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A remarkable feature of Westminsters approach to the Northern Ireland Troubles since 1969 has been the extent to which governments and oppositions down the years set party conflicts aside in searching for remedies and solutions When Labour came to power in 1997 the outgoing Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew was at pains to do all he could to help the incoming minister Dr Mo Mowlam Discussions continued month after month between party representatives Both Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern involved themselves in the details to a remarkable degree Finally on Good Friday 1998 all the main parties - with the exception of the Democratic Unionist Party - announced agreement Essentially the SDLP MP who described the accord as Sunningdale for slow learners was not wrong A power-sharing devolved government would be formed with ministerial posts distributed according to party strength The involvement of parties representing paramilitaries primarily the Ulster Democratic Party the Progressive Unionist Party and Sinn Fein depended on the maintenance of cease-fires and decommissioning of paramilitary weapons A copy of the agreement was delivered to every household in Northern Ireland and in May 1998 the accord was approved by referendum north and south by a narrow margin even unionist voters gave their approval Two architects of the agreement David Trimble and John Hume were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize A Northern Ireland Assembly was elected with its representation also indicating majority support for the agreement The issue of decommissioning however constantly delayed the formal creation of an executive as the IRA had a policy of not an ounce not a bullet being given up from their armoury while the Unionists refused to become ministers until some arms had been handed in Northern Ireland remained a deeply divided society and this was most evident in opposing views on policing and in conflicts over march routes notably at Drumcree near Portadown The Good Friday Agreement has provided Northern Irelands divided
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