Peace Process

Lyra McKee. It won’t always be like this. It’s going to get better. © Allan LEONARD @MrUlster

A chronology of the Northern Ireland peace process and community relations policy:
























22 February 1995: Framework Documents

“The declaration that we have agreed today shows the commitment of the two Governments for peace and democracy and against violence. Its objective is to set a framework for peace, a framework that reflects our responsibilities to both communities in a way that is fully compatible with the undertakings that we have both given and with the objectives of the talks process.”

—John Major, Downing Street Declaration

10 April 1998: Belfast/Good Friday Agreement

The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement comprises the (1) Multi-Party Agreement between the UK and Irish governments and the parties in Northern Ireland and (2) the British-Irish Agreement between the UK and Irish governments.

The Agreement created three strands of political structures: (1) the governance of Northern Ireland; (2) North–South relations; and (3) East–West relations:

  1. Strand One established the Northern Ireland Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive, to make laws and decisions on devolved matters.
  2. Strand Two established the North–South Ministerial Council and the North–South Implementation Bodies, which both support co-operation between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
  3. Strand Three established the British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the British–Irish Council, which both support co-operation between the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The Agreement also set out rights for the people of Northern Ireland, including on identity and citizenship, and made commitments on decommissioning, security, policing and prisoners. Also, the signatory parties “affirm their commitment to the mutual respect, the civil rights and the religious liberties of everyone in the community”.

22 May 1998: Agreement referenda

By a referendum, the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement was approved by voters in Northern Ireland (71.1% “Yes”) and in Ireland (94.4% “Yes”) on 22 May 1998.

25 June 1998: Northern Ireland Assembly election

The first election to the 108-seat Northern Ireland Assembly returned the UUP and SDLP as the two largest parties. 

PartyVotesPercentage VoteSeats
Sinn Féin142,85817.6%18
Alliance Party52,6366.5%6

15 August 1998: Omagh bombing

Omagh Memorial Garden. Omagh, Northern Ireland. © Allan LEONARD @MrUlster

“The aim of those bombers was, as I say, not just to kill innocent people but to strike at the very heart of the peace process. The best response that we can give, therefore, is not to abandon the Good Friday agreement but, on the contrary, to carry it forward vigorously, to deny these people the very objective they seek, and to continue to work for a better future for Northern Ireland that puts the past behind us. [Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister] will also continue to have our support in implementing the Good Friday agreement and in carrying through the efforts of this Government and the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) to bring lasting peace.”

—William Hague (Conservative Party),
speaking in House of Commons in aftermath of Omagh Bombing

19 November 1998: The Northern Ireland Act

Section 75(1) and (2) creates a statutory duty for a public authority: “in carrying out its functions relating to Northern Ireland to have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group”.

14 October 2002: Northern Ireland Assembly suspended

The Northern Ireland Assembly is suspended. Meanwhile, the “Harbison Report” is published and indicates that current good relations policy is not significantly improving tensions between communities in Northern Ireland.

January 2003: A Shared Future initiative launched

Under Direct Rule administration, the Community Relations Unit of the Office of the First and deputy First Minister launches a policy document for public consultation, “A Shared Future: Improving Relations in Northern Ireland”.

26 November 2003: Northern Ireland Assembly election

The second election to the 108-seat Northern Ireland Assembly returned the DUP and UUP as the two largest parties.

PartyVotesPercentage VoteSeats
Sinn Féin162,75823.5%24
Alliance Party25,3723.7%6
Kieran Deeney (Ind.)6,1580.9%1

21 January 2004: Public consultation responses to A Shared Future

Academics John Darby and Colin Knox publish a summary of the public consultation responses to A Shared Future policy proposal.

March 2005: A Shared Future policy published

“A Shared Future: The Policy and Strategic Framework for Good Relations in Northern Ireland” is published by Northern Ireland Secretary of State Paul Murphy.

April 2006: A Shared Future: First Triennial Action Plan

Under Direct Rule administration, OFMdFM publishes “A Shared Future: First Triennial Action Plan 2006–2009”. The action plan is named “Making it happen: Implementing the policy and strategic framework for Good Relations in Northern Ireland”.

