The Northern Ireland ‘peace process’ in context with respect to the European Parliament, European Commission, and the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement 1998

Ireland #NorthernIreland #politics #GoodFridayAgreement #EU #EuropeanParliament #IRA #decommissioning #EuropeanCommission

To cite this article: Bernard Mulholland, ‘The Northern Ireland ‘peace process’ in context with respect to the European Parliament, European Commission, and the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement 1998′, Polyphony, 364, pp. 24-29.

Dear editor,  

            As a preface to this piece it is important to observe, firstly, that key data do not appear, and that the author is a 65-yo with health problems – mad as a hatter. Secondly, to anchor the contents of this piece, many current members contributing to Polyphony were also present 20 years ago when the first two articles referenced here were published. British (Welsh, Scottish and English) readers might want to skip to the last section that has broader relevance. 

            Twenty years ago I was the editor of Poliphony, as it was titled then, and, as a means of (i) generating feedback for the journal, and (ii) as there was at that time intense pro- and anti-EU debate, I decided to test some aspects of the European Union (EU) by putting forward two petitions to the European Parliament. 

            The first was Petition to the European Parliament (363/2002) ‘Alleged gender, regional & racist discrimination in the UK’s Royal Society’ (see: ‘the man from MENSA’ – 1 of 600: Mensa Research, 2016, p. 156-164). While the petition itself was declined, the annex submitted with it requested ‘that the European Parliament establish, and fund, a European Academy of Science’. And, sure enough, Philip Weis wrote in Science (298, 6 December 2002) that an observer from the Royal Society was in attendance at the formation of the European Academy of Sciences (EAS) held in Brussels on 29 November 2002 in a room borrowed from the European Commission. And this evidential trail, which was also published in Poliphony at the time, is why I lay claim to be the Fons et Origo of the EAS. 

            The second was Petition to the European Parliament (24/022002) published in ‘the man from MENSA’ 1 of the 600: Politics 1990-1995 (2016, p. 142-143). This petition was pivotal to the Northern Ireland ‘peace process’, and was arguably instrumental in bringing the Irish Republican Army Council (IRAC) in from the cold. In early 2002, as editor of Poliphony, when the Attorney General in the Republic of Ireland, Michael McDowell, publicly observed that there were those in his jurisdiction who pledged loyalty to another legal government in Ireland, i.e. the IRA, and I saw an opportunity to address an outstanding problem. It is important here to observe that a number of other outstanding issues had already been addressed, such as prisoner releases and then the formation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). 

            Key to this petition, as had been discussed by those in Poliphony ad infinitum, was negotiation at that time by EU Member States towards developing a constitution for the EU, which was to be the goal of the Lisbon Treaty, which was intended to be ratified by 2004, but that was not formally implemented until 2009. One key reason, arguably, for this hold up is that the EU is a very legalistic construction, and each treaty of the EU had to be ratified by THE legal government of each Member State. And so when Attorney General Michael McDowell publicly acknowledged that another organisation claimed to be THE legal government of Ireland, i.e. the Irish Republican Army Council (IRAC), I took the opportunity to petition the European Parliament to resolve competing claims by the IRAC and the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) to be THE legal government of Ireland. Important to observe here that the petition made no reference to either the British government, nor to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The European Parliament wrote back to say that in view of the significance of the petition they were forwarding it to the European Commission to deal with.  

            In effect the existence of the IRAC and its claim to be THE legal government of Ireland blocked the EU and its Member States from ratifying the Lisbon Treaty, which had been intended to serve as the founding Constitution of the EU as a ‘United States of Europe’, and a mirror image of the United States of America.  

            It must be acknowledged here that it was the IRAC’s decision, and theirs alone, to take the steps necessary to remove that block on progress during 2005 when the IRAC effectively ceased to exist. Or, to be more precise, just as a caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly, the IRAC chose to metamorphose into a new and more vibrant reconstituted Sinn Féin. And this transition cleared the way for ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by EU Member States, including THE government of Ireland. 

            This move by the IRAC also then in turn paved the way for the St. Andrew’s Agreement in 2006 that led to the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections 2007 and formation of a DUP-Sinn Féin led Northern Ireland Executive. In view of the preceding paragraphs it can be constructively argued that Sinn Féin were now an integral component of THE government of Northern Ireland, and have been now for the last fifteen years. An important observation given that, if pollsters are correct, Sinn Féin is now poised to also form THE government of Ireland as well. From aspiration to reality? THE government in Ireland, both north and south simultaneously. 

Table 1. 2007 Northern Ireland Assembly designations (108 seat Assembly). 

Political party Number of seats Designation 
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) 36 Unionist 
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) 18 Unionist 
Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) Unionist 
Sinn Féin 28 Nationalist 
SDLP 16 Nationalist 
Kieran Deeney Nationalist? 
Alliance Party Other 
Green Party Other 

            At this juncture it is important to pause for a moment to reflect on a number of observations. Firstly, the term ‘DUP- Sinn Féin government’ reflects the fact that the DUP chose the First Minister (FM) and Sinn Féin chose the Deputy First Minister (DFM), and the other ministers were then appointed by running D’Hondt. But the DUP did not have to form a government with Sinn Féin. Under the St. Andrew’s Agreement, the First Minister went to the largest political party, and the Deputy First Minister to the largest party in the next largest designation, i.e. as the DUP self-designated as Unionists the DFM was selected by the largest party in the second largest designation, which was Nationalists. However, had the UUP (18 seats) and SDLP (16 seats) both designated as Other instead of Unionist and Nationalist respectively, then the DFM could now be selected by the UUP as, taken together with the 7 Alliance seats and 1 Green Party seat, designated Others would have formed the next largest designation. This would have led to formation of a DUP-UUP government. It could be argued here that the SDLP would never have agreed to designate as Other, but, had the UUP agreed to share the DFM or offered other concessions, then they might have done. It is unfortunate that politics is a numbers game all too often played by the innumerate! 

