The peace deal

April 17, 1998

An historic peace deal and the long-awaited go-ahead for a new campus promise exciting times for Ulster's higher and futher education.

The Stormont agreement is a complex and delicately balanced document designed to include both sticks and carrots for all the parties involved in drawing it up.

Unionists cannot have the fully-fledged assembly they want without setting up a north/south council. Nationalists cannot begin to build on cross-border links without working with the assembly. Yet a complex series of strictures mean the assembly will be rendered powerless unless it can command majorities of both Unionists and Nationalists.

Republicans have to swallow the bitter pill of recognising Northern Ireland's right to exist.

The Irish government is introducing amendments to its constitution, which lays claim to Northern Ireland, introducing the concept of consent - that is, that a majority of the province's people would have to accept.

Sinn Fein and the smaller loyalist parties with close links to paramilitaries have won commitments to an accelerated prisoner release programme over the next two years and an independent commission on the Royal Ulster Constabulary, to report by next summer.

The agreement also allows for the formation of a 108-member assembly, elected by proportional representation and given responsibility for the six Northern Ireland office departments, including education, health and economic development.

It will be headed by a chairman, first minister and deputy with up to ten ministers. All decisions of the north/south ministerial council would have to be ratified by both the assembly and the Dublin parliament and a new British/Irish council will also be set up involving members from Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

The British government has also pledged to bring in a Bill of Rights, a new Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and a new Equality Commission, replacing the Fair Employment, Equal Opportunities and Racial Discrimination Commissions.

The parties have also agreed to "use their influence" to get terrorists to hand over their weapons within two years. The whole package is to be put to separate but simultaneous referenda north and south of the border on May 22.

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