The role of official diplomacy and external actors in the Northern Ireland peace process

Gulshan Pashayeva

Introduction

The Northern Ireland conflict is one of the most prolonged ethno-territorial conflicts in Europe and has had a destabilising effect for decades on relations between Britain and Ireland.

In December 1922, on the basis of the Anglo-Irish Agreement,[1] the Irish Free State was established within the boundaries of the 26 counties in the southern part of the island of Ireland. Northern Ireland – comprising the remaining six counties (Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry (Derry) and Tyrone) situated in the northeast of Ireland’s historical province of Ulster – remained within the United Kingdom.

The nationalists in Northern Ireland, whose principal goal was to unite Ireland to form a single state, did not accept this decision and believed that the partition of Ireland was effected not only to protect the unionists (mainly Protestant supporters of preserving the union with the UK), but also to safeguard Britain’s economic and strategic interests.[2] Their claims were supported by subsequent governments and the majority of parties in the Republic of Ireland. The irredentist (territorial) claims of the Republic of Ireland in relation to Britain were even included in its 1937 Constitution, in which Articles 2 and 3 state that the whole island of Ireland constitutes a single “national territory”.[3] On the other hand: “The partition of Ireland was not the unionists’ desired outcome. They would have preferred Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom. But if there was going to be a separate Ireland they wanted no part of it”.[4]

Thus, in the years that followed, the unionists were wary both of a hostile Irish state, because of its territorial claims on Northern Ireland, and of their nationalist neighbours, who represented the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland. At the same time, the Protestants did not trust the British government, believing that, if it proved necessary, it would sacrifice the interests of their community. Until the 1980s the central government in London viewed the conflict as an internal issue and only took unilateral steps towards resolving it. As for the Irish government, it was only after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement at Hillsborough on 15 November 1985 that it acquired a formal consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland and was engaged in the negotiating process.

The conflict, which existed in a latent form for around 50 years, went through a period of armed hostilities beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This stage, known historically as ‘the Troubles’, lasted for 30 years and came to an end with the signing of the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday Agreement), which laid the foundations for a process of political settlement of the Northern Ireland conflict.

This paper seeks to explore the contribution made by the British and Irish governments – as well as a number of external actors, in particular the EU and the US – in the resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict.

The engagement of the British and Irish governments in the negotiating process

Until 1972, Northern Ireland was ruled by the United Kingdom, in accordance with the Government of Ireland Act 1920.[5] It had a local parliament (Stormont), comprising the Senate and the House of Commons, and the British monarch was represented by the Governor.

The Protestant population had the most political weight in Northern Ireland, since representatives of the Catholic community did not participate in the work of the elected institutions as they did not view them as legitimate. The unionists dominated the Parliament and local government, as well as the justice system and the local police forces, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the Ulster Special Constabulary (‘B-specials’). However, perceiving themselves as a minority on the island of Ireland as a whole and wary of assimilation by the Catholics and irredentism from the Republic of Ireland, the Protestant population subjected the Catholic minority to discrimination in the socio-political sphere, as well as in the economic and education sectors and beyond.

This state of affairs contributed to growing dissatisfaction among nationalists. In 1967 activists from the Catholic Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association organised a series of peaceful demonstrations, the main demand of which was for equal civil rights for Catholics and Protestants. These demonstrations led to retaliatory street demonstrations by Protestants.

“Rally and counter rally led to minor violence and the confrontations were joined by more militant sections of each community. In trying to control the situation, the police force and its reserves, the ‘B-specials’, were not impartial. Largely Protestant themselves, they tended to sympathise with unionist opinion and to act more harshly against the civil rights campaigners.”[6]

In order to cope with the situation, the local administration had to seek assistance from the British government, which in August 1969 deployed regular troops to Northern Ireland. From 1970 the British army’s Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), chiefly consisting of Protestants, replaced the local police reserves (the ‘B-specials’).

However, the deployment of troops served to further escalate the conflict and to exacerbate inter-denominational antagonism.

“For republicans the presence and activities of British troops in their communities focused attention on the role of Britain in supporting the unionist system and encouraged the arguments for armed struggle against the British and their unionist ‘surrogates’.”[7]

Meanwhile, the loyalists felt that they had to move outside the rule of law and form self-defence groups, “even though the state had special powers and were using army forces to deal with the civilian population”.[8]

Elsewhere, the split in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) exacerbated the situation in Northern Ireland and facilitated the formation of a new, more hardline wing within the organisation, known as the ‘Provisional IRA’. This wing started a partisan struggle against the British troops in Northern Ireland. In response to the practice of mass internment without trial, used by the British government in August 1971, as well as the unjustified use of force by the British army and the local police, support for the activities of the IRA increased, both from the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland and from the civilian population in the Republic of Ireland. On what became known as Bloody Sunday,[9] on 30 January1972, British troops opened fire on a demonstration by local residents during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march in Derry, resulting in the deaths of 14 unarmed demonstrators. After this, the clashes between the IRA and the regular British troops escalated.

