Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

23 February 2023 Edition

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The challenging steps to the Good Friday Agreement

An Phoblacht selects some of the key moments and events that led to the Good Friday Agreement.

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1987 to  1992 

The publication of ‘A Scenario for Peace’ in May 1987, the 1988 Sinn Féin/SDLP talks from January to September, and the February 1992 launch of ‘Towards a Lasting Peace’ were all crucial steps taken by republicans.

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• 1993: Talks between Gerry Adams and John Hume mark a substantial milestone in the Peace Process

The Hume/Adams talks marked the next substantial milestone in the Peace Process. Those talks and the resulting Irish Peace Initiative broke through the failure of the Brooke/Mayhew talks, which had begun in 1990 and collapsed a year later.

In April 1993, Gerry Adams and John Hume said in a joint statement that, “As leaders of our respective parties, we accept that the most pressing issue facing the people of Ireland and Britain today is the question of lasting peace and how it can best be achieved” and that, “Everyone has a solemn duty to change the political climate away from conflict and towards a process of national reconciliation, which sees the peaceful accommodation of the differences between the people of Britain and Ireland and the Irish people themselves”.

In September 1993, the IRA issued a statement welcoming the Hume/Adams Initiative, stating that, “Our Volunteers, our supporters, have a vested interest in seeking a just and lasting peace in Ireland.” 

By November 1993, the British Government admitted it had been involved in meetings with Sinn Féin between 1991 and 1993. On 18 December 1993, the Downing Street Declaration was launched by Albert Reynolds and John Major. The Declaration stated that Ireland would be united if a majority of the Six Counties population were in favour of such a move. 

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On 31 August, the IRA released a statement announcing a cessation of all military operations from midnight. The statement said:

“Recognising the potential of the current situation and in order to enhance the democratic peace process and underline our definitive commitment to its success, the leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann have decided that as of midnight, Wednesday, 31 August, there will a complete cessation of military operations. All our units have been instructed accordingly. 

“At this historic crossroads, the leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann salutes and commends our volunteers, other activists, our supporters and the political prisoners who have sustained this struggle against all odds for the past 25 years. Your courage, determination and sacrifices have demonstrated that the spirit of freedom and the desire for peace based on a just and lasting settlement cannot be crushed. We remember all those who have died for Irish freedom and we reiterate our commitment to our republican objectives. 

“Our struggle has seen many gains and advances made by nationalists and for the democratic position. We believe that the opportunity to create a just and lasting settlement has been created. We are therefore entering into a new situation in a spirit of determination and confidence: determined that the injustices which created the conflict will be removed and confident in the strength and justice of our struggle to achieve this. 

“We note that the Downing Street Declaration is not a solution, nor was it presented as such by its authors. A solution will only be found as a result of inclusive negotiations. Others, not least the British government, have a duty to face up to their responsibilities. It is our desire to significantly contribute to the creation of a climate which will encourage this. We urge everyone to approach this new situation with energy, determination and patience.”


Gerry Adams pledged in conjunction with John Hume and the then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds the party’s total commitment to democratic and peaceful methods of resolving political problems. The three leaders shared an historic handshake on 6 September 1994. 

The British removed the broadcasting ban on Sinn Féin following a similar decision in the 26 Counties in February. Sinn Féin held an internal conference in Dublin to discuss developments. The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation opened in Dublin Castle. The Combined Loyalist Military Command announced a cessation in October. 

The first official meeting was held between British Government officials and Sinn Féin in December 1994. The government claimed decommissioning was an obstacle to progress, but would not answer Sinn Féin’s questions about demilitarisation. Sinn Féin produced a demilitarisation map, detailing the massive number of British military posts in Ireland. 

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• 1995: George Mitchell, invited submissions on arms decommissioning August

John Major and John Bruton launched their ‘Framework’ document, which included plans for a Six-County Assembly in February.

In July 1995, Sinn Féin pulled out of talks with the British Government, after the British introduced the issue of decommissioning. The party said the subject had not been on the table when the IRA called their cessation. 

Residents of the Lower Ormeau Road were hemmed into their area as the RUC forced an Orange Order march down the road.

The head of the International Body on Decommissioning, former US Senator George Mitchell, invited submissions on arms decommissioning from all parties.


• 1995: Sinn Féin Peace Protest in Dublin calls for release of POWs

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• 9 February 1996: Canary Wharf bomb ended IRA cessation

The Mitchell Report was published in January, laying down six principles of non-violence for entry into all-party talks. 

Sinn Féin had engaged positively with the International Body on Decommissioning in 1995 and 1996 in an attempt to resolve the impasse. Despite the bad faith of the Major government, Sinn Féin had used all its influence to sustain the first cessation for a full 17 months, until the rejection by Major of the report of the International Body on Decommissioning. 

The IRA ended its cessation with the bombing of Canary Wharf in London on 9 February. In a statement, they said, “The cessation presented an historic challenge for everyone, and the IRA commends the leaderships of nationalist Ireland at home and abroad. They rose to the challenge. The British Prime Minister did not.

“Instead of embracing the peace process, the British government acted in bad faith with Mr Major and the Unionist leaders squandering this unprecedented opportunity to resolve the conflict.

“Time and again, over the last 18 months, selfish party political and sectional interests in the London parliament have been placed before the rights of the people of Ireland.”

In March, Sinn Féin was turned away from a consultative process organised by the two governments. Sinn Féin polled a record vote in May’s Six-County Forum elections. Sinn Féin was subsequently barred from the opening of inter-party talks.

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• 1997: More violence on the Garvaghy Road after Orange Order parade brings renewed calls for a proper policing service

May’s Westminster elections put Labour Party leader Tony Blair into 10 Downing Street and returned Gerry Adams and party colleague Martin McGuinness as MPs. In June, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin was elected TD for Cavan-Monaghan. A Fianna Fáil Progressive Democrats government was formed in the 26 Counties, with Bertie Ahern taking over as Taoiseach. 

Blair visited the North and gave the go ahead for exploratory contacts between government officials and Sinn Féin. 

A third year of violence on the Garvaghy Road brought a renewed call for a proper policing service in the Six Counties and an end to Orange Order parades being forced through nationalist areas.

On 21 July, the IRA announced its second cessation in three years. Sinn Féin had undertaken a number of political initiatives to bring about this cessation. British Secretary of State Mo Mowlam said she would monitor activity over the following six weeks to decide if Sinn Féin would be admitted to all-party talks scheduled for 15 September. 

The IRA statement said: 

“After 17 months of cessation in which the British Government and the unionists blocked any possibility of real or inclusive negotiations, we reluctantly abandoned the cessation.

“The IRA is committed to ending British rule in Ireland. It is the root cause of divisions and conflict in our country. We want a permanent peace and therefore we are prepared to enhance the search for a democratic peace settlement through real and inclusive negotiations.”

In August, an international decommissioning body was set up to deal with the weapons issue. Sinn Féin signed up to the Mitchell Principles and entered all party-talks. The Ulster Unionists joined the talks, but the DUP stayed away. 

In October, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness met Blair for the first time at Stormont Castle buildings. 

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• 1998: Referenda North and South vote overwhelmingly for the Good Friday Agreement

The Good Friday Agreement was signed on 10 April, with Sinn Féin members endorsing it at the party’s Ard Fheis in Dublin on 10 May 1998. 

On 22 May, The people of Ireland, in referenda North and South, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Good Friday Agreement.


An Phoblacht
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