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1998: Northern Ireland peace deal reached

VIDEO : Blair and Ahern triumphant in peace deal

The Northern Ireland peace talks have ended with an historic agreement.

The accord - dubbed the Good Friday Agreement - was reached after nearly two years of talks and 30 years of conflict.

Negotiations on the final day dragged on more than 17 hours after the deadline for an agreement passed.

The agreement is a triumph for British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Republic of Ireland's leader, Bertie Ahern, who have succeeded where all their predecessors failed.

Speaking at a news conference after the deal was announced Tony Blair said he hoped it marked a new beginning.

"Today I hope that the burden of history can at long last start to be lifted from our shoulders," Mr Blair said.


"I see a great opportunity for us to start a healing process"

David Trimble
Ulster Unionist leader

Bertie Ahern said he hoped a line could now be drawn under the "bloody past" .

The proposals in the agreement include plans for a Northern Ireland Assembly, new cross-border institutions involving the Irish Republic and a body linking devolved assemblies across the UK with Westminster and Dublin.

A copy of the proposals will be posted to every household in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and then put to a referendum in May.

The chairman of the talks, former US Senator George Mitchell, paid tribute to all those who had taken part.

But Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said there was still a huge gap of distrust between nationalists and unionists.

"It must be bridged on the basis of equality. We are here reaching out the hand of friendship," he said.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble added: "I see a great opportunity for us to start a healing process."

The peace agreement was also welcomed by the UDP and PUP parties, which represent loyalist paramilitary groups.

In Context
A referendum held in May 1998 on both sides of the Irish border, returned a resounding "yes" vote for the Good Friday Agreement.

The first three years of the agreement's implementation saw accusations and counter-accusation from both sides.

Unionists said the republicans had not complied with the spirit of the agreement's requirement for the decommissioning of arms.

Disagreement over decommissioning and policing led to three suspensions of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In October 2002 it was also suspended after allegations of IRA intelligence gathering inside the Northern Ireland Office.

Devolved power was restored to the Assembly on 8 May 2007. DUP leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness - age-old opponents - took office as first and deputy first ministers ending five years of direct rule.


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