The Agreement, arrived at on 10 April 1998, created the opportunity to restore a devolved, power‐sharing government to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1973.
Endorsed by referendums in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic on 23 May 1998, the Agreement established a unicameral 108‐member Assembly elected on 25 June 1998 and a voluntary power‐sharing Executive Committee. These are integral democratic institutions of Strand One of the Agreement, which also provided for the establishment of a consultative Civic Forum, comprising representatives of the voluntary, business, and trade union sectors.
Strand Two of the Agreement established a North–South Ministerial Council. It consists of Ministers from the Executive Committee and their Irish counterparts, that meet in both sectoral and plenary formats to develop consultation, cooperation, and action across the island of Ireland on matters of mutual interest within the competence of the Administrations on each side of the border. Such cooperation is effected through six implementation bodies and six cross‐border bodies, also created under the terms of the Agreement.
Strand Three of the Agreement established a British–Irish Council, encompassing the British and Irish Governments, the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, together with representatives of the Channel islands and the Isle of Man and, prospectively, of English regional assemblies if they are established. Strand Three also paved the way for a new British–Irish Agreement between the two Governments and established a standing British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference designed to promote bilateral cooperation on all matters of mutual interest within the competence of both Governments. The institutions of all three strands interlock: none can stand alone.
Elsewhere, the Agreement created the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and confirmed the merger of Northern Ireland's four existing anti‐discrimination agencies into one Equality Commission. The Agreement witnessed the affirmation by its signatories of a new culture of human rights, equality of opportunity, and of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities. They also acknowledged the needs of victims of the violence and pledged to support those organizations committed to develop reconciliation, mutual respect and understanding between and within communities in Northern Ireland and between it and the Republic of Ireland. The Agreement obliged its signatories to use their influence to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary weapons within two years of the confirmatory referendums, and to work in good faith with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning to that end. The British Government also undertook to normalize security arrangements in Northern Ireland, contingent upon perceived threat levels, and to put in place an accelerated prisoner release programme applicable to those organizations maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. The Agreement also set in train reviews of both the policing and criminal justice systems in Northern Ireland.
http://www.nio.gov.uk/the-agreement An outline and text of the Belfast Agreement, from the UK Northern Ireland Office.