April 10, 1998 N.Ireland Agreement Reached Filed at 12:50 p.m. EDT By The Associated Press BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) -- Heralding a new era of cooperation in a land torn by national allegiance and religion, politicians reached a comprehensive accord Friday on governing British-ruled Northern Ireland. The breakthrough -- the biggest political development since conflict engulfed Northern Ireland in 1969 -- capped a weeklong negotiating marathon driven by the American talks chairman, George Mitchell, and the prime ministers of Britain and Ireland, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern. The announcement came on Good Friday, more than 17 hours past a midnight deadline set by Mitchell to force the pace in the negotiations, which began 22 months ago after years of preparation. The British government said leaders of the eight participating parties wouldn't be required to sign the accord. The agreement, subject to approval by voters in both parts of Ireland next month, offers at least a hope of ending a conflict that has claimed more than 3,400 lives in Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic and Britain. The key points of this agreement, if implemented, will mean substantial changes to relations between Britain and the Republic of Ireland and especially to Northern Ireland, where the two nations' interests and identities have overlapped for decades. Protestants and Catholics will be expected to govern their land of 1.6 million people together in a 108-member assembly. That would end 26 years of ``direct rule'' from London, instituted after the British abolished a Protestant-dominated parliament that had governed Northern Ireland since its creation in 1921. Critically, the new Belfast assembly will be expected to cooperate formally with the Irish Republic in a north-south council of lawmakers. This measure is considered essential to win support from the north's Catholics, who generally favor the unification of Ireland. But the Protestant bloc appeared to have won a substantial concession, because the Belfast assembly will have the right to approve decisions taken by its members in the cross-border council. Catholics had pushed for the council to wield independent powers. The IRA-allied Sinn Fein party -- brought into the talks eight months ago following an Irish Republican Army truce -- appears to have accepted the agreement, which stops so far short of its traditional goal of uniting Ireland. Before the accord was announced, however, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said he would need the formal approval of grass-roots members of the party. The Ulster Unionists, Northern Ireland's main pro-British Protestant party, also will face stern opposition from Protestants who suspect that any settlement will concede too much to those seeking Irish unification. The accord will have to be approved by majority votes next month in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, where voters also will be asked to approve the softening of their constitution's territorial claim to Northern Ireland. The agreement specified that the amended claim would emphasize the right of people in either part of Ireland to consider themselves Irish -- but that Ireland would be united only when a clear majority of people in Northern Ireland wants it to happen. The constitution now claims the whole island and calls for ``reintegration of the national territory.'' The agreement does not mean a certain end to shootings and bombings in Northern Ireland, since dissidents have already broken away from both the IRA and those pro-British paramilitary groups observing truces as a condition for participating in the talks. In the case of the IRA, past truces have always triggered damaging splits between pragmatists like Adams and those determined to fight to the end against Britain and the north's dwindling Protestant majority. President Clinton was up in the early hours Friday morning keeping tabs on the talks, White House spkesman Mike McCurry said. Clinton made telephone calls to Blair, Ahern, Adams and moderate Catholic leader John Hume, and also spoke to Mitchell during the night, McCurry said. --- ABCNEWS.com B E L F A S T, Northern Ireland, April 10 On Good Friday, negotiators have finally reached a peace accord that could end 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland. British Prime Minister Tony Blair heralded the agreement as a victory over Northern Irelands bloody past. But he quickly pointed out that the agreement was only the first step of a long process to the prize of peace. Today is only the beginning, said Blair. The work to win that prize goes on. We cannot, we must not let it slip from our grasp. Blair quickly outlined the main victories of the agreement, citing the right of unionists to be British as long as the majority in Northern Ireland chooses it and accepting the aspirations of nationalists to unite Ireland. Irish Prime Minister Berie Ahern followed Blair to the podium and emphasized the need to leave Irelands bloody history in the past. Our