On 23rd May 1998 the referendum on Norther Ireland returned a resounding YES vote with 71% of voters in Northern Ireland and 94% of voters in the Irish Republic showing their support for the Good Friday peace agreement!
After the euphoria of the positive vote for a peaceful solution to the problems of Northern Ireland came the reality.
The first three years of the agreement’s implementation saw accusations and counter-accusation from both sides of the divide.
Unionists said the Republicans had not complied with the spirit of the agreement’s requirement for the decommissioning of arms.
And Sinn Fein accused the British government of failing to demilitarise quickly enough. It added that it could not force anyone to give up arms and that the agreement only stated that the parties should use all their power to influence the process.
Disagreement over decommissioning and policing led to the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly twice in 18 months – in February-May 2000 and in August 2001.
The issue has remained the major stumbling block in talks between all parties seeking to restore devolution since the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended in October 2002 over alleged intelligence gathering by Republicans.
Direct rule finally ended in May 2007 when the Northern Ireland Assembly met with the return of devolution and DUP leader Ian Paisley as first minister.