Irish Peace Talks: The heart of a 67-page plan for reconciliation

The following is an edited version of the 67-page text of the Agreement Reached in the Multi-Party negotitations at Stormont Castle, Belfast, yesterday
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DECLARATION OF SUPPORT

"1. We, the participants in the multi-party negotiations, believe that the agreement we have negotiated offers a truly historic opportunity for a new beginning.

2. The tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. But we can best honour them through a fresh start, in which we firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all.

3. We are committed to partnership, equality and mutual respect as the basis of relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between these islands.

4. We reaffirm our total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues, and our opposition to any use or threat of force by others for any political purpose, whether in regard to this agreement or otherwise.

5. We acknowledge the substantial differences between our continuing, and equally legitimate, political aspirations. However, we will endeavour to strive in every practical way towards reconciliation and rapprochement within the framework of democratic and agreed arrangements.

We pledge that we will, in good faith, work to ensure the success of each and every one of the arrangements to be established under this agreement.

It is accepted that all of the institutional and constitutional arrangements - an Assembly in Northern Ireland, a North/South Ministerial Council, implementation bodies, a British-Irish Council and a British-Irish Inter- governmental Conference and any amendments to British Acts of Parliament and the Constitution of Ireland - are interlocking and interdependent and that in particular the functioning of the Assembly and the North/South Council are so closely inter-related that the success of each depends on that of the other.

6. Accordingly, in a spirit of concord, we strongly commend this agreement to the people, North and South, for their approval."

CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES

Sets out the overall constitutional framework, and guarantees, to be laid down by both governments, in London and Dublin, including agreement to:

"Recognise that it is for the people of the island 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, if that is their wish, 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 ..."

An annexe to the agreement details changes to be made to Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution, which lay claim to rights over Ulster.

Strand One: Democratic Institutions of Northern Ireland

Sets out the terms for the election and work and terms of a new Assembly - the first such Assembly since the imposition of direct rule from London in 1972.

"This agreement provides for a democratically elected Assembly in Northern Ireland which is inclusive in its membership, capable of exercising executive and legislative authority, and subject to safeguards to protect the rights and interests of all sides of the community."

It is to be a 108-member Assembly, elected by the Single Transferable Vote version of Proportional Representation from existing 18 Westminster constituencies.

"There will be safeguards to ensure that all sections of the community can participate and work together successfully in the operation of these institutions and that all sections of the community are protected, including:

"Allocations of Committee Chairs, Ministers and Committee membership in proportion to party strengths" and "Arrangements to ensure key decisions are taken on a cross-community basis" - with the possibility of weighted voting to ensure "at least 40 per cent of each of the nationalist and unionist designations present and voting."

Executive Authority is "to be discharged on behalf of the Assembly by a First Minister and Deputy First Minister and up to 10 ministers with departmental responsibilities", with "First Minister and Deputy First Minister ... jointly elected into office by the Assembly voting on a cross- community basis". Ministers will be required to "affirm" the terms of a Pledge of Office, which includes a commitment to "non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means".

Whitehall and Westminster will retain responsibility for Northern Ireland Office matters that are not devolved to the Assembly.

Strand Two: North-South Ministerial Council.

A North-South Ministerial Council is to be set up "to bring together those with executive responsibilities in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government, to develop consultation, co-operation and action within the island of Ireland - including through implementation on an all-island and cross-border basis - on matters of mutual interest within the competence of the Administrations, North and South."

All Council decisions are to be made only "by agreement between the two sides. Northern Ireland to be represented by the First Minister, Deputy First Minister and any relevant Ministers, the Irish Government by the Taoiseach and relevant Ministers, all operating in accordance with the rules for democratic authority and accountability in force in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas respectively.

"Participation in the Council to be one of the essential responsibilities attaching to relevant posts in the two Administrations. If a holder of a relevant post will not participate normally in the Council, the Taoiseach in the case of the Irish Government and the First and Deputy First Minister in the case of the Northern Ireland Administration to be able to make alternative arrangements ..."

At least 12 subject areas "where co-operation and implementation for mutual benefit will take place" will need to be identified and agreed by 31 October.

The agreement also says: "It is understood that the North/South Ministerial Council and the Northern Ireland Assembly are mutually inter-dependent, and that one cannot successfully function without the other."

An annexe suggests areas for potential North-South co-operation and implementation may include: animal and plant health; teacher qualifications and exchanges; strategic transport planning; environmental protection, pollution, water quality, and waste management; inland waterways; Social Security entitlements of cross-border workers and fraud control; the promotion, marketing, research, and product development of tourism; EU programmes; inland fisheries and marine matters; accident and emergency services; and urban and rural development.

Strand Three: British-Irish Council.

"A British-Irish Council (BIC) will be established under a new British- Irish Agreement to promote the harmonious and mutually beneficial development of the totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands.

"Membership will include representatives of the British and Irish Governments, devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, when established, and, if appropriate, elsewhere in the United Kingdom, together with representatives of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands."

RIGHTS, SAFEGUARDS AND EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY

In addition to guarantees on human rights provided by incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, giving direct access to the courts, and the creation of a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the agreement also says: "Subject to the outcome of public consultation under way, the British Government intends, as a particular priority, to create a statutory obligation on public authorities in Northern

Ireland to carry out all their functions with due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in relation to religion and political opinion; gender; race; disability; age; marital status; dependants; and sexual orientation. Public bodies would be required to draw up statutory schemes showing how they would implement this obligation ..."

There are also sections of the agreement dealing with reconciliation, and the victims of violence, as well as economic, social and cultural issues.

DECOMMISSIONING

"All participants ... confirm their intention ... to use any influence they may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years following endorsement in referendums North and South of the agreement".

SECURITY

"The British Government will make progress towards the objective of as early a return as possible to normal security arrangements in Northern Ireland, consistent with the level of threat ..."

POLICING AND JUSTICE

"The participants recognise that policing is a central issue in any society. They equally recognise that Northern Ireland's history of deep divisions has made it highly emotive, with great hurt suffered and sacrifices made by many individuals and their families, including those in the RUC and other public servants.

They believe that the agreement provides the opportunity for a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland with a police service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole ..."

PRISONERS

"Both Governments will complete a review process within a fixed time frame and set prospective release dates for all qualifying prisoners.

"The review process would provide for the advance of the release dates of qualifying prisoners while allowing account to be taken of the seriousness of the offences for which the person was convicted and the need to protect the community.

"In addition, the intention would be that should the circumstances allow it, any qualifying prisoners who remained in custody two years after the commencement of the scheme would be released at that point."

The final section of the agreement deals with terms for "Validation, Implementation, and Review" which includes the promise that "Each Government will organise a referendum on 22 May 1998..." On the basis of a Yes vote, the Governments would then legislate "and will take whatever ancillary steps as may be required, including the holding of elections on 25 June, subject to parliamentary approval, to the Assembly, which would meet initially in a 'shadow' mode."

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