Brief History Of Northern Ireland Conflict

Brief History of Northern Ireland

Welcome to my brief history of the Northern Ireland conflict. Hopefully it will give you a decent understanding of how the country came into being and how and why the Northern Ireland Troubles came about. Before you begin, if you wish to understand a brief history of Ireland before reading this then click on the highlighted link, otherwise please see a brief history of Northern Ireland and its turmoil and conflict below.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) had started a campaign of violence in Northern Ireland even before partition became a reality in 1921. In a direct response to this, the Ulster Volunteer Force was revived once again and so the new Northern Ireland began its history in sectarian bloodshed.

Northern Ireland started to build its own economy over this period with the help of aid from Britain. The economy did start to suffer in the late 1920s when the worldwide recession began after the Wall Street Crash. Harland & Wolff, a large ship building company and huge employer in Northern Ireland, came under financial pressure and traditional industries such as linen making face new and difficult trading challenges, as good were being made cheaper in other parts of the world. 

Unemployment soared in Northern Ireland and in 1932 there were just over 70,000 unemployed people in Northern Ireland out of a population of around 1.3 million. 
The Northern Ireland Government took some unpleasant political decisions such as cutting public sector pay and reducing state benefits. 

For the working classes this was devastating and both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland held mass rallies. Nationalists and Unionists joined together when the government banned the rallies, which resulted in rioting and violence. When gunshots were fired, the police responded in kind and killed 2 protesters  The government were forced to relent and the violence ended.
Brief History of Northern Ireland

Brief History of Northern Ireland - World War Two in Northern Ireland

When the United Kingdom went to war against Hitler, Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, also found itself at war. The South of Ireland with few military resources declared a neutral stance, with de Valera the Irish Prime Minister, refusing to join in the war. Despite this official line from their government, many Irish people sympathised with the British and over 40,000 Irish joined the British army. 

The IRA saw the war distraction as an opportunity to oust the British from Northern Ireland and started collaborating with the Germans in 1940, mainly for gun running. The South of Ireland government cracked down very hard on this, as they did not want to anger the British and provoke a strategic invasion, at such an early stage in their own transition.

In April and May 1941, Belfast the capital of Northern Ireland became a victim of what was known as the "Blitz." This was a tactic where the Germans began bombing cities throughout the United Kingdom, and the Germans considered Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland Government located at Stormont Belfast believed their country was too far away for the Germans to bother with and as such were not prepared for any attacks. 

In April 1941, over several nights German bombers pounded both Belfast and Derry with hundreds of tonnes of explosives, killing 900 people, destroying thousands of buildings and making 10,000 people homeless. The lack of preparation contributed significantly to the death toll, especially the lack of air raid shelters. Fire brigades from Dundalk, Drogheda and Dublin assisted in the Blitz, despite the neutral stance of the Eire Government. Many people abandoned the two cities and fled out into the country.

Brief History of Northern Ireland 1950-1960

After the war and through the 1950 period the government in Westminster went about rebuilding their country and it was similar in Northern Ireland. It was a quiet but relatively prosperous time and the Welfare State was introduced. This helped the overall standard of living for the poorest people in its society. Better housing was provided as a result of the "Blitz" having flattened many homes. The Health Service became free and unemployment benefits were introduced.

Problems that would later come to be the source of much protest were developing. In Northern Ireland at this time, the population was approximately 65% Protestant and 35% Catholic. However the reality was that Protestants held 94% of the top 740 civil servant posts, and favouritism was often given to Protestants when council housing was given out. This policy persisted all through the 1950s and 1960s.

In late 1955, the IRA regrouped and started a terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland. The IRA was short on weapons and many nationalists were rather apathetic to the unification cause, so this flurry ended in 1962.  

Brief History of Northern Ireland 1960-1969

Prime Minister, Viscount Brookeborough failed to address the worsening economic situation and he was forced to resign in 1963 by members of his own party.   His replacement, Terence O'Neill, introduced a variety of bold measures to improve the economy, along with trying to address Northern Ireland's social and political issues.

