1980 - 1990s – Agreement, settlement and an end to the Troubles

Masked IRA men fire rifle shots over coffin of Bobby Sands en route to the Milltown cemetery, Belfast. Gerry Adams in background. (7th May 1981)

1973 - 1998

1981: Bobby Sands, on hunger strike in the Maze prison, was elected an MP. He and nine other republican prisoners starved themselves to death

Despite efforts to bring about a resolution to the conflict during the 1970s and 80s, terrorist violence continued to be a problem into the early 90s, and British troops remained in full force. More than 3,000 people have died as a result of the strife in Northern Ireland.

  • In 1981, 10 IRA prison hunger strikers starved to death after they used hunger strikes to protest against losing their ‘special category’ status and against wearing prison uniforms.
  • Bobby Sands had been elected as an MP, while two others had been elected as members of the Dáil Éireann.
  • This electoral success convinced Republicans of the benefits of politics instead of violence as a way of getting what they wanted.
  • In 1985 British and Irish prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Garrett Fitzgerald signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. This recognised the Republic of Ireland's right to have a consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland.
  • Unionists were outraged and organised mass protests with the phrase 'Ulster Says No!' and rallied against its implementation. Margaret Thatcher refused to budge and the Agreement became law.

The IRA cease-fire and towards a peace process

  • In 1988, talks started between Protestant and Catholic politicians to explore ways of ending the violence.
  • By the early 1990s these talks included British officials.
  • In 1993 the Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and Prime Minister John Major negotiated the Downing Street Declaration, ending Britain’s strategic interest in Northern Ireland.
  • In 1994, the IRA announced a ceasefire to enable Sinn Féin to participate in multi-party peace talks.
  • Two months later, Northern Irish loyalists called a ceasefire, but progress was slow as John Major needed the full support of Unionist politicians to maintain his parliamentary majority.
  • In February 1996, due to what they claimed as a lack of progress, the IRA announced that it was breaking its ceasefire and exploded a huge bomb in Canary Wharf in London.

General elections held in 1997 in Britain brought Labour to power under the leadership of Tony Blair with a huge parliamentary majority – the new Government did not need Unionist support. In Ireland, Bertie Aherne became Taoiseach. Both men were determined to finally solve the situation in Northern Ireland.

The IRA announced another ceasefire and peace talks began.

  • In 1998, British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and signed the Good Friday Agreement, setting up a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.
  • The agreement upholds the right of Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, but accepts that one day the people of Northern Ireland may choose to join the Republic of Ireland. The voters in the Republic and in Northern Ireland approved the Agreement in a joint referendum.