13 October 2006: St Andrews Agreement

An agreement is reached at St Andrews and the Northern Ireland Act 2006 is passed. The St Andrews Agreement states that “The British government has also agreed to take forward a number of measures to build confidence in both communities and to pursue a shared future.”

7 March 2007: Northern Ireland Assembly election

The third election to the 108-seat Northern Ireland Assembly returned the DUP and Sinn Féin as the two largest parties.

PartyVotesPercentage VoteSeats
Sinn Féin180,57326.2%28
Alliance Party36,1395.2%7
Green Party11,9851.7%1
Kieran Deeney (Ind.)3,7760.5%1

The subsequent Programme for Government stated that “equality, fairness, inclusion and the promotion of good relations will be watchwords for all our policies”.

4 April 2007: Bertie Ahern-Ian Paisley handshake

IRELAND – MAY 11: Northern Ireland First Minister, Ian Paisley, greets Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern as they visit the site of the Battle of the Boyne in Drogheda, Ireland, Friday, May, 11, 2007. The famous battle of 1690, took place between the armies of the Catholic James VII of Scotland, James II of England and the protestant William III. (Photo by Paul Mcerlane/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“We must do our best to put behind us the terrible wounds of the past and work together to build a new relationship between our two traditions.”

—Bertie Ahern, Ireland Taoiseach

January 2008: Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) initiative announced

OFMdFM announced plans to produce a “Cohesion, Sharing and Integration” (CSI) document.

28 October 2008: CSI DUP draft

DUP published a draft version of CSI on its party’s website.

16 September 2009: CSI Sinn Féin draft

Sinn Féin published a draft version of CSI on its party’s website.

July 2010: CSI consultation launched

OFMdFM launched a consultation (and summary) for the Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration.

UUP, SDLP, and Alliance parties criticise CSI for “lacking vision”.

October 2010: CSI CRC response

The Community Relations Council publishes its response to the CSI consultation. See also the CRC’s review.

November 2010: CSI consultation closes

OFMdFM indicated that over 200 responses have been received for CSI. The consultation closed on 5 November 2010.

5 May 2011: Northern Ireland Assembly election

The fourth election to the 108-seat Northern Ireland Assembly returned the DUP and Sinn Féin as the two largest parties.

PartyVotesPercentage VoteSeats
Sinn Féin178,22426.9%29
Alliance Party50,8757.7%8
Green Party6,0310.9%1

February 2012: Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report (Volume 1)

Community Relations Council published the first volume of Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report:

27 June 2012: Martin McGuinness and Queen Elizabeth II shake hands

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND – JUNE 27: Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness watched by First Minister Peter Robinson (C) at the Lyric Theatre on June 27, 2012 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. During the Queen’s two day visit to Northern Ireland she held a hugely significant meeting with former IRA commander and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness at the Lyric Theatre today. The Queen will also visit the newly opened Titanic Museum and the town of Enniskillen. (Photo by Paul Faith/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

January 2013: Unresolved issues named

First Minister Peter Robinson reveals unresolved issues are primarily in regards to flags, parades and dealing with the past.

29 January 2013: Alliance Party blueprint

Alliance published a party policy document on community relations, “For Everyone: The Alliance Party Blueprint for an Executive Strategy to Build a Shared and Better Future”. Full version; Executive Summary.

March 2013: Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report (Volume 2)

Community Relations Council published the second volume of Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report:

May 2013: Together: Building a United Community (T:BUC) initiative launched

OFMdFM launched cross-community initiatives and pledged the publication of a policy document, “Together: Building a United Community”. Another all-party Working Group to be established, but this one to be headed by an independent chairperson.

July 2013: Haass–O’Sullivan Talks initiated

Creation of the Panel of Parties in the Northern Ireland Executive

September 2013: CRC submission to Haass–O’Sullivan Talks

Community Relations Council submission to Panel of Parties.

December 2013: Haass–O’Sullivan Talks result

A result of the Haass-O’Sullivan Talks: “A Proposed Agreement on Parades, Select Commemorations, and Related Protests; Flags and Emblems; and Contending with the Past”.

March 2014: Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report (Volume 3)

The Community Relations Council published the third volume of the Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report.