O Neill was quite radical and he met with the Republic of Ireland's Prime Minister Sean Lemass, which caused disquiet within the unionist community. The Republic's constitution still laid claim to the whole island of Ireland and O'Neill's meeting created vociferous attacks from unionism and from the Reverend Ian Paisley in particular. In 1966, Ian Paisley, who founded the Free Presbyterian Church, set up the Protestant Unionist Party and began to strongly oppose O'Neill.

The Catholic minority in Northern Ireland remained politically marginalised.   The drawing of local government electoral boundaries favoured unionist candidates and the right to vote in local government elections was restricted to ratepayers, again favouring Protestants, with those holding or renting properties in more than one constitutional ward receiving more than one vote, up to a maximum of six. This bias was preserved by unequal allocation of council houses to Protestant families. Police harassment, exclusion from public service appointments and other forms of discrimination were factors of daily life.

Brief History of Northern Ireland - Civil Rights Association 

It would be impossible to do a brief history of Northern Ireland without including what many people believe to be the start of the "Troubles In Northern Ireland." In 1967, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) formed with membership being drawn from both communities, though mainly from Nationalist Catholics who felt more disadvantaged with the Unionist government at Stormont.
It called for the end to various injustices. These included:
  • one man, one vote
  • an end to gerrymandering which meant Unionists were elected even in districts with Catholic majorities
  • an end to discrimination in housing and jobs
  • the disbandment of the B-Specials, a Protestant special constabulary, which many viewed as sectarian
These civil rights marches descended into violence in October 1968 when marchers in Derry defied the Royal Ulster Constabulary and were dispersed with heavy-handed tactics. It now became very clear that the government of Northern Ireland was losing its grip on security. The Northern Ireland government had no choice but to call for British troops to be sent in to put down the riots. The first British troops arrived on the 15th August 1969. The British government intervened to try and increase the speed of reform and a political response came in the shape of the joint "Downing Street Declaration."

Two 50th anniversaries would happen at the same time, the Battle of the Somme and the Easter Rising, both important dates for each community. Rioting followed in May and June by the murders of two Catholics and a Protestant by a 'loyalist' terror group called the Ulster Volunteer Force. O'Neill immediately banned the UVF, but it was too late. 

The dreadful cycle of sectarian hatred and blood letting that would become known as "The Troubles" had already claimed its first lives.Reforms followed that, with bodies set up to allocate council housing, investigate the recent cycle of violence and review policing. They recommended the disbanding of a group called "The B Specials," the disarming of the police and the setting up of the Ulster Defence Regiment under the control of the British Army. Loyalists were outraged and they responded with yet more violence. Attacks on Catholic areas escalated, and many homes were burned.

The IRA had remained largely inactive during this period. In 1969, the more militant "Provisional IRA" (PIRA) broke away from the "Official IRA." Both branches of the IRA supported civil rights, the defence of the Catholic community and the unification of Ireland. However the PIRA was prepared to pursue a United Ireland in defiance of Britain and would use violence to achieve its aims.  Loyalist paramilitaries were also organising and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), was created in 1971, which rapidly expanded to a membership of tens of thousands, but somehow avoided being banned, joined up with the UVF.

Brief History of Northern Ireland 1970-1979

Brian Faulkner and the Introduction of Internment
Chichester-Clark resigned in March 1971, and was replaced by Brian Faulkner. His first task was to introduce internment, essentially the detention of suspects without trial, which he did on the 9th August 1971. This proved to be a disaster in both its failure to capture any significant members of the PIRA and in its focus on nationalist rather than loyalist and nationalist suspects. The reaction was predictable, even if the fierceness and extent of the violence wasn't. Deaths in the final months of 1971 exceeded 150.

