The Belfast Agreement (more commonly known as the Good Friday Agreement) was signed on 10th April 1998 by the British and Irish Governments and most Northern Irish political parties. It was subsequently endorsed by the voters of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic in separate referenda.
The main provisions of the agreement were:-
- The principle that the constitutional future of Northern Ireland should be determined by the democratically expressed wish of its people.
- A commitment by all parties to 'exclusively peaceful and democratic means.'
- The establishment of a Northern Irish Legislative Assembly.
- A 'Power-sharing' Executive, made up from the main parties in proportion to their strength in the Assembly.
- A set of 'North-South Bodies' to bring about cooperation in government policy and programmes on a number of issues.
- A British-Irish Council, to discuss areas of common concern.
- Release within two years of paramilitary prisoners belonging to organisations observing the ceasefire.
- A two year target for decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.
- The modification of the Irish 'constitutional claim' to Northern Ireland.
- Legislation for Northern Ireland on policing, human rights and equality.
Vague wording of some of the provisions, which helped ensure acceptance of the agreement at the time, only postponed debate on some of the more contentious issues - most notably paramilitary decommissioning.