Appreciating the complexity of the situation and given the inability of the Stormont parliament to take action, in March 1972 a decision was made by Edward Heath’s government to temporarily suspend the Stormont parliament and introduce direct rule to Northern Ireland. Accordingly, Northern Ireland’s legislative powers were to be transferred to the British parliament and its executive powers to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Thus, on 28 March 1972 Northern Ireland’s parliament sat for the last time and the government of Brian Faulkner resigned, ending a 50-year history of unionist rule in Northern Ireland.[10]

The British government realised it would have to take a series of political steps to deal with the crisis. This would include taking into account the demands from the Irish government to ensure an adequate level of protection of civil and human rights and to review the decision-making process in Northern Ireland so that representatives of the nationalists could be involved in the political processes.[11]

Thus, in the conflict-resolution initiatives undertaken in Northern Ireland in the years that followed, the British government focused in particular on achieving two related objectives: a) the establishment of a Northern Irish government on the basis of proportional representation in which both unionists and nationalists would also be represented; and b) the placation of nationalism by allowing the Republic of Ireland to be involved in the affairs of Northern Ireland (the ‘Irish dimension’). However, the real situation was such that “Unionists might accept some form of the first, but wholly rejected the second; while nationalists were deeply suspicious of the first without the second”.[12]

Moreover, the establishment of a Northern Ireland government on the basis of proportional representation proved to be an extremely difficult task, since the unionists considered the British system for forming a government more democratic, based on the majority principle (i.e. the party with the largest number of seats in parliament forms the government). Therefore, they opposed any other system. In particular, the unionists were against the formation of a government on the basis of proportional representation (i.e. including parties representing different communities), believing that this was undemocratic and would only produce weak governments.[13]

With the aim of achieving consensus on all the above-mentioned issues, the British government developed a Green Paper entitled ‘The future of Northern Ireland: A paper for discussion’.[14] This document was passed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, in October 1972 to representatives of the UUP, the Alliance Party and the Northern Ireland Labour Party for their consideration. These were the three parties, of the seven represented in the Parliament of Northern Ireland, that had accepted his invitation to take part in a three-day conference organised in September 1972 to discuss the future direction of constitutional reforms in Northern Ireland.[15] The discussion paper contained proposals from the different political parties in Northern Ireland on its future development, as well as on issues around the establishment of a future Northern Ireland Assembly and local government, power sharing between the UK and Northern Ireland, and the ‘Irish dimension’ regarding the possibility of involvement by the Republic of Ireland in Northern Ireland’s affairs.

It should be mentioned that, in 1949, after Ireland declared itself a republic and left the Commonwealth, the British parliament passed the Ireland Act 1949,[16] defining relations between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Under this Act, Northern Ireland remained a dominion of the crown and of the UK, and it was confirmed that under no circumstances would Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be a dominion of the crown and the UK without the consent of the Northern Ireland parliament. However, when Edward Heath’s government temporarily suspended the Stormont Parliament in 1972, it was necessary to find some way to confirm the status of Northern Ireland. Thus, it was decided to hold a referendum on the issue on 8 March 1973.[17] In the referendum,[18] the people of Northern Ireland gave their say on the question of whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK or become part of the Republic of Ireland. In view of the fact that the referendum was boycotted by Catholics, the overwhelming majority of votes (98.92% with a turnout of 58.66%) were cast in favour of Northern Ireland remaining within the UK. However, despite the fact that the referendum confirmed the status of Northern Ireland, the crisis continued.

Soon afterwards, on 20 March 1973, the British government published its ‘Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals (White Paper)’,[19] which had been developed on the basis of the above-mentioned discussion paper of October 1972. This document proposed the establishment of a Council of Ireland and a new Northern Ireland Assembly to be elected by proportional representation and to replace the Stormont parliament. On the basis of these proposals, a Northern Ireland Assembly was established by the British government on 3 May 1973. On 28 June 1973 elections were held and on 31 July 1973 the Assembly met for the first time.