Bloody Sunday

The British Army was adopting more aggressive policies on the ground and on the 30th January 1972, the Army sent the Parachute Regiment to suppress rioting at a Civil Right's March in Derry.  Thirteen demonstrators were shot and killed by troops with another dying later from a wound he had received.  There is still a huge enquiry as both the Army and the protesters claim that they did not fire the first shot.

What we do know that as a result of the killings, new recruits swelled the ranks of the IRA and yet more British troops were sent to the province to try and contain the rising waves of violence. The Conservative British government removed control of security from the government of Northern Ireland and appointing a secretary of state for the province. The Stormont government resigned in protest at this perceived assault on their powers. Edward Heath the conservative British Prime Minister had in effect introduced direct rule from Westminster in London. Northern Ireland then descended into an abyss of sectarian bloodshed. There were many atrocities, but one of the worst was Bloody Friday. The detonation of more than 20 PIRA bombs in Belfast claimed nine lives.

The Council of Ireland
The British government tabled a power sharing initiative. It outlined plans for a new Northern Ireland assembly, elected by proportional representation, and a government for Northern Ireland in which Protestants and Catholics would share power. It also proposed the creation of what was known as "The Council of Ireland." This element was controversial as for the first time it would give the Republic of Ireland a role in Northern Ireland's affairs and this would be particularly unsavoury for unionists.  In June 1973 an election produced a majority of pro-power sharing representatives, but they were set against a large minority of anti-power sharing unionists. The power-sharing executive started work in January 1974.

The Sunningdale Agreement
The Sunningdale Agreement agreed consisted of a "14 member Council of Ireland." The terms of this council were vague, but the agreement raised the possibility that the Republic of Ireland could one day gain some decision-making powers in Northern Ireland. Unionists were split by the agreement, and the forthcoming British general election of 1974 gave the anti-Sunningdale supporters, an ideal opportunity to derail the process. 

They used the election as a referendum on Sunningdale, and anti-agreement unionist candidates won 11 of Northern Ireland's 12 parliamentary seats. It was a disaster for the pro-Sunningdale assembly, since it could no longer claim to represent public opinion.  The British government refused to call new assembly elections, and on 14 May 1974, the assembly, perhaps rather hastily in retrospect, restated its support for Sunningdale. As a result, the Ulster Workers' Council, a mix of Protestant trade unionists called for a general strike in the province. On 17th May, loyalists exploded bombs in Dublin and Monaghan, which claimed the lives of 32 people.

The Ulster Worker's Strikes
Northern Ireland grew to a stand still and literally within two weeks, due to a combination of manned roadblocks, closing down of power stations, and a shut down of most general industries, the country ground to a halt. Harold Wilson, the then Labour Prime Minister refused to concede and indeed angered the unionist population in a speech where he said "the strikers were sponging off Westminster." The unionist members of the power-sharing executive resigned and direct rule was immediately reintroduced.

Protests and Hunger Strikes at The Maze Prison
Again in this brief history of Northern Ireland, this event is often viewed as being highly significant. Many new political suggestions were tried but they all failed. In 1976, the British government removed the "special category" status of paramilitary prisoners. Until this time political prisoners had been awarded rights similar to those of "Prisoners of War." This decision by the British government now meant that these prisoners were classified as ordinary criminals. They would be confined in the new Maze Prison near Belfast, in its what were called "H-Blocks." They derive their name from the particular "H" shape of the blocks if viewed from the air. The IRA prisoners considered themselves as freedom fighters and began to protest by wearing only blankets instead of standard issue prison clothing. This became known as the "blanket protest."   Prisoners followed this up by smearing their excrement on the cell walls as part of a dirty protest followed this.  

Brief History of Northern Ireland 1980 - 1990

As the "blanket protests" appeared to have no quick impact, they escalated to a hunger strike in 1980. This was called off when the prisoners mistakenly believed they had been granted concessions. They resumed in 1981, led by Bobby Sands. As part of the plan, he also stood for election for the vacant Westminster Government seat of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, which he won. The publicity throughout the world was almost instant and it was also a clear demonstration of the level of popular support among nationalists for the hunger strikers. Margaret Thatcher, leader of the Conservative Government refused to make any concessions, and Sands died on 5 May 1981, kicking off some of the most serious rioting in the history of Northern Ireland. Nine more prisoners would die before the strike was finally ended in October of that year. One thing was certain though, it was seen for the first time that political action could win where violence had always been the focus.

Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA then decided to start contesting elections but still supported the continued use of violence to achieve its ends. These are often referred to as the ballot and bullet tactics. The leader of Sinn Fein Gerry Adams defeated Gerry Fitt won the Westminster seat for West Belfast.   This was viewed as a real possibility that Sinn Fein could replace the more moderate SDLP as the political voice of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement
The IRA detonated a bomb as a hotel in Brighton, which was hosting the Conservative party conference in 1984. Margaret Thatcher, remained even more steadfast in her resolve to give in to what she viewed as terrorism, but despite this resolution Thatcher and her Irish counterpart Garret FitzGerald eventually reached an agreement, known as the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which was signed in 1985. This agreement stated that Northern Ireland would remain independent of the Republic as long as that was the will of the majority in the north. But it also gave the Republic a say in the running of the province for the first time, with the setting up of the Intergovernmental Conference. The agreement also stated that power could not be devolved back to Northern Ireland unless it enshrined the principle of power sharing.   Sinn Fein condemned the agreement for stating that Britain had a legitimate role in Northern Ireland where as the SDLP welcomed what they saw as a new and constructive development. Ulster Unionist MPs were against the Agreement, but this was generally ignored.  The unionist community felt betrayed by this and was summed up by James Molyneaux, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party who stated "Northern Ireland was being delivered from one nation to another."
In protest, all the Unionist MPs resigned, which forced a new election in Northern Ireland. The unionists fought this election under the "Ulster Says No" banner. Many demonstrations followed with a twin approach from Ian Paisley of the DUP and James Molyneaux of the UUP. They had little impact and UUP and DUP began boycotting all UK government officials. Again, this did not change anything and eventually The Northern Ireland Assembly, was abolished on 23 June 1986.

The UVF and UDA decided to use violence to try and get rid of the agreement and began a terrorist campaign against Catholics and the police force (RUC) that they now viewed as traitors since they were required to enforce the Agreement. The British government still ignored the campaign, and it began to dwindle away. Margaret Thatcher won the 1988 General Election and completed a review on the Anglo-Irish Agreement. This review resulted in to very little change, and most Unionists gave up hope of ever removing it and acknowledged that their campaign had failed.

During this time violence continued relentlessly and one of the worst happened in Enniskillen. In 1987 the IRA detonated a bomb at the war memorial in Enniskillen, during a Remembrance Day parade. In March 1987, the SAS shot dead three IRA members at Gibraltar. Several days later a loyalist gunman named Michael Stone killed three mourners at the funerals of the Gibraltar men. In a sickening incident, shown throughout the world two British soldiers drove into the vicinity of the funeral cortège of those three mourners, were dragged out of their car and brutally murdered.

In 1987 a media-broadcasting ban was introduced for organisations that advocated violence. This ban was applied to the IRA, UVF, Sinn Fein and the UDA, and the theory was it would starve these organisations of publicity.   In the next five years many attempts were made to create conditions for all-party talks in Northern Ireland.
They were broken down into three strands to allow some movement for all parties.
 Strand one dealt with the internal government of Northern Ireland.
  • Strand two dealt with North-South relationships.
  • Strand three dealt with East/West relationships.

Brief History of Northern Ireland 1990 - 2000

The strand talks eventually began in 1991, though the progress was slow. The main reason for this was that the parties involved would only agree if they did not include the people causing the violence. Something innovative was required and talks being held between John Hume, the leader of the SDLP and Gerry Adams, the President of Sinn Fein concerning the possibility of an IRA ceasefire did just that. The result was a document, called the Hume-Adams Initiative, which was given to both governments. At the same time the Progressive Unionist Party and the Ulster Democratic Party were formed who represented the UVF and UDA respectively. This gave the loyalist terrorists a political voice for the first time.

