Inter-ethnic/State Relations: Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement

Strand One: Democratic Institutions in Northern Ireland

Safeguards

5. 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:

(a) allocations of Committee Chairs, Ministers and Committee membership in proportion to party strengths;

(b) the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and any Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland supplementing it, which neither the Assembly nor public bodies can infringe, together with a Human Rights Commission;

(c) arrangements to provide that key decisions and legislation are proofed to ensure that they do not infringe the ECHR and any Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland;

(d) arrangements to ensure key decisions are taken on a cross-community basis;

(i) either parallel consent, i.e. a majority of those members present and voting, including a majority of the unionist and nationalist designations present and voting;

(ii) or a weighted majority (60%) of members present and voting, including at least 40% of each of the nationalist and unionist designations present and voting.

Key decisions requiring cross-community support will be designated in advance, including election of the Chair of the Assembly, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, standing orders and budget allocations. In other cases such decisions could be triggered by a petition
of concern brought by a significant minority of Assembly members (30/108).

(e) an Equality Commission to monitor a statutory obligation to promote equality of opportunity in specified areas and parity of esteem between the two main communities, and to investigate individual complaints against public bodies.

Executive Authority

14. Executive authority to be discharged on behalf of the Assembly by a First Minister and Deputy First Minister and up to ten Ministers with Departmental responsibilities.

15. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister shall be jointly elected into office by the Assembly voting on a cross-community basis, according to 5(d)(i) above.

16. Following the election of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, the posts of Ministers will be allocated to parties on the basis of the d’Hondt system by reference to the number of seats each party has in the Assembly.

Legislation

(b) decisions by simple majority of members voting, except when decision on a cross-community basis is required;

Relations with other institutions

34. A consultative Civic Forum will be established. It will comprise representatives of the business, trade union and voluntary sectors, and such other sectors as agreed by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. It will act as a consultative mechanism on social, economic and cultural issues. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will by
agreement provide administrative support for the Civic Forum and establish guidelines for the selection of representatives to the Civic Forum.

(Note: Along with safeguards and relations with other institutions designed to promote cross-community relationships, the Good Friday Agreement also provided for the establishment of North/South Ministrial Council to promote relationships between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.)

Implementation History

1998

Minimum Implementation

To promote inter-ethnic cooperation and strengthen the relationship between Northern Ireland and Britain, provisions of the cross-community voting to elect the first and deputy first ministers, sharing ministerial positions among parties based on the D’Hondt method of Proportional Representation, legislation to prove the guarantee of European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and any Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, the establishment of Human Rights Commission, Equality Commission and the establishment of a consultative Civic Forum are provided in the Good Friday Agreement.

The election of Northern Ireland Assembly took place in June 1998 based on the D’Hondt method of Proportional Representation and the First Minister, Deputy First Minster and Ministers in Northern Ireland Executive were elected based on proportional representation in November 1998.1

1999

Intermediate Implementation

Regarding the guarantee of European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in Northern Ireland, the ECHR has been effective since 2 December 1999, after the establishment of Northern Ireland Executive on 29 November 1999.2 The Northern Ireland Act of 1998 has provided for the establishment of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the commission finally came into existence on 1 March 1999.3 The Northern Ireland Act 1998 also provided for the establishment of Equality Commission which became operational on 1 September 1999.4

2000

Intermediate Implementation

 The Good Friday Agreement provided for the establishment of Civic Forum as a consultative mechanism on social, economic and cultural issues and this form was to be representative of the business, trade union and voluntary sectors, and such other sectors as agreed by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. The forum offers its view on social, economic and cultural issues but its views are not binding. The Northern Ireland Act 1998 has provided for the establishment of the Civic Forum. The First and Deputy First Ministers announced the membership of the forum on 25 September 2000 with Chris Gibson as a chairperson of the 60 member forum.5 The forum met for the first time on 9 October 2000. After the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Executive, the Civic Forum has not been reactivated. The intention of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister to launch a public consultation similar to Civic Forum did not happen.6

2001

Intermediate Implementation

No further developments observed.

2002

Intermediate Implementation

No further developments observed.

2003

Intermediate Implementation

No further developments observed.

2004

Intermediate Implementation

No further developments observed.

2005

Intermediate Implementation

No further developments observed.

2006

Intermediate Implementation

No further developments observed.

2007

Intermediate Implementation

No further developments observed.