On 18 July 1973 the Northern Ireland Constitution Act[20] came into force. This Act confirmed that Northern Ireland would not be separated from the UK without the consent of a majority of the population and that a referendum on the issue could not be held more than once every 10 years.[21] The Act also stipulated the establishment of a Northern Ireland Assembly on the basis of proportional representation and a Council of Ireland, which would comprise representatives of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The previous parliament and the post of Governor were abolished, and on 21 November 1973[22] an executive body was established with proportional representation.

Between 6 and 9 December 1973 a tripartite conference was held at Sunningdale (England),[23] with the aim of resolving the remaining difficulties concerning the establishment of an executive body on the basis of proportional representation. The conference was attended by British Prime Minister Edward Heath, the Prime Minister (Taoiseach) of the Republic of Ireland, Liam Cosgrave, and ministers and representatives of the UUP, the SDLP and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland.

The participants discussed a range of issues, but the main debate revolved around the question of the so-called ‘Irish dimension’ in any future Northern Ireland government. The Council of Ireland was to be made up of two parts – a Council of Ministers and a Consultative Assembly. The Council of Ministers was to fulfil an executive and coordinating function and be comprised of seven members of the Northern Ireland Executive and seven members of the Irish government. The Consultative Assembly would have a consultative and auditing role, and would comprise 30 members from the Northern Ireland Assembly and 30 members from the lower house of parliament of the Republic of Ireland. At the conference’s closing, on 9 December, a communiqué was issued.[24]

However, the majority of the UUP’s members were opposed to the agreement, which ultimately led to a split in the party and the resignation of its leader, Brian Faulkner. On 15 May 1974, just one day after the Northern Ireland Assembly had approved measures for the establishment of a Council of Ireland, a protest strike was called by the Ulster Workers’ Council. As a result, on 28 May 1974 the executive body based on proportional representation had to resign and two days later the functioning of the Northern Ireland Assembly was also suspended.[25]

The Constitutional Convention, which was elected in May 1975, was also unsuccessful. Since its work did not enjoy broad support from the public, on 9 March 1976[26] the British government dissolved it and announced an indefinite extension to the period of direct rule.

Despite these failures, the British and Irish governments were fully resolved to continue their joint efforts to settle the Northern Ireland conflict in the years that followed. In this context, the Anglo-Irish Agreement,[27] signed at Hillsborough on 15 November 1985 by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Irish Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, was one of the most important documents.

According to the first section of this Agreement, the two governments:

  • “Affirm that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland;
  • Recognise that the present wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland is for no change in the status of Northern Ireland;
  • Declare that, if in the future a majority of the people of Northern Ireland clearly wish for and formally consent to the establishment of a united Ireland, they will introduce and support in the respective Parliaments’ legislation to give effect to that wish.”[28]

On the basis of this Agreement, it was proposed to set up an inter-governmental conference, where Irish and British officials could discuss political and other issues relating to Northern Ireland, with the Irish government representing the issues of Northern Irish Catholics.

The Agreement laid firm foundations for future successful cooperation between the UK and the Republic of Ireland governments. By according a formal consultative role to the Irish government in the affairs of Northern Ireland, the British government acknowledged that the conflict in Northern Ireland was not only an internal issue for the UK, but it also had a profound impact on the Republic of Ireland. At the same time, the Irish government acknowledged the fact that, without the consent of the majority of people in Northern Ireland, it would not be possible to change the constitutional status of Northern Ireland as part of the UK.[29]

Nevertheless, this document also met with opposition from unionists and representatives of the IRA. Unionists did not accept the Irish government being granted a specific role in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland, while the IRA perceived the cooperation between the governments of Britain and the Republic of Ireland as a threat.[30] In fact, the reaction of the unionists to the document was so negative that for a time they ceased cooperation with the British government. However, they later agreed to take part, together with the other parties in Northern Ireland, in talks initiated by the British government in 1991 on three measures concerning: relations between the political structures within Northern Ireland; relations within the whole island of Ireland – between North and South; and also relations between Britain and the Republic of Ireland. At the time, these talks did not result in positive outcomes, but the ideas that were discussed were later included in the Belfast Agreement of 1998.

Over the years, the UK increasingly sought to achieve neutrality. Remarkably, successive British governments continued to adhere firmly to the “key concept of consent – that Northern Ireland should determine its own destiny. Furthermore, the idea that the British government should become a ‘persuader’ to edge unionists towards Irish unity was never accepted”.[31]

Meanwhile, in the Republic of Ireland, the IRA was considered to be an illegal organisation, and this also facilitated a convergence of the positions of the Irish and British governments. They had a shared adversary and this factor played an important role in the resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict. In contrast to the early 1980s – when in 1980–81, following the deaths of 10 IRA prisoners on hunger strike in the Maze prison, the nationalists supported their actions – in the years that followed public concern about security issues grew both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland.

“Fianna Fáil, the party in government in the Republic, in parallel, ancillary and largely exploratory but secret talks with Sinn Féin leaders sought to convey to them the unacceptability of violence to the people of the South. Violence not only divided national opinion in the North but also created divisions between nationalists north and south of the border, and among Irish Americans.”[32]

In July 1989 Peter Brooke was appointed as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and Britain began to come forward with a series of important peace initiatives. Notably, Brooke did not rule out the possibility of holding direct talks with Sinn Féin, if the violence ceased. Moreover, in 1990 “he authorised the re-opening of an informal channel of communication between Michael Oatley, an intelligence officer and Denis Bradley, a Derry priest in the confidence of Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness”.[33]

Within a year, Brooke also announced that Britain had no “selfish strategic or economic interests” in Northern Ireland and was prepared to agree to the union of Ireland if it had the consent of the people.[34] This was a very significant statement, which removed from the agenda one of the main issues of contention between the SDLP and Sinn Féin. Peter Brooke also facilitated the initiation of political negotiations between the constitutional parties on the whole complex of relationships.[35]

In October 1991 the British and Irish governments began to develop a draft joint declaration, which was eventually signed on 15 December 1993 by the prime ministers of the two countries, John Major and Albert Reynolds. This declaration – known as the Downing Street Declaration[36] – was one of the seminal documents in the achievement of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. In terms of its content, it largely repeated agreements between the leaders of the SDLP and Sinn Féin, and was intended to persuade the IRA to renounce violence and make the transition to political methods.

By supporting this declaration, Sinn Féin rejected violence, and in August 1994 the IRA announced a unilateral ceasefire. In October of that year the leading Protestant paramilitary groups also announced a ceasefire.

One of the most challenging tasks during this period was the issue of decommissioning by the paramilitary groups, as it was believed that this needed to be resolved before the groups could be admitted to the talks. The British government initially insisted that a significant quantity of illegal weapons and explosives be surrendered before Sinn Féin could enter the talks.[37] However, not all the groups agreed with this, and so the issue remained a major stumbling block on the road to political dialogue between Irish republicans and the British government.

On 22 February 1995 the British and Irish governments published a new Framework document[38] for consideration. One of the positive developments that emerged from this joint initiative was the system devised by the two governments for three strands of institutions: a) within Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Assembly); b) within the island of Ireland (North South Ministerial Council); and c) for relations between Britain and the Republic of Ireland (British-Irish Council; British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference).

Finally, on 28 November 1995 the Irish and British prime ministers at that time, John Bruton and John Major, issued a joint Anglo-Irish Communiqué,[39] which announced the establishment of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, chaired by George Mitchell. The document outlined a twin-track process, by means of which decommissioning and multi-party talks would take place in parallel. Thus, with the establishment of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, the conflict became internationalised.

In 1997 the British Labour Party, led by Tony Blair, came to power, as did Fianna Fáil, led by Bertie Ahern, in the Republic of Ireland. This development led to significant changes in the Northern Ireland peace process. The political will and strategic vision of these leaders made a huge contribution to the resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict. During the 10 years they were in office (1997–2007), two very important documents were signed: the Belfast and the St Andrews Agreement.

The contribution of external actors to the Northern Ireland peace process

The accession of the UK and the Republic of Ireland to the European Economic Community in 1973 marked a new stage in the two countries’ development. Over the ensuing 40 years, the EC actively helped both countries and “provided generous financial aid to try to improve living conditions and create a greater sense of normality in Northern Ireland”.[40] Thus, for example, the EC was one of the principal donors to the independent International Fund for Ireland (IFI), set up jointly by the British and Irish governments in 1986 as a means of distributing foreign financial aid. Between 1989 and 2010 the European Union contributed €15 million per year to the Fund[41] for inter-community and cross-border projects to encourage the peace process and support sustainable development and social cohesion in the region.[42]

In addition, in 1995 the EU set up a special Programme for Peace and Reconciliation, which was implemented in Northern Ireland and the border region in the Republic of Ireland. The aim of the Programme was to strengthen progress in the development of a peaceful and stable society and to promote reconciliation in the region. The majority of this funding was implemented by local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which encouraged people divided by the conflict to work together at community level. The resources allocated for the implementation of the second phase of this programme (2000–04) amounted to €708 million.[43]

Overall, the total resources received from the US, the EU, Canada, Australia and New Zealand for the IFI[44] amounted to €890 million. Over 5,800 projects have been funded by the organisation, which concentrates its efforts on Northern Ireland and also the border counties of Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan and Sligo in the Republic of Ireland.