The Downing Street Declaration
In 1993, the British and Irish governments reviewed the situation and realised that the conditions were now right to start yet another new peace process. All the terrorist groups had political representatives who were prepared to negotiate. The two governments met and, on 15 December 1993, and issued what was called the Downing Street Declaration. It committed both governments to develop new political frameworks and allowed any party that gave up violence to join in the talks.

The British Government declared that they had no selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland. This meant they accepted that a united Ireland was possible if a majority so desired and promised to work towards an agreement.

The Irish agreed that a united Ireland could only happen with majority consent and would set up a Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.  Once again this declaration angered the extreme Unionists, who accused the British Government of selling off Ulster. Sinn Fein said it was 'disappointed'. The British Government clarified the issues for the terrorist-linked parties. They said that both Sinn Fein and the loyalists could join the talks if they laid down their arms.

In 1994, the United States of America allowed Gerry Adams to go there for the first time and this attracted huge publicity. President Clinton urged the IRA to call a ceasefire. On 31 August 1994, the IRA announced a "complete cessation of military operations". Some six weeks later on 13 October 1994, the Combined Loyalist Military also announced their own cessation. The British Government met with Sinn Fein on 9 December 1994, and as a confidence building measure, British Army daytime patrols in Belfast were abolished and some security installations were dismantled and troops pulled out.

Sinn Fein had a policy of opposing Orange Order and Apprentice Boy parades, which they regarded as sectarian, as some of these marches went through Nationalist areas. Some local residents decided they were not going to tolerate marches in these areas any more and once again rioting broke out in Northern Ireland. Orangemen demanded the right to walk their traditional routes, ones they had done so for many years. Somehow the ceasefires were held throughout these troubled times.

In 1995, United States President Bill Clinton made an historic visit to Northern Ireland to support the peace process, but this did not break the political stalemate. In 1996 Senator Mitchell, representing Bill Clinton presented the Mitchell Report which recommended that parties be permitted to join talks if their paramilitary wings decommissioned weapons during the talks, rather than before they could join them.

The IRA released a statement announced that their ceasefire was over. 60 seconds later, a massive bomb exploded at Canary Wharf in London killing two civilians and causing millions of pounds worth of damage. Sinn Fein appeared to be genuinely surprised by the announcement and bomb. In a direct response to this, the British army started patrols in Belfast and security arrangements were put back in place. The concentrated their campaign on Britain with bombs in London and a massive one in Manchester, in central England.

The most contentious of all parades was in an area of Portadown and in particular the Garvaghy Road and affected the Drumcree Orange Parade. The Garvaghy Road was a predominantly nationalist area that did not want the parade going down this road and the Orangemen insisted it was their traditional right to do so. However, the Orangemen said they would march at any cost and more and more people gathered around Drumcree church. Over the same period, loyalist rioting and roadblocks broke out all over Northern Ireland causing much damage. Northern Ireland was once again in a state of violence.

As a huge crowd had gathered and especially when an armour-plated JCB appeared at Drumcree on 11 July, the police gave in and let the march go ahead. However, this resulted in several days of Republican rioting and roadblocks causing more damage. On 30 September, the UVF/UDA ceasefires were terminated.

In 1997 the new British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, wanted to get the peace process started and announced that the all-party talks were starting. The issue of decommissioning became less important, mainly because it became clear that the IRA was not going to accept it. More violence followed and in an attempt to avoid the previous violence, the police forced the Drumcree Orange march down the Garvaghy Road. Again republican violence spilled out on to the streets.

In July 1997 the IRA called a new ceasefire and soon after Mo Mowlam, the appointed Northern Ireland minister, said that Sinn Fein would now be admitted to the talks, on the condition they accepted the principle of democracy and non-violent means. Sinn Fein agreed to this although the IRA released a statement saying that they did not. On 15 September all of Northern Ireland's political parties, except the DUP and UKUP who boycotted it, sat down for peace talks. It was a very historic day. After initial qualms, the Unionist parties agreed to begin the negotiations on 7 October.