17 November 2015: Stormont House Agreement

After ten weeks of intensive cross party talks at Stormont House, the Northern Ireland executive and the UK and Irish governments agreed a set of actions to address the two key themes the talks were convened to address:

  1. to secure the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement
  2. to deal with the impact of continued paramilitary activity

“A Fresh Start: the Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan” builds on previous political agreements and brings closer the goal of a Northern Ireland where politics works, the economy grows and society is stronger.

14 January 2016: Stormont House Agreements — Progress Report

A progress report on the Fresh Start plan was published.

5 May 2016: Northern Ireland Assembly election

The fifth election to the 108-seat Northern Ireland Assembly returned the DUP and Sinn Féin as the two largest parties. 

PartyVotesVote PercentageSeats
Sinn Féin166,78524.0%28
Alliance Party48,4477.0%8
Green Party18,7182.7%2
People Before Profit Alliance13,7612.0%2
Claire Sugden3,2700.5%1

20 June 2016: Establishment of the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition

The First and Deputy First Minister announced their membership of the commission that seeks to explore and acknowledge the differing cultural identities that exist in Northern Irish society, through recommendations to resolve issues on flags, murals, language, identity, media and emblems within sport. 

23 June 2016: Referendum on UK membership of the EU (“Brexit”)

Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union, with 55.8% of the region voting to remain and 44.2% voting to leave. 

19 July 2016: Executive Action Plan for Tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime

The Northern Ireland Executive published a plan to tackle continued paramilitary activity in communities. The plan seeks to achieve four long-term outcomes

  1. to increase public support and confidence in the justice system; 
  2. to live in safer communities; 
  3. to support those who wish to move away from paramilitary activities and structures; and 
  4. to demonstrate that paramilitarism has no place in Northern Ireland. 

January 2017: Deputy first minister resigns

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, citing the DUP’s handling of the Renewable Heat Incentive, marriage equality and Irish language legislation, resigned. Under the terms of the Northern Ireland Act, the Northern Ireland Executive is dissolved.

2 March 2017: Northern Ireland Assembly election 

The sixth election to the 90-seat Northern Ireland Assembly returned the DUP and Sinn Féin as the two largest parties.

PartyVotesVote PercentageSeats
Sinn Féin224,24527.9%27
Alliance Party72,7179.1%8
Green Party18,5272.3%2
People Before Profit Alliance14,1001.8%1
Claire Sugden (Ind.)4,9180.6%1

The Northern Ireland Executive remained suspended after the election. 

23 March 2017: Death of Martin McGuinness

Tim Attwood, Martin McGuinness, and Padraig O’Malley. Forum for Cities in Transition annual gathering (2014). Belfast, Northern Ireland © Kevin Cooper Photoline

Former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness dies on 21 March 2017, at age 66. His funeral is attended by thousands, including DUP leader Arlene Foster

October 2018: Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report (Volume 5)

Ulster University published a report to highlight the challenges which must be overcome to achieve peace and protect the peace process. 

10 July 2019: Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019

The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc.) Act intends to prevent another election to the Northern Ireland Assembly from occurring and ensure services are maintained during the period of devolution. It provides an extension to the government formation process until 13 January 2020. 

18 April 2019: Death of Lyra McKee

The journalist Lyra McKee is fatally shot by dissident republicans during rioting in Derry/Londonderry; it is the first time a journalist is killed in the UK in almost ten years. The DUP, Sinn Féin, UUP, Alliance Party, SDLP and Green Party release a joint statement in the aftermath, describing the death of McKee as “an attack of all the people of this community, an attack on the peace and democratic processes [as part of a] futile act to destroy the progress made over the last twenty years.” 

5 September 2019: Outcomes Delivery Plan

In the absence of an executive, the Northern Ireland Civil Service publishes a plan to ensure that “the operational business of government is discharged as effectively as possible and in a coordinated manner.” 

23 August 2019: T:BUC annual update

The paper reports on the progress made in cross-community relations through the Together: Building a United Community Strategy. The Northern Ireland Good Relations Indicators show significant progress in community relations. 