The accession of the UK and the Republic of Ireland to the EC also facilitated further improvements and greater balance in their bilateral relations. Through frequent visits and regular contacts between officials and their participation at different joint events and meetings within the framework of the EC, the context of Anglo-Irish relations changed. As working relationships developed, mutual respect also grew.[45] This, in turn, had a positive effect on the course of the negotiation process for resolving the Northern Ireland conflict.

The US is another external actor that has actively contributed to the Northern Ireland peace process. In particular, since 1986 when the IFIwas set up, the US has donated US$500 million to the fund, which represents half of the organisation’s overall budget.[46] The US has also made major investments in the economy of Northern Ireland. Specifically, between 2002 and 2007 American companies invested over US$1.1 billion and created over 4,000 jobs in Northern Ireland. Between 2009 and 2011 a special US Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland facilitated the development of economic ties between the US and Northern Ireland, also supporting the peace process by contributing to economic prosperity in the region. In October 2010 an economic conference was held in Washington, with the aim of attracting major American investment to Northern Ireland.[47]

In the words of Northern Ireland politician Lord John Alderdice, the US provided economic assistance, expertise and mediation. Visits were organised for Northern Ireland politicians to different parts of the world so they could learn from the experience of conflict resolution in similar circumstances.[48]

The personal contribution of former US President Bill Clinton to the Northern Ireland peace process should also be mentioned. He was the first American president to visit Northern Ireland. On 30 November 1995 he spoke at Belfast’s City Hall about the benefit and significance of the Northern Ireland peace process. During his speech, he described the terrorists as “yesterday’s men”.[49] It is notable that, by issuing a US entry visa in 1994 to Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the IRA, Clinton to some degree contributed to the unilateral ceasefire declared by the IRA in August 1994. It also helped to increase the recognition of Sinn Féin in the eyes of the global community as a political party rather than a terrorist organisation.

The day before Clinton’s visit to the UK, on 28 November 1995, the British and Irish governments issued an Anglo-Irish Communiqué announcing the establishment of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning to be chaired by former American senator George Mitchell. The role of the Commission was to conduct research and give recommendations on the issue by the middle of January 1996. This initiative was supported by Clinton, who subsequently appointed George Mitchell as US Special Envoy for Northern Ireland. Mitchell, together with two other members of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (former Finnish prime minister Harri Holkeri and Canadian General John de Chastelain), published a report in January 1996 in which they recommended an approach whereby paramilitary groups would decommission their illegal weapons in parallel with multi-party negotiations.[50]

At the same time, the recommendation was made that elections should be held for a Northern Ireland political forum. The intention was that the sides in the conflict would select delegates from among those elected to represent them at the multi-party talks. The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning also proposed the following six principles (known as the ‘Mitchell Principles’), to which all participants in the negotiations would have to give their commitment:

  • “To democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues;
  • To the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations;
  • To agree that such disarmament must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an independent commission;
  • To renounce for themselves, and to oppose any effort by others, to use force, or threaten to use force, to influence the course or the outcome of all-party negotiations;
  • To agree to abide by the terms of any agreement reached in all-party negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which they may disagree;
  • To urge that ‘punishment’ killings and beatings stop and to take effective steps to prevent such actions.”[51]

All the proposals of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning were accepted by the British government and subsequently implemented.

On 10 June 1996 George Mitchell, as the senior independent co-chair, together with Harri Holkeri and John de Chastelain, began to lead an official negotiating process, with the participation of 10 parties and the British and Irish governments. The negotiations were successfully concluded on 10 April 1998 with the signing by Irish and British prime ministers Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair of the Belfast Agreement[52] on the peaceful settlement of the Northern Ireland conflict. The Agreement was supported by the majority of political parties in Northern Ireland (the only party that came out against the Agreement was the DUP led by Ian Paisley).

“The Agreement laid the foundations for the establishment of new institutions of government in Northern Ireland, including a legislative Assembly and cross-party executive body. The Agreement also made provision for the creation of joint institutions with membership from the administrations of Northern Ireland and the government of the Irish Republic.”[53]

The Belfast Agreement reaffirmed the fact that the constitutional status of Northern Ireland could only be changed with the consent of the majority of the population. It also made provision for the introduction of special amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland in relation to the territorial claims on Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which restricted the powers of the local self-government institutions in Northern Ireland.