There were several expulsions and readmissions as the process moved slowly forwards and George Mitchell decided that the process needed quicker movement and set a deadline for agreement. That appeared to work and on April 6th, Mitchell released a draft discussion agreement to the parties.

The unionists objected strongly to the North-South proposals and for a short time it looked as if the talks were going to fail once again. This was however prevented by the personal intervention of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. On the 10th April a Good Friday, George Mitchell announced that "the parties have reached an agreement" after almost 30 years. A copy of the agreement was sent to every home in Northern Ireland and a referendum was announced for 22 May 1998.

A referendum was taken to see if the population of Northern Ireland supported the agreement and a clear majority of 71% did. The telling detail behind this was that mainly all nationalists had supported the agreement, and that the unionist community voted "Yes" but by a small margin. It was also endorsed in the Republic of Ireland.  In June 1998 David Trimble of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) was elected, as First Minister and Seamus Mallon of the Social and Democratic Party (SDLP) became the Deputy First Minister.

As the Agreement was being introduced, various dissident Republican groups opposed to the Agreement started terrorist attacks. No one will ever forget the "Omagh Bomb" killed 29 people on a busy shopping day in a small town. This desperate attack did provide some impetus and helped to push the various sides together. Within a matter of weeks the UUP and PUP agreed to talks with Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein stated that the war was over and began cooperating with the international decommissioning body.

In April 1999 the first all-party talks commenced at Hillsborough Castle and ended with a call for the establishment of an executive within three weeks. Sinn Fein stated it could not deliver IRA decommissioning before the executive sits, as the UUP insists. The British Prime Minister Tony Blair set an "absolute deadline" of 30 June for agreement on the formation of an executive, or the assembly should be suspended. This deadline passed and Blair was almost forced to agree to an extension.

Seamus Mallon resigned as deputy first minister and George Mitchell, who helped set up the original agreement, was asked to re-enter the peace process. It wasn't until November that the IRA released a statement stating that it will contact the decommissioning body as part of a comprehensive political deal. The Ulster Unionist Council backed the Mitchell deal, which paved the path for devolution.

The Northern Assembly met again and Seamus Mallon was reinstated as deputy first minister with other ministers being nominated to the Northern Ireland Executive. Following that laws to enable devolution to take place are rushed through both houses of the British Parliament, and power is passed from Westminster to Belfast. The Irish government removed its territorial claim to Northern Ireland from its constitution and the Anglo-Irish agreement was revoked. The new Northern Ireland Executive then met for the first time and the IRA announced that it had appointed a representative to the international body on decommissioning.


Brief History of Northern Ireland 2000 - Until Present

In January 2000 continued tension grew over that lack of progress on arms decommissioning, General John de Chastelain delivered his report on the prospects for decommissioning to the British and Irish governments after meeting the IRA's representative earlier that day and as a result of that, then Secretary of State, Peter Mandelson told the House of Commons that he would suspend the Northern Ireland Assembly if there is no IRA decommissioning. Despite furious last-minute negotiations, no deal was agreed on decommissioning and Mandelson signed the order to suspend the assembly. The IRA announced that it would no longer co-operate with the Independent Commission on Decommissioning because of the suspension of the assembly. Another political stalemate had arisen.

It wasn't until May 2000 when the IRA released a statement saying that it is ready to begin a process that would "completely and verifiably" put its arms beyond use that gave hope to the assembly being put back in place. Mandelson announced that he would bring forward an order to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly. David Trimble eventually secured the backing of his party to re-enter the power-sharing assembly at Stormont despite no decommissioning of IRA arms and power was once again restored to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The decommissioning body then reported in June 2000 that they have been secretly taken to IRA arms dumps, inspected them and concluded that the arms cannot be used without their detection. Drumcree marching returned to the agenda but was stopped by the Parades Commission from marching down the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road. In addition to this legislation was passed to reform the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and was passed through Westminster.

