The Good Friday Agreement, which can be read in full here, has been the main source of peace in Northern Ireland over the past two decades, but it comes under increasing threat with rising political tensions and violent conflict in the wake of the Brexit referendum.
The Good Friday Agreement - also known as the Belfast Agreement - was signed on April 10, 1998, and represented the most important and enduring development of the Northern Irish peace process.
The Agreement halted most of the violent conflict in the region after it was approved by voters across the island of Ireland in two separate referendums held on May 22, 1998.
The following day, May 23, it emerged that the Good Friday Agreement found a majority of support in both referendums - 71% supported it in Northern Ireland while 94% supported it in Ireland.
It subsequently came into law in December 1999 and is now part of the Irish Constitution.
The Good Friday Agreement created power-sharing in Northern Ireland with the creation of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive, ending decades of direct rule from London.
The historic agreement, which was signed by most political parties in Northern Ireland, additionally recognized that the majority of Northern Irish people wanted to remain in the United Kingdom, although it also recognized that a substantial section of the region wished for a United Ireland.
It also recognized the legitimacy of any choice made by the people of Northern Ireland to either continue as part of the United Kingdom or become part of a United Ireland. In essence, the Agreement included the provision for a referendum on a United Ireland on both sides of the border if the Northern Ireland Secretary believes that a majority of voters would vote in favor of a United Ireland.
Contentiously, the Agreement allowed for the release of nationalist and loyalist terrorists who were sentenced before April 10, 1998, while it also allowed Northern Irish residents to identify as British or Irish or both.
The Good Friday Agreement also created several north-south and British-Irish institutions to ensure continued peace in Northern Ireland.
Additionally, the Agreement created open borders between Ireland and Northern Ireland void of any checkpoints - a clause that has come under threat since Britain voted to leave the European Union.
The potential return of a hard border between the two states was a constant sticking point during the Brexit withdrawal negotiations and eventually led to the Northern Ireland Protocol - a contentious agreement that created an invisible border in the Irish Sea for certain goods traveling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The Protocol is believed to be partly responsible for the unsavory riots that have taken place throughout Northern Ireland over the past eight days with unionists concerned about Northern Ireland's place in the United Kingdom.
The riots have marred the 23rd anniversary of the signing of one of the most important agreements in modern Irish history and serve as a timely reminder of the fragile peace that the agreement brought.
While the agreement brought an end to most of the violent conflict in Northern Ireland, it was only a line in the sand and should only ever be viewed as the beginning of the peace process rather than the end. There is plenty of work to do to ensure the continued survival of the agreement and peace in Northern Ireland lest the region falls back into the dark days of the Troubles.
*Originally published April 2021, last updated May 2022.
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