One of the most significant aspects of the implementation of the Belfast Agreement was the two referenda that were held on 22 May 1998. In Northern Ireland, 71.1% supported the results of the Belfast Agreement (with a turnout of 81.1%).[54] In the Republic of Ireland, the introduction of changes to the Constitution in accordance with the Agreement was supported by 94.39% (with a turnout of 56.26%).[55] The referendum in the Republic of Ireland therefore led to the removal from the Constitution of the claim that Northern Ireland was part of the territory of Ireland.

However, in practice, the implementation of the Belfast Agreement encountered a number of issues that took several years to resolve. The most problematic of these was the matter of the disarmament of illegal paramilitary groups, in particular the IRA, as well as the process of reforming policing and justice. Although the intention of the Belfast Agreementwas that the decommissioning of illegal paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland should be completed within two years of the referendum, in practice the process took considerably longer and full disarmament of these groups (including the IRA) was only completed in 2005.

A positive role was also played in this process by the administration of George Bush, which, after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, initiated a large-scale campaign to combat international terrorism. During this period, the US became increasingly interested in a speedy resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict.[56] Each of the US Special Envoys for Northern Ireland appointed after George Mitchell (Richard Haass (2001–03), Mitchell Reiss (2003–07), Paula Dobriansky (2007–09) and Declan Kelly (2009–11)) made their own contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process, advancing decommissioning by the IRA and other paramilitary groups, as well as establishing the power balance between unionists and republicans.[57]

In March 2007 new elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly were held – made possible by the St Andrews Agreement.[58] This Agreement was drafted during talks held in Scotland from 11 to 13 October 2006 between the Irish and British prime ministers, Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair, as well as all the political parties of Northern Ireland, including the DUP and Sinn Féin. Thus, on 8 May 2007, after a five-year hiatus, the work of the Northern Ireland Assembly resumed, a new Northern Ireland Executive was formed, and the reform of the policing and justice systems in Northern Ireland was supported by Sinn Féin.

The next Irish and British governments, led by Brian Cowen (Ireland) and Gordon Brown (Britain), built on the achievements made and continued the work of implementing the second stage of transferring power to Northern Ireland law enforcement and justice institutions. However, in March 2009 a series of terrorist attacks were carried out by breakaway IRA groups, aggravating the situation in Northern Ireland.[59]

Perceiving the severity of the situation for the Northern Ireland peace process, the US sought to prevent potential negative consequences. On 17 March 2009, St Patrick’s Day, US President Barack Obama had meetings at the White House with Ireland’s Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, and his Deputy, Martin McGuinness. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also met Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. During the meetings, President Obama urged support for peace in Northern Ireland, despite the violent incidents that had taken place.[60]

Difficult negotiations on the transfer of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland institutions, which had continued for over a decade,[61] were finally concluded with the signing of the Hillsborough Agreement of 5 February 2010.[62] Subsequently, on 9 February 2010 the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), the ‘official’ IRA and the South East Antrim Ulster Defence Association (UDA) announced that they had decommissioned their weapons.[63]

In accordance with Section 1 of the Hillsborough Agreement, the devolution of policing and justice powers would be put to a cross-community vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 9 March 2010. This resolution was successfully implemented, and on 12 April 2010 policing and justice powers were transferred to the jurisdiction of Belfast. On the same day a cross-community vote was held in the Northern Ireland Assembly to elect a new minister of justice.

In this way, the joint and successive efforts of the two governments of Britain and the Republic of Ireland to resolve the Northern Ireland conflict, undertaken over the last few decades in close cooperation with the US administration and the EU, led to a political resolution of this conflict.

Conclusion

Despite all the difficulties in finding a comprehensive political solution to the prolonged ethno-territorial conflict in Northern Ireland, on the whole there is reason to believe that the fundamental issues are a thing of the past.

Nonetheless, as Lord John Alderdice is justified in noting:

“It took six years of diplomatic activity to get political representatives of the two sides in Northern Ireland to sit around a table to talk, and even then the parties with terrorist involvement were not present – that took a further five years. During all of this period, whatever Prime Minister or party was in power in London or in Dublin, the Peace Process held firm. Margaret Thatcher, Charles Haughey, Garret FitzGerald, Albert Reynolds, John Major, John Bruton, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern all led different governments in London and Dublin during this period, but all in their own way regarded the Peace Process as something that was a national commitment and interest that transcended party politics.”[64]

In this context, the state visit made by Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland from 17 to 20 May 2011 on the invitation of President Mary McAleese was also of considerable symbolic significance.[65] During her visit, the Queen laid wreaths both at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, dedicated to the memory of those who died in the course of the struggle for Irish independence from Britain, and at the Island Bridge memorial in Dublin, where Irish people who fought alongside Britain in the First World War are buried.