shared past left us with many bitter legacies, said Ahern. If the focus on these islands remains on the past, the past will become the future, and that is something no one desires. As difficult as the negotations for the accord have been, the tough work lies ahead. All the parties must now go to their constituencies and convince them to vote for the accord in a referendum in late May. Deal a Result of Hard Negotiations At daybreak, the eight participating parties mapping Northern Irelands future received a revised draft agreement, running 69 pages, from Mitchell, who has overseen the Belfast talks for 22 often-deadlocked months. Mitchells call last month for negotiators to reach a pact by midnight Thursday has inspired two weeks of intense negotiations at Stormont, the center of British administration in east Belfast. Clinton Weighs in President Bill Clinton held a series of telephone discussions during the night with the parties involved in marathon talks on a Northern Ireland peace deal, the White House said today. Clinton had two conversations with Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, to encourage him to agree to a peace agreement between Catholics and Protestants on the British-ruled province. Were at a very critical moment right now, said White House spokesman Mike McCurry. It looks like things are going well. Making History The leaders of Britain and Ireland held last-ditch talks with local politicians aimed at sealing a historic deal for the British province, site of one of the worlds most enduring guerrilla conflicts. If people concentrate and are as determined as we are, then we can complete all of this work today, said Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, even as he conceded that stumbling blocks remained. A spokesman for Tony Blair said the British premier sensed history in the making. He feels that there is an irresistible force and an immovable object and that the irresistible force will prevail, said the aide. There is energy in there. There is a will...there has been progress. The Deal Can Still Be Done Yet until the deadline concentrated minds, 21 months of negotiations had produced little visible sign of progress between pro-British and pro-Irish parties, whose constituents have endured years of violence in the name of politics and religion. While officials stressed a deal was not a given, few could contemplate heading into the long Easter weekend having missed a once in a generation opportunity for peace. The so-called Troubles have already claimed more than 3,200 lives and few can stomach the idea of more. Its a cliff-hanger. Were waiting for someone to blink, said one Irish nationalist at the talks. John Alderdice, leader of the moderate Alliance Party, told Reuters: Time is beginning to press somewhat and weve quite a lot to get through ...But the deal can still be done. Even pro-British politician John Taylor, who vowed early this week not to touch a draft deal with a 40-foot barge pole, talked of a big breakthrough in the night. Pressure Mounting on Trimble Yet as Catholic and Protestant parties talked peace, the threat of violencewhich has never fully left Northern Ireland in 30 yearsresurfaced. Police arrested two men and a woman after the discovery of a small quantity of explosives in a staunchly pro-British area of the eastern port of Larne. Inside the talks, pressure mounted on David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader who is pivotal in determining whether a new accord can be reached with his Irish nationalist foes. Trimble faced the toughest day of his career and had to make a crucial judgment: whether any deal he signs will be bought by his staunchly pro-British supporters. Trimble missed a deadline to present his case to a meeting of his 100-strong executive council in Belfast earlier today. A talks participant who asked not to be identified said a deal was now more likely than unlikely following significant moves by Trimbles party in the night. He would not elaborate. On the Table in Belfast: There has been no official news about the proposal being debated at Stormont Castle, but sources tell ABCNEWS.com that the following points are probably being negotiated: New Northern Assembly The proposal would call for an assembly to handle governmental matters concerning Northern Ireland. Republicans want it to have more power. Unionists want it to have less. Cross-Border Cooperation The two sides agree on the need for a council to handle concerns that traverse borders, such as roads,fisheries and agriculture. They disagree on whether the council should be subordinate to a Northern Ireland assembly (Unionists) or will operate independently of that power-sharing body (Republicans). Political Prisoner Release and Paramilitary Disarmament Amnesty for each sides political prisoners irks Unionists who are unhappy with the sheer number of Republican prisoners who would be sprung. Unionists also want more measures guaranteeing the disarmament of paramilitary groups like the Irish Republican Army.
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