April 2020. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  28. ^ "Northern Ireland chronology: 2002". BBC News. 9 April 2003. Archived from the original on 22 October 2019. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  29. ^ Left, Sarah (14 October 2002). "Suspension of the Northern Ireland assembly". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 April 2020. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  30. ^ Glendinning, Lee (9 October 2008). "Northern Bank robbery: The crime that nearly ended the peace process". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 30 September 2013. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  31. ^ "A Killing in Belfast Is Turning Backers Against a Defiant I.R.A.". The New York Times. 7 March 2005. p. A6.
  32. ^ "IRA says armed campaign is over". BBC News. 28 July 2005. Archived from the original on 22 October 2019. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  33. ^ The Independent Monitoring Commission
  34. ^ "Irish Republican Army Disarmament". C-Span. 28 July 2005. Retrieved 4 April 2022.
  35. ^ Rowley, Tom (19 May 2015). "Timeline of Northern Ireland Troubles: from conflict to peace process". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 22 October 2019. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  36. ^ Weaver, Matthew; Sturcke, James (31 July 2007). "British army ends Northern Ireland operation". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 26 August 2019. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  37. ^ "Paisley and McGuinness in US trip". BBC News. 3 December 2007. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  38. ^ Purdy, Martina (8 December 2007). "'Charming' ministers woo president". BBC News. Archived from the original on 31 December 2007. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  39. ^ a b Kearney, Vincent (23 January 2009). "Troubles victims' payment planned". BBC News. Archived from the original on 22 October 2019. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  40. ^ "IRA rules out meeting with group". BBC News. 25 February 2008. Archived from the original on 29 February 2008. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  41. ^ a b c "NI Troubles legacy to cost £300m". BBC News. 28 February 2008. Archived from the original on 15 February 2009. Retrieved 22 October 2019.

Further reading