At a state dinner at Dublin Castle, the Queen gave a speech in which she referred to the complexity of the history of relations between Ireland and Britain, acknowledging that both countries had experienced “heartache, turbulence and loss”.[66] Even though representatives of certain political entities opposed the visit, many people believe that the first visit by a British monarch to Ireland since it gained independence in 1922 was a success and was one of the watershed moments in the complex history of British-Irish relations.

To summarise, an evaluation of the contributions made by the British and Irish governments as well as external actors to the resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict must include the following conclusions:

  • The accession of the UK and the Republic of Ireland to the EC facilitated greater balance in their bilateral relations.
  • A major role in the peace process was played by the British and Irish governments declaring that they were willing to abide by the wishes of the majority of people in Northern Ireland, also respecting each other’s national interests and territorial integrity.
  • The US, as an independent and objective mediator, was able to assist the conflicting sides in negotiating practical difficulties at numerous stages in the process, especially in relation to decommissioning by the paramilitary groups.
  • The financial assistance provided by the US and the EU contributed to the removal of socio-economic inequalities in the conflict zone and the implementation of humanitarian projects aimed at developing an atmosphere of trust between the parties to the conflict.

 

 

[1] Excerpts of Articles of the Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, as signed in London, 6 December 1921, in Documents on Irish Foreign Policy, Volume I, 1919–1922, available at www.nationalarchives.ie/topics/anglo_irish/dfaexhib2.html

[2] S. Farren (2011). ‘The Northern Ireland experience. Does changing the question make agreement more possible?’, in Caucasus International, Volume 1, No. 1, Summer 2011, p. 156.

[3] Ibid. See also the Constitution of Ireland (1937), available at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Constitution_of_Ireland_(original_text)

[4] J. Powell (2008). Great Hatred, Little Room. Making Peace in Northern Ireland. London: The Bodley Head. p. 53.

[5] Government of Ireland Act, 23 December 1920, 10 & 11 George 5 Ch. 67, available at: www.bailii.org/nie/legis/num_act/1920/192000067.html

[6] C. McCartney (ed.) (1999). Striking a Balance. The Northern Ireland Peace Process. London: Conciliation Resources. p. 17. Available at www.c-r.org/sites/c-r.org/files/08_Northern%20Ireland_1999_ENG_F_0.pdf

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] The results of the first inquiry into these events placed responsibility on the demonstrators, which led to protests by the relatives of those who were killed and injured. It was only after the second inquiry, which lasted for 12 years (1998–2010), that it was acknowledged that there was no legal basis for the shooting on the demonstrators. On 15 June 2010 Prime Minister David Cameron made an official apology for Bloody Sunday on behalf of the British government.

[10] ‘Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention – Background Information’, available at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/events/convention/back.htm

[11] S. Farren (2011). Op. cit. p.159.

[12] D. Bloomfield (1998). ‘Case study: Northern Ireland’, in P. Harris and B. Reilly (eds.) Democracy and Deep-rooted Conflict: Options for Negotiators, Handbook Series 3, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). p. 126.

[13] S. Farren (2011). Op. cit. p. 159.

[14] ‘The future of Northern Ireland: A paper for discussion’ (Green Paper; 1972), available at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/hmso/nio1972.htm

[15] S. Wolff (2001). ‘Context and content: Sunningdale and Belfast compared’, in R. Wilford (ed.) Aspects of the Belfast Agreement, Oxford University Press, available at www.stefanwolff.com/files/sunningdaletobelfast.pdf

[16] Ireland Act, 1949, available at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/hmso/irelandact1949org.pdf

[17] V. Bogdanor (1994). ‘Western Europe’, in D. Butler and A. Ranney (eds.) Referendums Around the World: The Growing Use of Direct Democracy, AEI Press, pp. 37–8.

[18] Results of the 1973 referendum held in Northern Ireland on 8 March 1973, available at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/issues/politics/election/ref1973.htm

[19] Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals (White Paper; 1973), available at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/hmso/cmd5259.htm

[20] Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, available at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/hmso/nica1973.htm

[21] However, no referendum was held in 1983 or in subsequent decades.

[22] A Chronology of the Conflict – 1973, available at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/othelem/chron/ch73.htm

[23] The Sunningdale Agreement (December 1973), available at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/events/sunningdale/agreement.htm

[24] Ibid.

[25] A Chronology of the Conflict – 1974, available at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/othelem/chron/ch74.htm

[26] Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention – A Chronology of Main Events, available at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/events/convention/chron.htm

[27] Anglo-Irish Agreement 1985 between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the UK, available at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/events/aia/aiadoc.htm

[28] Ibid.

[29] S. Farren (2011). Op. cit. p. 164.

[30] C. McCartney (ed.) (1999). Op. cit. p. 18.

[31] Ibid. p. 34.

[32] Ibid. p. 22.

[33] Ibid. p. 23.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Joint Declaration on Peace: The Downing Street Declaration, 15 December 1993, available at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/events/peace/docs/dsd151293.htm

[37] C. McCartney (ed.) (1999). Op. cit. p. 28.

[38] Тhe Framework Documents, 22 February 1995 – A New Framework for Agreement, available at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/events/peace/docs/fd22295.htm

[39] British and Irish Governments, Joint Communiqué, 28 November 1995, available at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/events/peace/docs/com281195.htm

[40] C. McCartney (ed.) (1999). Op. cit. p. 12.

[41] The 11th Dudley Senanayake Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘Risks, rights and respect – Essential elements of the Irish peace process’ given by Lord John Alderdice, 24 September 2008, p. 12.

[42] Community TransformationStrategic Framework for Action 2012–2015, International Fund for Ireland, available at www.internationalfundforireland.com/images/stories/documents/Strategic_Framework/ifi_strategic_framework_for_action.pdf

[43] The 11th Dudley Senanayake Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘Risks, rights and respect – Essential elements of the Irish peace process’ given by Lord John Alderdice, 24 September 2008, p. 12.

[44] Background on the International Fund for Ireland, available at www.internationalfundforireland.com/background/47-background

[45] The 11th Dudley Senanayake Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘Risks, rights and respect – Essential elements of the Irish peace process’ given by Lord John Alderdice, 24 September 2008, p. 6.

[46] US Department of State, Background Note: Ireland, November 2011; the Anglo-Irish Agreement Support Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-415) authorises US contributions to the IFI.

[47] K. Archick (2013). Northern Ireland: The Peace Process, Congressional Research Service, p. 14.

[48] The 11th Dudley Senanayake Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘Risks, rights and respect – Essential elements of the Irish peace process’ given by Lord John Alderdice, 24 September 2008, p. 7.

[49] ‘Bill Clinton and the Northern Ireland peace process’, Presidential History Geeks, available at http://potus-geeks.livejournal.com/294798.html

[50] C. McCartney (ed.) (1999). Op. cit. p. 33.

[51] Ibid. p. 35.

[52]Agreement reached in the multi-party negotiations (10 April 1998), available at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/events/peace/docs/agreement.htm

[53] C. McCartney (ed.) (1999). Op. cit. p. 4 (Russian version only).

[54] Details of the 1998 Referendums, available at www.ark.ac.uk/elections/fref98.htm

[55] ‘Referendum on the Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 1998 (British-Irish Agreement)’, in Referendum Results 1937–2012, Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Dublin, p. 59, available at www.environ.ie/en/LocalGovernment/Voting/Referenda/PublicationsDocuments/FileDownLoad,1894,en.pdf

[56] D.W. Brady and C. Volden (2006). Revolving Gridlock. Politics and Policy from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush. Boulder and Oxford: Westview Press. р. 191.

[57] M.-A. Clancy (2007). ‘The United States and post-Agreement Northern Ireland 2001–6’, in Irish Studies in International Affairs, Volume 18, р. 173.

[58] Agreement at St Andrews, available at www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/136651/st_andrews_agreement-2.pdf

[59] ‘Real IRA claims murder of soldiers in Northern Ireland’, The Guardian, 8 March 2009, available at www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/mar/08/northern-ireland-soldiers-killed-antrim

[60] ‘Obama to meet Irish leaders, emphasize peace’, USA Today, 17 March 2009, available at http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/washington/2009-03-17-obama-st-patricks-day_N.htm

[61] ‘Timeline: Devolution of policing and justice’, BBC News, 5 February 2010, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/8457650.stm

[62] Agreement at Hillsborough Castle, 5 February 2010, available at www.nidirect.gov.uk/castle_final_agreement15__2_-3.pdf

[63] The Hillsborough Agreement, February 2010, available at www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN05350.pdf

[64] The 11th Dudley Senanayake Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘Risks, rights and respect – Essential elements of the Irish peace process’, speech by Lord John Alderdice, 24 September 2008, p. 7.

[65] ‘Ireland “will remember Queen’s symbolic visit”’, BBC News, 20 May 2011, available at www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13473379

[66] ‘Queen’s Ireland state banquet speech’, BBC News, 18 May 2011, available to watch at www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13450099

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