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

The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement of 1998 brought relative political stability to Northern Ireland and was the culmination of decades of effort by both governments, and actors in Northern Ireland, to address its disputed status and governance. 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. However, the passage of time has revealed weaknesses in implementing areas of the Agreement, and Brexit has exposed these 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 various 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, why aspects of its implementation have stalled, and how the Agreement should work in the future.  

This project is examining these understandings and perceptions, with particular focus on those in Northern Ireland. We want to understand how people feel about the Agreement 23 years on, their views on how it has been implemented since 1998, and how they think the Agreement can continue to help move Northern Ireland forward. Through interviews, focus groups, and documentary analysis, we are investigating the views of political parties, relevant groups, a wide range of experts, and the general public. We approach this topic as a strictly politically neutral and academic organisation, while also seeking to help find common ground in politically turbulent times.  

We plan to release a short report later this year laying out the terrain of political and community-level perspectives on the Agreement. Our work will examine issues across the Agreement’s three strands. We hope to give voice to a wide range of views on possible constitutional paths forward. The project in no way favours one constitutional perspective over others.  

The Project is led by Professor Alan Renwick, Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit. He was recently the chair of the Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland. He is an expert in the mechanisms through which citizens can participate in formal politics. 

The Research Assistant and Project Manager is Conor J. Kelly. Conor is a part-time PhD student at Birkbeck College, University of London. He previously worked for the Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland. 

We are advised by experts in law, politics, history and sociology based at universities across Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom. They include