Irish gifts - sales benefit the Newshound

The Belfast Agreement: who won and who lost

(by Ed Moloney, Sunday Tribune)

An all-Ireland Trade Promotion body which would have supported the development of home-based industrial and service companies on both sides of the Border was the major casualty of the negotiations leading to the April 10th, Good Friday Agreement, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

The body was one of eight Implementation Bodies which were to be set up under the terms of a draft agreement drawn up by the Chairman of the Stormont Talks, Senator George Mitchell but subsequently removed at Unionist insistence during the last frenetic week of negotiations.

The Mitchell Draft, a copy of which has been obtained by the Sunday Tribune, was based on an agreed document prepared by the Irish and British governments and handed over to the Northern parties as the basis for their final negotiations.

A line by line comparison of the Mitchell Draft with the final agreement - now known officially as 'The Belfast Agreement' - sheds intriguing light on the course of the negotiations.

The analysis shows that David Trimble's Unionist negotiators concentrated much of their attention on achieving fundamental changes in the Strand Two, North-South section of the draft whilst Nationalists appear to have fared better in the non-constitutional areas such as the Irish language, decommissioning and prisoners. The Unionists won changes in the justice and policing sections but the significance of the latter is open to debate.

Interestingly the Mitchell Draft reveals that there was no fundamental difference between the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP on the question of whether the new NI Assembly arrangements should include both a power-sharing Executive and Administrative forms of government. The delay in reaching formal agreement between them on Strand One - which was finally reached in the early hours of April 10th - thus appears to have been for tactical and not political reasons.

Most significant of all the Mitchell Draft makes it clear that the Irish and British governments had already made a key concession to David Trimble on North-South Bodies before the final negotiations began. This was an agreement that the workings of the cross-Border mechanisms and their future development would, in the North, be firmly under the control of the new Assembly. The relevant sections in the Mitchell Draft and the final agreement are identical.

Unionists are hailing this as David Trimble's greatest achievement in the Talks since, in their eyes, it confirms an effective Unionist veto over the North-South arrangements.

The cross-Border implementation bodies were listed in one of three annexes in the Mitchell Draft. Annex C lists eight Implementation Bodies "In which the (North-South Ministerial) Council is to take action at an all-island and cross-border level".

Five of the bodies were fully agreed between the two governments.

These were:"A Tourism Body, covering promotion, marketing, research and product development for the island as a whole.

"An Environmental Protection Body, covering co-operation on environmental protection, pollution, water quality and waste management and related matters in cross-border areas, as well as the development of a strategic approach for the island as a whole.

"An EU Programmes Implementation Body covering work on the North/South INTERREG programme, the Special Programme for Peace and Reconciliation and LEADER II (or its successor).

"A Transport Planning Body covering the co-ordination and development of the major transport services in Ireland, consideration of strategic issues in relation to road and rail networks and ports.

"An Inland Waterways Body covering the joint development and management of inland waterways."

Three more Implementation Bodies were listed but these had not been finally agreed by the time Mitchell's Draft was prepared. They included the Trade Promotion Body, seen by Nationalists as an important area for economic and thus ultimately political integration. British objections to the Body, which appeared not to be insuperable, were outlined behind square brackets.

The three were: "An Irish Language Promotion Body, promoting the use of the Irish Language to include an element of advice and support for Irish-medium education, supplementing and supporting the efforts of the voluntary support and co-ordination agencies in this latter sphere.

"A Trade Promotion and Indigenous Company Development Body, supporting the development of indigenous enterprise and companies in the industrial and services sectors, including industrial training and the promotion of exports and of innovation and scientific and technological research and development. [It would be the objective to retain the facilities which Northern Ireland exporters can avail of through the 1DB and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, acting as agents for the UK Department of Trade and Industry].

"An Arts Body, with functions in regard to promotion of the arts discharged in the Republic by An Chomhairle Ealaion (The Arts Council) and in Northern Ireland by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland."

Annex A in the Mitchell Draft was a "list of specified areas where the Council (is) to use best endeavours to reach agreement on the adoption of common policies". There were 25 specific areas for discussion under seven main headings.

These were: "Agriculture: research, training and advisory services;- development of the blood stock and greyhound industries; rural development.

"Education and Training: tourism training; education for students with special needs; education for mutual understanding; teacher qualifications and exchanges; higher and further education; combating educational disadvantage.

"Health: general hospital services and accident/emergency planning; food safety.

"Industrial and Trade Matters: management development services to industry; trading standards; public purchasing; supervision of credit unions; occupational health and safety.

"Marine and Waterways: inland fisheries; approaches to the Common Fisheries Policy; fish health; fisheries education, research and training.

"Energy and Transport: geological survey; energy projects; road and rail issues.

"Environment: physical planning and development strategy; road safety."

Annex B was a list of "specified areas in which (the) Council is to take decisions on action for implementation separately in each jurisdiction". They included 17 areas under nine headings

These were: "[Items in brackets are not agreed.] Agriculture: Animal and plant health; [Approaches to Common Agricultural Policy].

"Education and Youth: Education and training programmes.

"Social Welfare/ Community Activity: entitlements of cross-border workers and fraud control; support for voluntary community activity.

"The Environment: environmental protection, waste management and pollution control; mapping; wildlife conservation.

"Culture Heritage and the Arts: heritage protection and restoration; cultural promotion abroad.

"Health: disease registries, clinical trials and high cost, high technology areas; post-graduate medical teaching and training; health promotion strategies.

"Marine and Waterways: aquaculture and marine matters [including research?] and drainage.

