Demobilization: Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement

Strand Three Security

1. The participants note that the development of a peaceful environment on the basis of this agreement can and should mean a normalisation of security arrangements and practices.

2. 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 and with a published overall strategy, dealing with:

(i) the reduction of the numbers and role of the Armed Forces deployed in Northern Ireland to levels compatible with a normal peaceful society;

(ii) the removal of security installations;

(iii) the removal of emergency powers in Northern Ireland; 

(iv) other measures appropriate to and compatible with a normal peaceful society.

Implementation History

1998

Minimum Implementation

In the Good Friday Agreement, the British government committed to reduce the number and role of the armed forces deployed in Northern Ireland, as well as to the removal of security installations and emergency powers in Northern Ireland. At the time of signing the peace agreement in April, an estimated 17,200 British troops were deployed, which increased by 800 during Northern Ireland's marching season in July.1 The size of the troops, however, was reduced to 15,000 by the end of the year.2 Demobilization of more British troops from Northern Ireland, however, was contingent on the improvement of the security situation in Northern Ireland. It was reported that routine military patrolling decreased substantially and many security and observation posts were vacated since the signing of the accord.3

1999

Minimum Implementation

No significant progress was reported regarding the demobilization of British troops in 1999. An estimated 15,000 British troops remained in Northern Ireland. In December 1999, however, the British government announced that it would publish a policy paper outlining the decommissioning of the IRA’s weapons and the demobilization of British troops in Northern Ireland.4

  • 4. “Shadow of gunmen hangs over Northern Ireland's new government,” The Associated Press, December 3, 1999.
2000

Minimum Implementation

Since the agreement in 1998, it was reported that some meaningful progress on demobilization and demilitarization had been achieved: 26 base camps were either closed or demolished, the number of army patrols decreased by one-third, and more than 3,000 British troops were demobilized or withdrawn.5 Despite this success, about 2,000 extra British troops were sent to Northern Ireland to boost security during marches in the summer.6

  • 5. “Dublin Calls for Soldiers to Start Pulling out of Northern Ireland,” The Scotsman, March 10, 2000.
  • 6. “More troops going to Northern Ireland,” The Globe and Mail (Canada), June 28, 2000.
2001

Minimum Implementation

While an extra 1,600 British troops were deployed to support the policing of the Protestant Orange Order march,7 there was an announcement in the British parliament that the British army would dismantle four security installations in Northern Ireland following the IRA’s decision to begin disarmament.8

  • 7. “Extra 1,600 British troops to cope with Northern Ireland unrest,” Agence France Presse, June 22, 2001.
  • 8. “Britain to cut forces in Northern Ireland after IRA arms move,” Agence France Presse, October 24, 2001.
2002

Minimum Implementation

Issues related to the disarmament of the IRA and demobilization of British troops contributed to the suspension of Northern Ireland’s Assembly and Executive.

2003

Minimum Implementation

Issues related to the disarmament of the IRA and demobilization of British troops contributed to the suspension of Northern Ireland’s Assembly and Executive. 

2004

Minimum Implementation

Issues related to the disarmament of the IRA and demobilization of British troops contributed to the suspension of Northern Ireland’s Assembly and Executive. 

2005

Minimum Implementation

The British government announced its plan to reduce the troops in Northern Ireland in December 2005 by making the total strength less than 9,000 soldiers.9

  • 9. “Britain reduces troop numbers in Northern Ireland,” Agence France Presse, December 6, 2005.
2006

Minimum Implementation

No developments observed this year. 

2007

Full Implementation

The British Army suspended its operation in Northern Ireland starting on 1 August 2007, thus ending a 38-year presence in Northern Ireland. The move reduced the size of the British troops to 5,000, which was compatible with a normal peaceful society as suggested in the peace agreement.10 The Independent Monitoring Commission also confirmed the cutbacks in British troops in Northern Ireland.11

  • 10. “British Army Exits Northern Ireland,” National Public Radio (NPR), August 1, 2007.
  • 11. “Experts present final report on British military cuts in Northern Ireland,” Associated Press, September 13, 2007.