Anglo-Irish Relations/The Peace Process

Overview of Government policy on Northern Ireland, the Peace Process, British-Irish relations, and International support for the Peace Process.

General Introduction

The consolidation of peace in Northern Ireland is a policy priority for the Government. It involves sustained contact with the British Government, with the political parties and with a range of international partners. This work, which is still ongoing, has transformed the social, political and economic landscape of Northern Ireland, particularly in the years since the Good Friday Agreement  was signed in 1998. 

Northern Ireland is now a far more peaceful, prosperous and stable society than when the first steps towards peace were taken in the 1980s and 1990s.  Many advances have been made in delivering new progress in areas such as equality, human rights, policing and community relations. In recognition of the potential for North/South synergies, all-island co-operation has intensified. East/West relations have also been enhanced.

Restoration of the institutions envisaged under the Good Friday Agreement on 8 May 2007 represented a critical step forward, not only in creating effective government for Northern Ireland, but in seeking to build a common future for all its people.

The Taoiseach and the DUP leader Dr. Ian Paisley underlined their commitment to building relations on the island in a spirit of friendship and mutual understanding at a significant meeting at Farmleigh on 4 April 2007, and again at the site of the Battle of the Boyne on 11 May.  with restoration, the British Irish Council and North South Ministerial Council can once again meet and the North South Bodies can function fully.  The 16th Summit of the BIC took place in London on 20 June 2011.  The 5th Plenary of the NSMC took place in Armagh on the 17 July 2007. 

Anglo-Irish Relations and the peace process

Over time, the context in which the Government’s objectives in relation to the peace process in Northern Ireland are pursued has been transformed. The British-Irish relationship is multi-faceted, influenced by historical connections, geographical proximity and strong economic links. There is a vast network of individual connections between the two islands. Many Irish-born people live and work in Britain. The British-Irish  relationship is evolving towards an enhanced degree of understanding and a greater recognition of shared interest at almost every level, as reflected in the historic address of the Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, to the Joint Houses of Parliament in Westminster on 15 May 2007.

From the early 1980s onwards, the two Governments have deepened their co-operation in an effort to achieve an acceptable and durable political solution to the Northern Ireland conflict. In November 1985, the Anglo-Irish Agreement marked an intensification of the Governments’ joint efforts. Another landmark was the signing of the Joint Declaration on 15 December 1993  which set out a charter for peace and reconciliation in Ireland. Its central message was that the problems of Northern Ireland had to be resolved exclusively by political and democratic means. It set out basic principles necessary to underpin the political process and established the principles of self-determination and consent in relation to the Constitutional status of Northern Ireland.

Efforts by the two Governments to secure a way forward into comprehensive and inclusive talks with the political parties on the future of Northern Ireland continued throughout the 1990s. A process of Multi-Party talks between the parties co-sponsored by the Governments began on 10 June 1996 and despite setbacks, ultimately led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement on 10 April 1998.  

International Support

The peace process has always benefited from the widespread support of the international community.  This support has been central to the success of the process.

The role of the US in Northern Ireland has involved active engagement by successive US Presidents, the US Congress and the wider Irish-American community. Its focus has included both political support for the evolving peace process and practical assistance in the areas of economic regeneration and cross-community reconciliation.

The EU's Programmes for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the six border counties have played an important role in promoting greater understanding between communities and building a more peaceful and stable society.  This work is ongoing. More information is available on the website of the Special EU Programmes Body.