Timeline of Northern Ireland’s struggle to form a unity government

Friday, February 5, 2010

Timeline of Belfast struggle for unity government

From its foundation, Northern Ireland has struggled to win support from both sides of its community for a government. Key dates in the struggle to forge a power-sharing coalition:


British King George V opens new Parliament for Northern Ireland following Ireland’s partition into a predominantly Protestant north staying within the United Kingdom and a mostly Catholic south negotiating to leave UK.


Britain shuts down Northern Ireland’s Protestant-dominated Parliament and takes direct control as the territory descends into civil war.


Britain, Ireland and key local parties unveil the Good Friday Agreement on April 10. It proposes a Catholic-Protestant government, disarmament of outlawed groups, reform of the largely Protestant police and British military withdrawals, and the Republic of Ireland’s abandonment of its territorial claim to the north. Hard-line Protestants from Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party reject deal as surrender to Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army-linked party.


Protestant leader David Trimble agrees to take his Ulster Unionist Party into coalition with Catholics, including Sinn Fein. To work, the deal requires speedy IRA disarmament in response but this fails to happen.


Trimble’s coalition suffers the last of a string of breakdowns over when, if ever, the outlawed IRA will complete disarmament and renounce violence. British direct rule of Northern Ireland resumes.


Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein trounce their moderate rivals in Northern Ireland Assembly elections, making their two hard-line voices critical to forging any new coalition.


IRA completes disarmament and renounces violence, formally ending its failed 1970-1997 campaign to force Northern Ireland out of UK.


Britain, Ireland forge new agreement with Sinn Fein and Democratic Unionists in St. Andrews, Scotland. Deal requires Sinn Fein to accept the authority of the Northern Ireland police before a new coalition is formed that, unlike previously, also will receive control of policing and justice.


Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams stun Northern Ireland by appearing live on TV to announce coalition deal. Two months later Paisley and Adams’ deputy, Martin McGuinness, are jointly elected leaders of new administration. Transferring justice powers postponed until 2008.


Paisley steps down as leader of the government and Democratic Unionists, to be replaced by Peter Robinson. Democratic Unionists say they won’t accept justice powers until unspecified conditions are achieved, beginning drawn-out stalemate with Sinn Fein.


With Sinn Fein threatening to withdraw and collapse power-sharing, Britain and Ireland lead marathon negotiations for a new power-sharing deal. A Feb. 5 agreement reached after 10 days’ talks offers transfer of law-and-order responsibilities from London to Belfast in early April.

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