Marking 25 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement – Parliamentary Affairs special collection

6 Apr 2023
Mural depicting children from opposite communities in east Belfast shaking hands. ©Tom Bastin / CC BY 2.0
Mural depicting children from opposite communities in east Belfast shaking hands. ©Tom Bastin / CC BY 2.0

To mark 25 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, we have curated a special collection of articles from our journal Parliamentary Affairs. The articles cover a range of themes, from devolution and the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly to peacebuilding, consociation and women's rights.

By James W. McAuley and Jonathan Tonge • Go to article

Summary: This article examines whether the promotion of British values is desirable, feasible or even permissible within Northern Ireland. Here, the advocacy of Britishness may be seen as threatening or offensive to a minority community whose political representatives desire the diminution of symbols of Britishness in order to encourage Irish nationalists to participate in political institutions… Keep reading

By Brendan Murtagh • Go to article

Summary: The physical renaissance of Belfast, with new waterfront developments, shopping precincts and tech-led industries, are potent signifiers of how far the region has come since the Belfast Agreement. However, the effects of regeneration have been socially and spatially uneven, and sites of modernity sit uncomfortably close to communities that are still affected by poverty, division and violence… Keep reading

By Claire Pierson • Go to article

Summary: Despite the relatively unusual (by global standards) involvement of women in negotiations to the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), it is generally recognised that gender has been marginalised both in the descriptive and substantive representation of women in conflict transformation. Twenty years after the Agreement, this article discusses and reflects on the implications of the exclusion of gender policy issues both for women and wider society. Within the agreement itself women are only briefly mentioned with regard to political participation, and the institutional structures created from the GFA through their very design deprioritise any identity cleavage which is not ethno-national… Keep reading

By John Coakley • Go to article

Summary: This article assesses the role played by the principle of consociational government in promoting Northern Ireland's peace agreement. It reviews the central concept of consociation as it has evolved in recent comparative studies of the politics of divided societies. It describes the stages by which this concept moved to the centre of the political agenda in Northern Ireland, resting on contributions by policy-makers, academics, journalists and others… Keep reading

By Elizabeth Meehan • Go to article

Summary: Proposals to create a new Parliament in Scotland, an Assembly in Wales, an elected Mayoralty and Assembly for London and regional development agencies as precursors to assemblies in England have generated a good deal of discussion about the prospects for state and constitutional transformation in the United Kingdom. These proposals are generally analyzed in the light of distinctions between federalism and devolution or between a ‘union state’ and a unitary one. Most commentaries largely avoid Northern Ireland, in view of its particular problems of contested territory, identity conflicts and civil disorder… Keep reading

By Rick Wilford • Go to article

Summary: This article discusses the attempts to reform the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive by the former's Assembly and Executive Review Committee. It situates the Committee's review of the Belfast Agreement's Strand One institutions within the context both of prior proposals to effect reform and the constraints, institutional and behavioural, created by Northern Ireland's model of consociational democracy.… Keep reading

By Jennifer Todd • Go to article

Summary: This article argues that the root of recent crises and political stalemate in Northern Ireland lies in a constitutional failure. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 played an innovative constitutional role in Northern Ireland, and this was central to peace and stability. Yet, its own principles were underspecified and disputed. Strong convergent action by the British and Irish states functioned as an informal mode of constitutional adjudication and it stabilised the settlement. It failed, however, to emphasise constitutional principles or to embed them within the politics of Northern Ireland… Keep reading

By Rick Wilford • Go to article

Summary: The article surveys the interrupted experience of devolution in Northern Ireland since 1999 and draws a number of comparisons between the first devolved Assembly and Executive and their successors elected in 2007. It underlines the significance of the changed political, electoral and paramilitary context in the period leading up to the 2007 Assembly election which, together with a number of procedural changes effected by the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, enabled the restoration of power-sharing devolution to occur.… Keep reading

By Deirdre Heenan and Derek Birrell • Go to article

Summary: The system of devolution set up in Northern Ireland in 1999 has proved volatile and unstable. In 2017, the Northern Ireland Executive collapsed, following the resignation of the Sinn Féin, deputy First Minister. For a three-year period, Executive and legislative devolution ceased to operate. The UK Government opted not to impose Direct Rule from Westminster, as happened previously. This article examines the consequences of the absence of a devolved government in the context of the existing system of multi-level governance (MLG)… Keep reading

By Rick Wilford • Go to article

Summary: In designing the new constitutional settlement for Northern Ireland, the signatories to the Belfast Agreement of 1998 were conscious that they were treading a path littered with failure. Since the introduction of direct rule in 1972, successive governments had attempted to establish a power-sharing administration in the province. The first attempt, in 1974, based upon the Sunningdale Agreement reached the previous year, ended in collapse after five months. In 1975–76, a Constitutional Convention was created to generate a scheme for self-government: it too failed, as did both the ‘Atkins initiative’ of 1979, named after the then Secretary of State, Humphrey Atkins, and the scheme for ‘rolling devolution’ devised by his successor, Jim Prior.… Keep reading

By Peter Shirlow • Go to article

Summary: The Belfast Agreement ended the bulk of paramilitary and state violence, underlined majority consent, acknowledged the desire for Irish unification, reformed policing, de-militarised security and embedded ethno-sectarian power-sharing. However, the past remains unhealed and without an adequate vocabulary and behaviour required to structure conflict transformation. This article argues that the responsibility of politicians and other agents of victimhood should be to question the utility of harsh and one-sided assertions regarding the past and to conclude that denial is unpalatable when tied to amplified demand… Keep reading

By Cillian McGrattan • Go to article

Summary: This article explores recent proposals to deal with the past in Northern Ireland. Focusing, in particular, on the 2014 Stormont House Agreement, I argue that it is possible to begin to discern a movement within policy design to respond proactively to what I term a new politics of storytelling. This consists of an emphasis on testimony-work as a means of dealing with unresolved legacies relating to the Troubles. I suggest that that new politics lies at the centre of the proposed legislation but that it could give rise to a range of potential unintended consequences… Keep reading

By C. K. Martin Chung • Go to article

Summary: In 2018, that is 20 years after the conclusion of the Belfast Agreement ending the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland known as the ‘Troubles’, the UK Government started a consultation on dealing with its legacy. The House of Commons Defence Committee proposes the enactment of a statute of limitations to shield veterans from further investigations into Troubles-related crimes. It would represent a ‘balanced’ approach to justice, as some paramilitary combatants had also received de facto amnesty through various schemes. This article argues that given the involvement of the British state in the historical conflict, a ‘balanced’ approach to dealing with the past is inadequate… Keep reading

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