This article provides an explanation for the success of the political negotiations in Northern Ireland in 1997-1998, that led eventually to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) on 10 April 1998. The paper explains why the negotiations achieved a ‚political settlement‘ in 1998, when this was not possible in previous years. The combination of circumstances and actors was crucial to the success of the negotiations. These include the impact of third parties (particularly the role of the United States administration) the internationalisation of the conflict, and the economic diplomacy that were a feature of the peace process. The GFA was the result of the creation of a ,ripe moment‘ in the conflict, a theory formulated by William Zartman, together with the coming together of political actors within and outside Northern Ireland who were determined to exploit these new circumstances.
In addition to explaining why the GFA was achieved, the article analyses its significance for the political future of Northern Ireland. It points out that the GFA represents a paradigm-shift in the political conflict that reflects the underlying dynamics within society. The GFA is therefore to be understood as a consequence of the two main communities, unionists and nationalists, reassessing their political objectives and coming to a more begining view of the ,other‘ community.
The paper concludes by making an assessment of the current state of the GFA and the medium term prospects for its survival and for political progress in Northern Ireland as being dependent on the will of the paramilitaries to give up illegal arms.
Northern Ireland, ripe moment, good Friday agreement, GFA