Powersharing Transitional Government: Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement

The Assembly

4. The Assembly - operating where appropriate on a cross-community basis - will be the prime source of authority in respect of all devolved responsibilities.


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;

(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).

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 Hondt system by reference to the number of seats each party has in the Assembly.


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

Implementation History


Intermediate Implementation

The principle of power-sharing was built into the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The D’Hondt method of Proportional Representation was used to ensure that the Unionist (mainly Protestant) and Nationalist (mainly Catholic) communities participated in government in proportion to the seats they won in the new Northern Ireland Assembly. Members of the Assembly were elected by single transferable vote. If the main parties failed to reach an agreement on power-sharing, power would return to London, a situation none of the parties wanted.

As part of the Good Friday Agreement, a new power-sharing Assembly for Northern Ireland was elected on 25 June 1998. In the 108-member Assembly, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) won 24 seats, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) won 28 seats, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) won 20 seats, and Sinn Fein won 18 seats. Through cross-community support, David Trimble from the UUP (representing the Unionist community) was elected First Minister and Séamus Mallon from SDLP (representing the Nationalist community) was elected Deputy-First Minister on 1 July 1998.1

As of December 1998, the Minister posts in the Northern Ireland Executive were not fulfilled.


Full Implementation

Power-sharing in the Assembly remained in place. On 29 November 1999, Ministers of Northern Ireland’s Executive branch were appointed. UUP had three Ministers, SDLP had three Ministers, DUP had two Ministers, and Sinn Fein had two Ministers.2 The committee members were also appointed on 29 November 1999, based on the power-sharing provision of the Good Friday Agreement.3


Full Implementation

Power-sharing was in place, despite a brief pause. Northern Ireland’s power-sharing Assembly and Executive were suspended between 12 February and 30 May amidst tension related to the decommissioning of weapons.4 The Secretary of State, Peter Mandelson, had told the House of Commons of his intention to suspend the Northern Ireland Assembly, which he did on 12 February. After the Irish Republican Army (IRA) demonstrated its commitment to decommissioning its weapons and to international verification, the power-sharing Assembly and the Executive were restored on the 30th of May.5


Full Implementation

The power-sharing Assembly and Executive were suspended for 24 hours, on 11 August 2001 and on 22 September 2001. The first suspension was related to the decommissioning of IRA weapons. The second suspension in September happened after a failure to resolve the deadlock on the decommissioning-of-weapons issue and the reinstatement of First Minister David Trimble, who resigned on 1 July 2001.6


Full Implementation

Power-sharing continued until October 15. Because the disarming provision in the agreement was not implemented, the DUP tabled a motion for the exclusion of Sinn Fein from government. Nationalists were arguing that they would not disarm under the terms set by unionists and for this reason, confidence between the unionists and the nationalists collapsed, leading to the suspension of the Assembly and the Executive starting from 15 October 2002.


Minimum Implementation

Power sharing is suspended. 


Minimum Implementation

Power sharing is suspended. 


Minimum Implementation

Power sharing is suspended. 


Minimum Implementation

Suspension of power-sharing continued until 24 November 2006, when a transitional assembly was installed.7


Full Implementation

On 7 March 2007, Northern Ireland elected a new 108-member assembly in which the DUP won 36 seats and the Sinn Fein won 28 seats. On 8 May 2007, DUP leader Ian Paisley was sworn in as First Minister and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness was sworn in as Deputy-First Minister. Power-sharing has continued in Northern Ireland since May 2007.8