The Good Friday Agreement has improved the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland
The Good Friday Agreement was the impetus for a thaw in relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. While the relationship between the two states was strained during the Troubles, they now have a much more positive working relationship.
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The Good Friday Agreement (GFA), agreed on April 10th 1998 and ratified by popular vote on May 22nd 1998, was an agreement that brought about the end of a period of violent conflict in Northern Ireland known as 'The Troubles'. The Troubles refers to decades of violence where Nationalists (usually Catholic) were locked into bitter and deadly dispute with Unionists (usually Protestant) in Northern Ireland. The GFA established a new government that would be a power share between the Unionists and the Nationalists, therefore helping to establish a tentative peace. Since the signing of the GFA there has been a marked improvement in the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
The region of Northern Ireland was one of the main flashpoints in the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom in the 20th Century. Many politicians and citizens in the Republic held out hope for a United Ireland, while many protestant citizens in the North were desperate to remain under British rule, due to their belief that rule from Dublin would be rule from Rome. The Troubles, which began in the 1960s, was a source of serious tension and conflict between the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the Irish prime minister Charlie Haughey had a famous 'love/hate relationship'. The relationship between the two politicians was fraught due to the Northern Irish situation, with Haughey described as driving Thatcher 'around the bend'. In stark contrast, Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair, the prime ministers of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom respectively, worked productively together on the Northern Irish Peace Process and subsequent GFA. Their friendship has even been cited as a key component in the GFA, with one government official proclaiming, 'it really mattered that they got on'. The terms of the Good Friday Agreement itself in 1998 laid the foundations for a new, improved relationship between the two countries. The third strand of the GFA stipulated that the British and Irish government must consult and compromise, as well as keeping an open border between the two states. It also saw the establishment of a British-Irish Council to promote the Anglo-Irish relationship. This was further cemented in December 1999, when the Queen hosted the Irish president Mary McAleese at Buckingham palace for a historic dinner, thereby signifying the changing relationship between the two states. One of the most significant events which illustrates the flourishing of the relationship between the two states post the GFA was the Queen of England's state visit to Ireland in 2011. Such an event would have been unthinkable just decades earlier and so her visit was a symbol of the improving relationship the two states have enjoyed since the GFA. Her visit was the first of a British Monarch to Ireland since 1911, and the first visit of a British Monarch to the Republic of Ireland. The Queen went on to shake the hand of former IRA leader Martin McGuinness during a trip to Northern Ireland in 2012. This highly symbolic moment only served to strengthen the impression that the United Kingdom is determined to move on from the Troubles of the 20th century and procure a more positive relationship with the Republic and the North.
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