In a response to the passing of the Police Bill, the IRA released a statement reiterated the position it set out on 6 May 2000. It accused the British government of failing to keep to its side of the bargain by implementing in full the Patten Report on policing reform. It stresses that it had not broken contact with the decommissioning body, but that decommissioning cannot and will not happen on terms dictated by the British government or the unionists.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Mandelson resigned from government amid allegations of scandal, and John Reid, arrived in Belfast as his successor. The IRA released a fresh statement saying that it is had now entered more discussions with the decommissioning body and that the British government should now deliver on its obligations. The British Prime Minister Tony Blair called a general election for 7 June. David Trimble told his UUP party that he would resign as First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly on 1 July if there has been no progress from the IRA on decommissioning. The general election led to major gains for the more hard line Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein. The UUP did remain the largest party and the SDLP were pushed into fourth place.

Around the middle of June 2001, riot police were called in to protect Catholic children going to school in North Belfast after clashes between rival gangs of people. Violent clashes in the Ardoyne area of Belfast continued with each side blaming each other. Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister started talks aimed at preventing David Trimble resigning as First Minister. They proved to no avail and David Trimble resigned in July. Political talks at Weston Park, Staffordshire, failed to find a breakthrough with the parties remaining at loggerheads. The Progressive Unionist Party withdrew from the talks, saying that until republicans set out their terms for decommissioning, its impossible to negotiate with them.
In August the British and Irish governments issued a package of proposals aimed at breaking the deadlock, with the focus on policing reform, demilitarisation, stability of the institutions and a reiteration of the importance of decommissioning. They give the parties less than a week to respond. General John de Chastelain stated that the IRA had put forward a plan to put its weapons beyond use. The IRA released a statement confirming the details of what the decommissioning body had set out earlier in the week.

Three suspected members of the IRA are arrested in Colombia after being allegedly in contact with the Farc rebels who control part of the country. 

The dispute over access to the Catholic Holy Cross primary school in Ardoyne erupted into violence once again. Loyalist demonstrators tried to stop children reaching the school, saying that republicans are using the journey as a screen to attack their community. The standoff continued a long time with no sign of resolution.

John Hume announced that he was to step down as leader of the SDLP, citing health reasons for his decision. The party's deputy leader Seamus Mallon later announces that he too will step down and not run for the leadership. Mark Durkan became the leader-designate of the SDLP after none of his party colleagues challenge him for the leadership.

The IRA announced in October that it had begun a process of putting arms beyond use in line with an agreement with the Independent International Decommissioning Commission. Hours later the Commission confirmed it had witnessed the disposal of arms and describes it as "significant". David Trimble nominated UUP ministers to the NI Executive, thereby preventing its collapse. However David Trimble failed to become First Minister after two rebel members of his own party vote against him.

In November The Royal Ulster Constabulary was renamed The Police Service of Northern Ireland. Using a quirk of the assembly processes, three Alliance members declare themselves unionists and David Trimble is elected First Minister and Mark Durkan as Deputy First Minister.
In early 2002 the violence intensified in north Belfast with some 500 people involved in rioting, leaving the Holy Cross school at the centre of the dispute which had to be closed the following day. In September of this year leader David Trimble said his party would withdraw from the power-sharing executive at Stormont if republicans do not demonstrate they have left violence behind for good. Mark Durkan said the peace process was now in crisis. On the 14th October John Reid announced the suspension of devolution and the return of direct rule by London.

In March 2003 Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern hosted talks at Hillsborough with all the pro-Agreement parties. Mr Blair announced scheduled elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly are being put back to 29 May after there is no breakthrough in the talks. In July 2004 The Northern Ireland Office confirmed that the British and Irish prime ministers would host a new round of political talks aimed at restoring the assembly in late September. There followed three days of negotiations at Leeds Castle end, but no agreement was reached. Nothing more was heard until November 2004 when once again the British and Irish governments shared proposals with the DUP and Sinn Fein.

