The Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement, was a major breakthrough in the Northern Ireland peace process. Signed in 1998, the 65-page document sought to address relationships within Northern Ireland, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and between both parts of Ireland and England, Scotland and Wales.
Though the process was gruelling, in the end the Ulster Unionists, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Sinn Fein leadership welcomed the agreement. The Democratic Unionist Party leader saw it as a ‘treacherous' agreement, however. The final document was posted to every household in Northern Ireland and on 22 May a referendum was held both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. The result was overwhelmingly in favour of the agreement: 71% of people in Northern Ireland and 94% in the Republic voted yes.
The Agreement is clear on the special constitutional position of Northern Ireland. It underlines the legitimacy of seeking a United Ireland and it also recognises that it is the current legitimate wish of a majority of people in Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Most importantly, it enshrines the principle of consent, clearly stating "that it is for the people of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a United Ireland, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland".
The Good Friday Agreement remains the template for co-operation between the two Governments in relation to Northern Ireland.