9 January 2020: New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement

The New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement restored power-sharing institutions of the Northern Ireland government following the three year collapse surrounding the RHI scandal. NDNA was negotiated by Secretary of State Julian Smith and Irish Tainiste Simon Covney. 

11 January 2020: Re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive

After 1,090 days without a devolved administration in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Executive is re-established, with Arlene Foster as First Minister and Michelle O’Neill as Deputy First Minister. 

13 January 2020: Same-sex marriage is legalised in Northern Ireland

Amendments made to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 stated that if a Stormont Executive was not in place by 21 October 2019, then the government would be required to change abortion laws and legalise same sex marriage in Northern Ireland. Such laws were actualised on 13 January 2020. 

31 January 2020: The UK exits the EU

Northern Ireland leaves the European Union with the rest of the United Kingdom, but remains in the single market and customs union for up to four years after the transition period. As a result, there is to be no hard border or customs checks between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

30 June 2020: Bobby Storey funeral controversy 

Controversy ensued following the public funeral of the former Sinn Fein chairman, which was viewed by critics to have breached Covid-19 rules and restrictions as crowds of mourners lined the streets to watch the funeral cortege pass through the streets of west Belfast. Controversy centred on the attendance of Sinn Fein politicians, in particular Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, who was accused of breaching Covid guidelines and rules that she helped to establish. 

3 August 2020: Death of John Hume

John Hume, with Eddie McGrady, Denis Bradley, Margaret Ritchie, and Seamus Mallon. 1998 Northern Ireland Referendum result. King’s Head. Belfast, Northern Ireland. © Allan LEONARD @MrUlster

Former leader of the SDLP, John Hume, died on 3rd August, at age 83. A funeral mass was held at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry/Londonderry. Among the many tributes was that from former US senator, George Mitchell, who chaired the multi-party talks from 1995-1998:

“[John Hume] was I think, as most people acknowledge, one of the great persons in all of Irish history … who devoted his life to the cause of peace in Northern Ireland. I felt that he was the architect of the process that culminated in the agreement of 1998, known as the Belfast Agreement or Good Friday Agreement. He conceived the separate structures in which the three principal relationships could be discussed, settled, among themselves … Many of the unionists disagreed with him, of course. Many nationalists disagreed with him. But not one of them, to my knowledge or mind, doubted his sincerity, his commitment to the objective, his often repeated statement that Northern Ireland had to be for both unionists and nationalists, and it had to be done in a way that was peaceful.”

30 March 2021: PPS response to Bobby Story funeral

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) stated that it will not prosecute any of the 24 Sinn Fein members including Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill over attendance of the funeral for Bobby Storey in June 2020. The decision led to calls from Unionist leaders for the Chief Constable Simon Byrne to resign. Bryne rejected these calls, claiming that the funeral had been handled impartially by police.

April 2021: Violent protests in response to the Northern Ireland Protocol

The Northern Ireland Protocol (the Protocol) “is an integral part of the Withdrawal Agreement. The Protocol sets out Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit relationship with both the EU and Great Britain (the rest of the UK)”.  While the protocol states Northern Ireland remains part of the UK customs territory, and therefore in UK free trade agreements, it further states “NI must follow the EU’s rules for bringing goods in and out of the EU”. This approach would mean “new checks and controls” would be needed for goods moving between Northern Ireland to and from Great Britain, creating an effect of a sea border. With this in mind, a string of demonstrations and parades led the break out of violent protests, primarily across Loyalist communities, with 18 people being arrested “and 15 charged after crowds of predominantly loyalist youths attacked lines of riot police officers and vehicles with bricks, fireworks and petrol bombs.”

11 October 2021: DUP boycott of North–South Ministerial Council meetings ruled unlawful

A High Court Judge ruled that the DUP’s boycott of North–South Ministerial Council meetings was an unlawful breach of the pledge of high office contained within the Northern Ireland Act. 

21 October 2021: Church service held to mark centenary of Northern Ireland

A service entitled “Reflection and hope to mark the centenary of the partition of Ireland and creation of Northern Ireland” was held in the Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh. The service was led by the leaders of the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches on the island. The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Ireland Tainiste Simon Convey attended, as well as leaders of local political parties, except Sinn Fein. Also absent was president of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, who declined his invitation, as well as Queen Elizabeth II, who was unable to travel for medical reasons. 

