Good Friday Agreement for Dummies

The Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement, was a historic peace agreement signed in 1998 between the British and Irish governments, as well as political parties in Northern Ireland. The agreement brought an end to the Troubles, a period of conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted for decades. In this article, we’ll break down the key parts of the Good Friday Agreement in a way that’s easy to understand for those who may not be familiar with the history and politics of Northern Ireland.


The conflict in Northern Ireland began in the late 1960s and lasted for over 30 years. It was marked by violence and sectarianism, with the predominantly Protestant unionist community supporting Northern Ireland’s continued membership in the United Kingdom and the predominantly Catholic nationalist community advocating for a united Ireland.

Negotiations for peace began in the 1990s, and the Good Friday Agreement was signed on April 10, 1998. The agreement offered a framework for political power-sharing between the unionist and nationalist communities, as well as a commitment to non-violence and the formation of a Northern Ireland Assembly.

Key Elements

1. Power-sharing

The Good Friday Agreement established a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, where unionist and nationalist parties would share power in a cross-community executive. This meant that both communities would have a say in how Northern Ireland was governed, and neither community would be able to dominate the other.

2. Decommissioning of arms

One of the major issues in the conflict was the possession of weapons by paramilitary groups. Under the Good Friday Agreement, paramilitary groups agreed to decommission their arms, with an independent commission overseeing the process. This was seen as a significant step towards ending the violence.

3. Human rights

The Good Friday Agreement recognized the importance of human rights in Northern Ireland and established a Human Rights Commission to safeguard them. This included the right to freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial, and the right to a peaceful demonstration.

4. Northern Ireland Assembly

The Good Friday Agreement established a Northern Ireland Assembly, which would be responsible for making decisions on issues such as education, health, and policing. This would be a devolved government, with power shared between the unionist and nationalist communities.

5. Cross-border institutions

The Good Friday Agreement recognized the importance of the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and established cross-border institutions to promote cooperation and communication between the two regions. This included a North-South Ministerial Council and an East-West Ministerial Council.


The Good Friday Agreement has been widely regarded as a success, bringing an end to the Troubles and creating a framework for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. While there have been challenges along the way, including periods of political deadlock and occasional incidents of violence, the agreement has stood the test of time and remains an important part of Northern Ireland’s political landscape.


The Good Friday Agreement was a landmark moment in the history of Northern Ireland, offering a framework for peace and reconciliation after decades of conflict. While it may be complex in its details, its broad principles of power-sharing, decommissioning of arms, and respect for human rights are simple and vital. As Northern Ireland continues to navigate its path forward, the principles of the Good Friday Agreement remain as relevant today as they did over 20 years ago.