94.39% - it was by this overwhelming majority of almost 1.5 million “yes” votes that the people of Northern Ireland approved the Good Friday Agreement (Belfast Agreement) on 22 May 1998, which was signed 25 years ago on 10 April 1998. Together with the Irish, who also voted by a comfortable majority in favour of the agreement, people on the island of Ireland expressed a clear wish 25 years ago: yes to peace, yes to reconciliation and no to the Troubles (Gaelic: Na Trioblóidí), the armed conflict that had been waged in Northern Ireland since the late 1960s between the mainly Catholic Republicans, who wanted unification with Ireland, and the largely Protestant Unionists or Loyalists, who wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom.
The conflict, whose roots dated back to the British settlement of Ireland, cost the lives of more than 3500 people from the mid-1960s and divided families, friends and neighbours along these fault lines.
The agreement, which actually consists of two separate documents, then brought the violence to an end in 1998.
In the first agreement, Northern Ireland’s internal and external relations were regulated in three strands: Ireland, the United Kingdom and a total of eight parties from Northern Ireland first of all agreed on the form of government (Strand 1: key elements: the creation of a Northern Irish Assembly and an Executive, which was to be made up of representatives of the Unionists and Republicans). Furthermore, relations with Ireland were formalised with agreements on cross-border cooperation and the establishment of a North/South Ministerial Council (Strand 2). Strand 3 concerned relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom. Here, too, an expansion of bilateral cooperation was agreed upon.
This was complemented by a second agreement between the United Kingdom and Ireland. In this document, Ireland recognised that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. At the same time, however, the agreement provides for the option of a referendum on unification if and when people wish it. To ensure fewer identity conflicts in future, the agreement also gave people a choice: anyone born in Northern Ireland can decide freely whether they want British or Irish nationality, or both.
25 years after it was signed, the Good Friday Agreement (Belfast Agreement) has lost none of its significance. It guarantees continued peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland.