The Constitution Unit


Perspectives on the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement

A project examining perspectives on the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

Signatures of the main political actors on the Good Friday Agreement document

Read the report (pdf)

The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement of 1998 brought relative political stability to Northern Ireland. It was the culmination of decades of effort by both the British and Irish governments, and actors in Northern Ireland. It was approved by large majorities in popular referendums in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It is a unique and carefully constructed document, and it is the cornerstone of consensual politics on these islands. Its greatest legacy is peace.

But the passage of time has revealed weaknesses in implementing areas of the Agreement, which Brexit has exposed further. While the Agreement has had many successes, some aspects have not functioned as imagined in 1998, or indeed been implemented at all. Among the different political actors and communities within Northern Ireland, and beyond, there are varying and complex understandings of what the Agreement means, how it has been implemented, and how it should work in the future. Making progress will be possible only if these diverse perspectives are listened to and understood.

This project therefore sets out evidence on how the 1998 Agreement is seen, using interviews, focus groups, and manifesto analysis. The project's report finds that the Agreement retains widespread, but not universal, support. Even many of its supporters want change, though whether agreement on reforms will be possible remains unclear. Low trust makes finding pathways forward much harder. Leadership and a spirit of compromise – from politicians and others in Northern Ireland, and from the governments in Dublin and London – will be essential in addressing these challenges.

The report Perspectives on the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement: Examining Diverse Views, 1998–2023, authored by Alan Renwick and Conor J. Kelly, was released on 26 July 2023.

The project team were advised by experts in law, politics, history and sociology based at universities across Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom. They were: