Economic and Social Development: Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement

Strand Three: Economic, Social and Cultural Issues

1. Pending the devolution of powers to a new Northern Ireland Assembly, the British Government will pursue broad policies for sustained economic growth and stability in Northern Ireland and for promoting social inclusion, including in particular community development and the advancement of women in public life.

2. Subject to the public consultation currently under way, the British Government will make rapid progress with:

(i) a new regional development strategy for Northern Ireland, for consideration in due course by a the Assembly, tackling the problems of a divided society and social cohesion in urban, rural and border areas, protecting and enhancing the environment, producing new approaches to transport issues, strengthening the physical infrastructure of the region, developing the advantages and resources of rural areas and rejuvenating major urban centres;

(ii) a new economic development strategy for Northern Ireland, for consideration in due course by a the Assembly, which would provide for short and medium term economic planning linked as appropriate to the regional development strategy; 

(iii) measures on employment equality included in the recent White Paper ("Partnership for Equality") and covering the extension and strengthening of anti-discrimination legislation, a review of the national security aspects of the present fair employment legislation at the earliest possible time, a new more focused Targeting Social Need initiative and a range of measures aimed at combating unemployment and progressively eliminating the differential in unemployment rates between the two communities by targeting objective need.

Implementation History

1998

Minimum Implementation

The Good Friday Agreement outlined a broad economic and social reform agenda. In particular, the accord aimed for policies promoting sustained economic growth and community development in Northern Ireland. To achieve these initiatives, the accord required the British government to come up with measures that needed to be taken for employment equality, including a new regional development strategy, in Northern Ireland for the Assembly to consider.

In terms of promoting employment equality, the Northern Ireland Act (1998) also provided for the establishment of the Equality Commission, which became operational on 1 September 1999.1

1999

Intermediate Implementation

The Economic Development Strategy Review Steering Group was launched in March 1999 to provide recommendations for broad social and economic reforms. This group produced Strategy 2010: A Draft Economic Policy Review. In the report, the group made 62 different recommendations.2

For the regional development strategy, the government commissioned a regional Strategic Framework for Northern Ireland, which produced a document in June 1997. The document laid out Northern Ireland’s future development plans for the next two and half decades.3

The Department for Social Development was established in 1999, which was responsible for urban regeneration, community, and voluntary sector development, social legislation, housing, social security benefits, pensions, and child support.4 Similarly, the government established the Department of Enterprise, Investment, and Trade to formulate and develop economic policy.5

2000

Full Implementation

The final draft of the Regional Strategic Framework was considered by the Assembly in 2000.6

  • 6. “The Good Friday Agreement: New Economic Development Strategy.”
2001

Full Implementation

The economic and social reform provisions of the accord were implemented by 2000. While still economically recovering after ten years of signing the Good Friday Agreement, the government’s active involvement in the economic activities generated a lot of confidence in the private sector for investment. Between 1998 and January 2000, the unemployment rate declined rapidly from around 9% to below 5%. 

2002

Full Implementation

The unemployment rate remained steady. 

2003

Full Implementation

No developments observed this year.

2004

Full Implementation

No developments observed this year.

2005

Full Implementation

No developments observed this year.

2006

Full Implementation

No developments observed this year.

2007

Full Implementation

This trend in the unemployment rate remained very stable until December 2007. 

As the world economy suffered a financial crisis starting in 2008, the unemployment rate in Northern Ireland increased rapidly and stood at above 8% by the end of December 2008.7