The Agreement: A Discussion Pack for Community Groups
A Voice for Community and Voluntary Groups!
A. Community Dialogue encourages sharing about our political future within and between community groups and local associations.
B. We are asking local community workers to gather groups together to find out the views and feelings of local people about the Agreement of 10 April 1998 and how they think it will affect their lives. At these meetings we hope people will ask themselves:
i. How do you feel about the Agreement?
ii. What things in the Agreement might make a positive impact on your life and work?
iii. What things in the Agreement might make a negative impact on your life and work?
iv. What do you understand by political reconciliation?
v. Is political reconciliation important to you?
iv. In what way can you contribute to political reconciliation in Northern Ireland?
C.People in the community and voluntary sector will want to educate themselves about the issues around the Agreement so that they can make an informed choice about it.
What Can You Do?
a. Ask one or more groups in your area to discuss the Agreement. (Let Community Dialogue know of any
groups you set up). We outline a possible process for Group Discussion in this Discussion Pack.
b. Draw up a summary of the views and feelings which people express in these groups. Then send a copy of
these views to Community Dialogue by Wednesday 13 May.
c. Community Dialogue will try to find suitable facilitators for meetings if needed.
Questions for Group Meetings
The following issues could be discussed in either single-identity or cross-community groups. You might like
to read the Notes on the Agreement at the end of this document before starting the meeting.
First Stage: Your Own Tradition
a. How do you feel about the Agreement?
b. What do you think the Agreement offers your political/cultural tradition?
c. How do you feel the Agreement will lead to more respect for your identity?
d. What do you want other traditions to recognise and to accept about your own identity that is not contained
in the Agreement?
e. What would the Agreement, if passed in the referenda, cost your tradition?
f. If you see yourself neither as a Unionist nor a Nationalist how do you respond to the Strand One proposals
in the Agreement?
It may be good to leave periods of silence after each question to give people time for reflection.
Summarise what people have said.
Second Stage: Other Traditions
a. How do you think other traditions feel about the Agreement?
b. What do you think other traditions get from the Agreement?
c. What would the Agreement, if passed in the referenda, cost other traditions?
d. What do you think the other traditions want you to recognise and to accept about their identity that is not
contained in the Agreement?
e. If you see yourself neither as a Unionist nor a Nationalist how do you respond to the Strand Two proposals
in the Agreement?
Summarise what people have said
Third Stage: Your Openness to Change?
What kind of change are you willing to accept?
a. On the issues which you find difficult to accept?
b. On the issues other traditions find difficult?
c. In terms of your identity, whether you are a Unionist, a Nationalist, or neither?
Summarise what people have said.
Fourth Stage: Civic Society
The Agreement commits the British Government to set up a second tier of the new Northern Ireland Assembly
in which Civic Society will be represented. (Civic Society) refers to non-party political groups such as:
Trades Unions, Women's Groups, Community Groups, Business, Churches, etc).
a. Who should be members of the new Civic Forum?
b. What should its role be?
In your answers to all the questions, ask yourself:
a. Are you taking serious account of other traditions?
b. Are your suggestions for change workable?
c. How will the changes you suggest make a positive impact in your daily life and that of your community?
d. Are you willing to accept the outcome of the referenda?
Summarise and try to shape what people have said so that it can be presented to Community Dialogue
if your group are willing to do this.
Note: You may find that some or many in your group are getting switched off the process.
If this happens, ask them is it:
a. because they find the Agreement too complicated? or
b. because the issues do not really matter to them?
If this is the case, ask them are they prepared to allow the situation to return to violence, and whether they would support or condone others engaging in that violence? Find out what issues are really important to them and get them to spell these out.
Some Points in the New Agreement
The Agreement covers issues under three strands:
Strand 1: The Government of Northern Ireland;
Strand 2: North-South Relationships;
Strand 3: British-Irish Relationships.
The following are some of the changes which will made if the Agreement is passed in referenda North and South.
The Northern Ireland Assembly
Six members of an Assembly will be elected from each constituency in Northern Ireland to make up a
total of 108.
The elections will use Proportional Representation. This means you vote No 1, 2, 3, etc, for candidates in
order of preference. This is the system currently used in local elections. This may allow for some smaller
parties to win seats.
The Assembly will be power-sharing.
So to win agreement on key issues, the consent of both Unionists and Nationalists will be required.
The Assembly will have Committees for different areas of Government, e.g. agriculture, tourism, etc.
The Chairpersons of the Committees will be appointed Ministers in the new Government of Northern Ireland,
so there may, for example, be a Minister for Agriculture for Northern Ireland.
Ministers will be appointed according to the voting strength of their parties, so there will be some Unionist
and some Nationalist Ministers.
A new North-South Ministerial Council will be appointed. It will be made up of Ministers from the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Dail.
All decisions will require agreement between Northern and Southern Ministers.
Northern Ministers will be required to take part in the new Council.
Northern Ministers will remain accountable to the Assembly, but they will be able to make decisions within
the area of their defined authority.
For example, a Northern Minister for Tourism will be able to make decisions about North-South tourism with the agreement of the relevant Southern Minister.
The Assembly will function only as a shadow administration until such time as the North-South structures have been set up. This means that the Assembly will be abolished unless there is agreement about North-South structures.
A consultative Civic Forum will be set up for Trades Unions, voluntary and community groups, business, Churches, etc.
Strand 1: Broadly speaking, most Unionists are comfortable with an Assembly for Northern Ireland but fear that power-sharing may give Nationalists too much power. Some Nationalists believe power-sharing will give them the protection they need, others fear a return to a Unionist-dominated Stormont. Some people are worried that there will be so many checks and balances that no decisions at all will be made.
Strand 2: Many Unionists fear that North-South structures will give the Republic of Ireland some control over Northern Ireland. However, North-South institutions are important to Nationalists as a sign that Northern Ireland will not be dominated by Unionists.
A new British-Irish Council will be set up with representatives from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, other areas in the UK, and the South.
There will also be an inter-governmental Conference for meetings between the British and Irish Governments.
Articles Two and Three of the Irish Constitution will be changed so that the nation of Ireland is defined in terms of its people. This will give the right to anyone born in Ireland to be part of the Irish nation, should they so choose.
Both the Irish Constitution and British constitutional law will be changed to commit both countries to the principle of consent. The principle of consent states that there will be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority of its people.
The European Convention on Human Rights will be made part of Northern Ireland law. This means that instead of having to go to court in Europe in order to get the rights guaranteed by this Convention, people will be able to use the Northern Ireland courts.
A new Human Rights Commission will be set up to review laws and Governmental practices.
A joint North-South commission will be set up to review rights in each jurisdiction.
The parties to the Agreement acknowledge the suffering of victims. They commit themselves to continuing support for victims, and they will look positively at the case for increased financial support for reconciliation work.
The British Government commits itself to a new economic strategy for Northern Ireland. They will also improve measures on employment equality.
The British Government will take action to promote the Irish language, including a requirement that the Department of Education will encourage it, and the Government will also make Telefis na Gaeilige more widely available.
All parties to the Agreement commit themselves to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations and to achieve this within two years of the Agreement being approved.
So far as it is compatible with security needs the British Government will reduce the numbers and role of the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland, remove security installations, and do away with emergency powers.
Policing and Justice
An independent Commission will be set up to make recommendations for future policing. It will be asked to propose ways to ensure that policing arrangements, including composition, recruitment, training, culture, ethos and symbols can enjoy widespread support from the community as a whole.
Review of the Criminal Justice System
There will be a review of the criminal justice system which will examine, among other issues, the methods of appointments, the independence of the prosecution process, and law reform.
Prisoners belonging to organisations on cease-fire will be released early.