1 December 2021: Flags report published

The work of the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition was launched in June 2016 as part of commitments made under the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements. In its report, the commission concluded “challenges remain” around flags, bonfires and memorials. In regards to the flag, “no meeting point” was met, and a “civic flag”, to represent the diversity of Northern Irish society was explored, but no consensus was reached. On bonfires, the commission concluded that these events remain “a legitimate form of celebration or commemoration”. The commission believes that such cultural activities and events can be affirmed, respected, and respectful.

30 January 2022: 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday 

On this day in 1972, 13 civilians were killed by the British army during a civil rights demonstration in Derry/Londonderry. This event became known as “Bloody Sunday”.

3 February 2022: First minister resigns

First Minister Paul Givan resigned from the Northern Ireland Executive, in protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol. Under the procedures, Givan’s resignation compels the automatic removal of the deputy first minister. Other ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive remained in post, but no collective decisions could be made. Leaders of the DUP and Sinn Fein, Northern Ireland’s two largest parties, called for a snap election for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

9 March 2022: Northern Ireland Assembly passes Integrated Education bill 

The Northern Ireland Assembly passed the Integrated Education bill, which will place a statutory duty on the Department of Education to provide increased support to the integrated schools sector, including the provision for setting minimum targets for the number of children educated within the sector. The private member’s bill was introduced by Kellie Armstrong MLA (Alliance Party) and passed following the failure of the DUP to use the petition of concern to block the bill. 

3 May 2022: More Ireland than UK passports were issued in Northern Ireland 

Figures for 2020, issued by Her Majesty’s Passport Office, show that 48,555 applications were received from Northern Ireland in comparison to 48,911 received by the Irish Passport Office.

Brexit is cited as the main reason for the rise in Irish passport applications across Northern Ireland. As codified in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, those born in Northern Ireland have a right to dual British and Irish citizenship.

5 May 2022: Northern Ireland Assembly election

The seventh election to the 90-seat Northern Ireland Assembly resulted in Sinn Fein and the DUP as the two largest parties.

PartyVotesVote PercentageSeats
Sinn Féin250,38529.0%27
Alliance Party116,68113.5%17
People Before Profit Alliance9,7981.1%1
Alex Easton (Ind.)9,5681.1%1
Claire Sugden (Ind.)3,9810.5%1

As Sinn Fein was the party that won the most seats, it will be called to nominate the first minister to the Northern Ireland Executive. On 9 May, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson stated that his party’s Assembly representatives will not participate in forming the executive until it is satisfied with its demands in regards to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

17 May 2022: Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill introduced

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill was introduced at the House of Commons by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis. The bill proposes an end to legal proceedings concerning Troubles-related conduct and will provide unconditional immunity from prosecution for those who cooperate with the newly established Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery. The commission would be responsible for reviewing Troubles-related deaths and harmful conduct. This creates conditional immunity, with future prosecutions occurring only if immunity is not awarded. The bill states it will not be possible to grant immunity to those who have already been prosecuted. The bill will also:

  • prevent investigation of Troubles-related conduct other than those conducted by the stated commission;
  • prevent prosecution for Troubles-related offences that do not involve death or serious injury;
  • bring an end to and prevent future inquests into Troubles-related deaths;
  • and initiate a programme of memorialisation of the Troubles. 

A cross-party consensus in Northern Ireland is opposed to the bill

25 May 2022: Identities and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill introduced

The Identities and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill was introduced in the House of Lords. The bill will amend the Northern Ireland act and allow for establishment of three new public authorities; the office of identity and public expression, a commissioner for the Irish language and a commissioner for Ulster Scots/British traditions. The bill will grant official status to the Irish language in Northern Ireland. Alongside this the government will grant official recognition to Ulster Scots as a national minority under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The government will also provide a £4 million grant to the Irish Language Investment Fund, An Ciste Infheistíochta Gaeilge. 

This legislation will see the UK Government deliver on a commitment entailed within the New Decade, New Approach agreement of 2020. 


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