Some key points from the Belfast Agreement.
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Key points of the Belfast Agreement
The Government of Ireland Act, claiming British jurisdiction over Northern Ireland, is to be repealed.
Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom. A united Ireland could be created in the future but only with the agreement of the people in both the North and the South, subject to the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.
The Irish Constitution will be amended, withdrawing the Republic’s territorial claim on Northern Ireland and offering formal recognition that Northern Ireland is legitimately part of the UK.
Both governments accept the right of Northern Ireland citizens to declare themselves as either British or Irish. Dual citizenship will be provided for those who desire it.
Implementation and review
The Agreement will be put to a popular vote in Northern Ireland and simultaneously a referendum will be held in the Republic of Ireland on the amendments to the Constitution. The two governments will sign a new British–Irish Agreement replacing the 1985 Anglo–Irish Agreement. In the event of difficulties, the two governments may institute a review in consultation with the parties in the Assembly.
Northern Ireland Democratic Institutions (Strand One)
A 108-member assembly with legislative powers to govern Northern Ireland will be elected by proportional representation from 18 constituencies.
The Assembly will elect The First Minister and a Deputy First Minister. Ministers will be appointed on the basis of party strength in the Assembly with responsibility for such devolved matters as health, education and social services.
Ministers will be supported and scrutinised by a cross-party committees.
A Civic Forum made up of representatives of civil society will be consulted on social, economic and cultural issues.
North–South Ministerial Council (Strand Two)
With a joint secretariat staffed by civil servants this council is to be established to develop cooperation between the two states. The Council is to be made up of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly and two Ministers from the Irish government and other relevant ministers. In addition to Plenary sessions, implementation bodies will meet frequently with the participation of appropriate ministers.
British–Irish Institutions (Strand Three)
This council will consist of representatives of the British and Irish governments, devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. It will exchange information, discuss, consult and seek to reach agreements on cooperation in the areas of transport links, agriculture, environment, culture, health and education as well as approaches to EU matters.
British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference
The new Conference will bring together the British and Irish governments to promote bilateral cooperation.
Protection of minorities
Bill of Rights
The European Convention on Human Rights is to be incorporated into Northern Ireland law with a new Bill of Rights supporting it.
Human Rights Commissions
Separate Human Rights Commissions will be established in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and there will be a Joint North–South Human Rights Committee to liaise between the two.
Decisions requiring cross-community support will require a majority of those voting in the Assembly including a majority of the unionist and nationalist delegates.
This new Commission will replace the Fair Employment Commission, Equal Opportunities Commission, Commission for Racial Equality and Disability Council in Northern Ireland.
Support for the Northern Ireland Victims Commission in developing community-based initiatives and the provision of statutory funding.
The importance of respect for and tolerance of the Irish language, Ulster–Scots ‘and the languages of the various ethnic communities’ is explicitly recognised. The British government is to sign the Council of Europe Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
Economic Development Strategy
A new economic development strategy for Northern Ireland is to be developed by the British government.
Policing and the Judiciary
This will be established to make recommendations for future policing arrangements in Northern Ireland with the aim of ensuring that the police service operates within the bounds of human rights and equal opportunity and has the confidence of the public.
A parallel wide-ranging review of criminal justice will be carried out aiming to ensure that a fair and impartial justice system exists, which is responsive to community concerns and has the confidence of all parts of the community.
Both Governments will put in place mechanisms to provide for the release of all prisoners affiliated with organisations maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire within two years of the enactment of the agreement. Facilities will be provided for re-integration of prisoners into society.
Decommissioning and security
The participants confirm their intention to work with the Independent Commission on Decommissioning. They are ‘to use any influence they may have to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years’.
Meanwhile, the British government is committed to reducing the security forces in the North, removing security installations, ending emergency powers and taking other measures to return as soon as possible to normal peacetime security arrangements.