"Sport: promotion and support of joint activities and strategic planning of facilities.

"Science and Technology: promotion of scientific and technological research and its application."

Having already won the concession of Assembly control in principle over the North-South mechanisms the tactics of the Unionist negotiators appear to have then been directed at reducing the scope and extent of the cross-Border bodies.

Initially David Trimble offered the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern a series of feasibility studies on North-South Bodies to be carried out by the new Assembly but this was rejected out of hand. Nevertheless negotiations began on the Unionist demands that the North-South arrangements should be more modest.

Dublin appears to have given ground on this but won compensatory concessions from Unionists. Paragraphs linking the functioning of the new Assembly to the new North-South Ministerial Council and ensuring that the North-South mechanisms came into play at the same time as the Assembly were inserted into the Mitchell Draft. Dublin called this making the North-South bodies "Assembly proof".

The Unionists gained in return. Firstly the requirement to immediately set up at least five and possibly eight implementation bodies, as described in Mitchell's Annex C, was dropped in its entirety.

Unionists won another concession in this area. During the transitional period before the Assembly gets its full powers, effectively between June and next January, the shadow North-South Council was to agree six areas for "co-operation and implementation". But three of these would not need separate Implementation Bodies as their work could be done by existing agencies such as government departments.

Unionists are claiming this sets a pattern for the future of half Implementation Bodies and half existing arrangements for cross-Border activity. By agreeing to this the Unionists in effect reduced the number of Implementation Bodies to be in place at the start of the Agreement's implementation from a maximum of eight to only three.

Unionists are also claiming that they severely filleted the number of areas listed for initial North-South co-operation from 40 - more than was listed in the Sunningdale Agreement - to twelve and managed to remove key economic areas altogether.

Under the terms of The Belfast Agreement the transitional North-South Council must identify and agree a work programme embracing co-operation and implementation and dealing with the twelve areas. But these need not all be via Implementation Bodies. They could be "common policies" agreed by using "best endeavours" or alternatively implementation carried out separately in each jurisdiction.

The 12 areas suggested in the final agreement were: "Agriculture: animal and plant health.. Education: teacher qualifications and exchanges. Transport: strategic transport planning. Environment: environmental protection, pollution, water quality, and waste management. Waterways: inland waterways. Social Security/Social Welfare: entitlements of cross-border workers and fraud control. Tourism: promotion, marketing, research, and product development. Relevant EU Programmes such as SPPR, INTERREG, Leader II and their successors. Inland Fisheries. Aquaculture and marine matters. Health: accident and emergency services and other related cross-border issues. Urban and rural development."

The traffic in the Talks was not all in the Unionist direction. Nationalists also won beneficial changes as did the smaller parties. The significant changes were in the following areas:

PRISONERS: A sentence was inserted in the final agreement confirming that paramilitary prisoners whose organisations were on ceasefire would be freed within two years. This was a Loyalist paramilitary demand which Unionists had to concede in order to win "sufficient consensus" for the agreement as a whole but it also benefited Sinn Féin. Talks sources say it was this concession which led to Mitchell McLaughlin announcing at 7 am on April 10th that SF had "clawed back" lost ground and opened the way for final agreement. Sinn Féin failed however to win an amnesty for IRA prisoners and this will prevent ex-prisoners from joining any new community police force.

IRISH LANGUAGE: Nationalists won three concessions here including more money for Irish TV and film production; a provision to represent the views of the Irish language community to the authorities and a commitment by the new Assembly to take account of this community's needs.

DECOMMISSIONING: There were two major concessions to the paramilitaries and one to Unionists. A phrase saying that decommissioning was "an indispensable part of this agreement" was excised from the Mitchell Draft. The two year decommissioning pledge was also weakened. In the Mitchell Draft this read: "All participants undertake to work constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within a fixed and limited period..." This became in the final agreement: The participants "confirm their intention to continue to work constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission, and to use any influence they may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years...." Unionists got inserted an addition stating that decommissioning schemes must come into force by the end of June. David Trimble has interpreted this as meaning that actual disarming must start by then.

THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM: A preamble in the Mitchell Draft was excised from the final agreement. The significant loss to Sinn Féin here was a sentence saying that the criminal justice system must "be responsive to the community's concerns and encourage community involvement where appropriate". If this had been kept in it could conceivably have opened the way for paramilitary involvement in community justice systems.

POLICING: The changes made in the policing section dealing with the future of the RUC are open to different interpretations. It was clear that David Trimble's priority was to shut the door on any attempt to regionalise or localise the police force so as to possibly allow paramilitary involvement.

The key sentence in the Mitchell Draft appeared to open that door quite wide. It read: "(The participants) believe that any such structures and arrangements should be capable of delivering a policing service, in constructive and inclusive partnerships with the community at all levels, and with authority and responsibility exercised at the lowest level possible....." This sentence was also included in the terms of reference for the commission on policing that is to be set up. The phrase "at the lowest level possible" could clearly mean community policing.

In the final agreement both were changed to the following: "(The participants) believe that any such structures and arrangements should be capable of delivering a policing service, in constructive and inclusive partnerships with the community at all levels, and with the maximum delegation of authority and responsibility..." The key question here is whether there is any real difference between the two sentences.

Nationalists got what appears to be a veto written into the police commission's terms of reference but it is balanced by a Unionist veto. It reads: "(The commission's) proposals on policing should be designed to ensure that policing arrangements, including composition, recruitment, training, culture, ethos and symbols, are such that in a new approach NI has a police service that can enjoy widespread support from, and is seen as an integral part of, the community as a whole".

April 19, 1998