In December Gerry Adams recommended that Sinn Fein should accept the British-Irish proposals, saying that its negotiations had resolved issues of concern and succeeded in strengthening key provisions of the Agreement. The IRA said it is committed to the peace process but would not submit to a process of humiliation.

Then just to complicate matters an armed gang stole £26.5m from the Northern Bank in Belfast city centre, casting a long shadow over the political negotiations amid speculation that the IRA was responsible. The IRA later says it was not involved in the bank robbery and Sinn Fein leaders say they believe this denial.   However Chief Constable Hugh Orde of the PSNI stated that the IRA had carried out the Northern Bank robbery. This was then further complicated when IRA members were implicated in the killing of Robert McCartney, who was stabbed to death near a Belfast bar.

In July 2005 the IRA formally ordered an end to its armed campaign and says it would pursue exclusively peaceful means. It said it would follow a democratic path, ending more than 30 years of violence. This statement was met with joy on some sides and scepticism elsewhere. The British government then set out a two-year plan to scale down the Army's presence in Northern Ireland and change the way the province is policed. The number of troops will be reduced and army posts would be closed.

Late in September of 2005 the decommissioning body stated that the IRA had put all of its weapons beyond use. Two churchmen had witnessed the process, Catholic priest Father Alec Reid and ex-Methodist president Rev Harold Good, who said they were "satisfied that the arms decommissioned represent the totality of the IRA's arsenal". In April of 2006, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern arrived in Northern Ireland to unveil a blueprint for restoring devolution. In October three days of intensive multi-party talks, aimed at brokering a deal to restore devolution, began at St Andrews in Scotland.

In November 2006, a transitional assembly was installed. The assembly met to hear if the DUP and Sinn Fein would indicate ministerial choices. However, proceedings are interrupted as loyalist killer Michael Stone tries to force his way into Stormont. He is later charged with murder bids on Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

In March 2007 Northern Ireland once again voted to elect candidates to the Assembly. After that the DUP's executive decided it would share power with Sinn Féin, and agreed to nominate ministers to a Stormont executive. Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams told a news conference in Stormont that power sharing would return to Northern Ireland on 8 May. Westminster officially handed over powers after almost five years of Direct Rule.

DUP leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness were sworn in as First and Deputy First Ministers and take their pledges of office at Stormont, witnessed by British and Irish Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern. Sinn Féin takes its seats on the Policing Board for the first time.

Tony Blair resigned as British prime minister after ten years in office. During his time in power he witnessed the Good Friday Agreement, IRA weapons decommissioning, the suspension of direct rule and the re-establishment of a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland. The Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane, announced the end of the 11-plus-transfer test exam, saying she wants to end the "outdated and unequal education system" which labelled 11-year-olds as "failures". There is widespread opposition to her proposals amongst unionists. 
In early 2008, the DUP says the devolution of policing and justice powers will not happen by May, the target date set in the St Andrew's Agreement. The party says there is not yet "adequate public confidence", and the party will not be rushed. This continues to be the main battleground today.

This post was eventually agreed in 2010 and was taken by the leader of the Alliance Party David Ford.  Since that appointment the Justice and Powers element of the Good Friday Agreement has now been passed to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In March 2008 the First Minister, Ian Paisley, announced he would stand down from the post in May. He resigned as leader of the DUP- a party he has led for almost 40 years - but he will continue as MP and MLA for North Antrim. His assistant Peter Robinson replaced him. After the elections in 2009, Peter Robinson became the First Minister of Northern Ireland, along with the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of the Sinn Fein Party.

The reason for these appointments is that the DUP led by Robinson holds the biggest Unionist vote in Northern Ireland and Sinn Fein hold the biggest Nationalist vote, and this entitles their representatives to become the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland.

I hope this brief history of Northern Ireland has helped your understanding.