Table 2. 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly designations (108 seat Assembly). 

Political party Number of seats Designation 
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) 38 Unionist 
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) 16 Unionist 
Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) Unionist 
Sinn Féin 29 Nationalist 
SDLP 14 Nationalist 
Alliance Party Other 
Green Party Other 

            The same can be said for the 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly. The DUP again got to select the FM, but, had the UUP and SDLP chose to designate as Others then their combined 30 seats added to the 8 Alliance seats and the 1 Green Party seat would have easily shifted designated Nationalists into third place, and so blocked Sinn Féin from nominating the DFM. And the same can be said also of the 2016 and 2017 NIA. 

Table 3. 2017 Northern Ireland Assembly designations (NB: 90 seat Assembly now). 

Political party Number of seats Designation 
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) 28 Unionist 
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) 10 Unionist 
Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) Unionist 
Claire Sugden Unionist 
Sinn Féin 27 Nationalist 
SDLP 12 Nationalist 
Alliance Party Other 
People Before Profit Alliance Other 
Green Party  Other 

            The 2022 NI Assembly elections revealed another facet to the St. Andrew’s Agreement, which observed that largest political party nominated the FM, and then the largest political party from the second largest designation (Unionist, Nationalist or Other) nominated the DFM. But, where the largest political party did not come from the largest designation, it fell to the largest political party from the largest designation to nominate the DFM. In the 2022 NI Assembly election Sinn Féin, the largest political party, did not come from the largest designation, and so the DUP, as the largest political party in the largest designation was to nominate DFM but has refused to do so. As observed in a previous article, it is likely that the DUP backroom team have determined that their party can retake the FM position after fresh elections to the NI Assembly if they can negotiate a deal with the new kingmaker on the bloc – TUV leader, Jim Allister. 

            Once again, had the UUP and SDLP chosen to designate as Other in the aftermath of this 2022 election to increase its numbers to 35, then this would now become the largest designation, and, as the largest party in that designation, the Alliance Party would be entitled to nominate DFM. If good old fashioned pork barrel politics were at work, then the UUP and SDLP could have negotiated a just reward from Alliance for having done so, but, instead, these political parties secured no electoral advantage for their shrinking electoral college, i.e. why vote for these lumpen MLAs when they don’t even attempt to deliver for their electorate?  

 Table 4. 2022 Northern Ireland Assembly designations (NB: 90 seat Assembly now). 

Political party Number of seats Designation 
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) 25 Unionist 
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Unionist 
Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) Unionist 
Claire Sugden Unionist 
Alex Easton Unionist 
Sinn Féin 27 Nationalist 
SDLP Nationalist 
Alliance Party 17 Other 
People Before Profit Alliance Other 

            And so what is the significance of these observations? Well, the TUV leader, Jim Allister, has consistently argued that the Northern Ireland Assembly has an enforced mandatory coalition, and he has argued in favour of a coalition of the willing instead. That coalition was arguably always possible under St. Andrew’s had unionist politicians chosen to engage in pork barrel politics instead of their usual bloody pig-headedness. They never had to share power with Sinn Féin at the level of First or Deputy First Minister level if the UUP had instead reached out to the SDLP and/or Alliance Party to share the DFM position, or come to some other mutually beneficial arrangement instead.  

            Had the UUP & SDLP (and Alliance Party?) reached out across the political divide then who knows what effect this might have had upon their own electoral fortunes over that decade? And also prior to St. Andrew’s the UUP, SDLP and Alliance Party could arguably have combined as designated Others to break the political mould to dominate the 1998-2006 political landscape. Instead the SDLP appears to be in terminal decline.  

            The UUP, stripped of most of its civilian membership, could arguably and ironically be characterised as the Ulster Unionist Army Council. Their meetings must now be a parody (view on YouTube) of the Captain Morgan television advertisement: ‘Captain, captain, captain? Captain!’ It’s fair to observe that no loyalist would ever trust politicians who swear loyalty to a foreign state, i.e. England (Westminster is to all intents and purposes the English parliament dominated by English MPs, and always has been after the House of Commons unceremoniously removed the Scottish king for a more pliable European monarchy. Albeit that it is ironic that this monarchy has since arguably established a parallel government and infrastructure owing loyalty solely to itself). Nationalists are little better given that they also swear their allegiance to a foreign state, but in this case to the Republic of Ireland. 

            Instead Loyalists, of whatever religion or cultural background, swear their allegiance to God and Ulster, and in that order. Again ironically, it is the Alliance Party that is arguably the only ‘loyalist’ political party in the NI Assembly. The party has so far refused to commit to pledging loyalty to either the ‘Unionist’ or ‘Nationalist’ cause, choosing instead to put the interests of the people of Northern Ireland first. A recent poll published in the Belfast Telegraph (August 20) revealed that an increasing number of people in NI are self-identifying as Northern Irish, and especially young women. The strongest argument in favour of this stance is self-love, i.e. the people of NI need to learn to love themselves, their family and those around them instead of prioritising foreign states. The people of NI are worthy, they are deserving of something better for themselves and their families. And, one presumes, if the Alliance Party could be persuaded of the benefits of an independent Northern Ireland, either within or without the EU, then it could become a powerful advocate for that position. Interesting, eh? And especially in light of the final section of this article.  


            The reason for penning this article now is the upcoming twenty-fifth anniversary of the GFBA 1998 next year in 2023. Many of the signatories to that agreement are now no longer with us, and, if Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) once again hosts a celebratory anniversary event, the only party leaders still around from that event will likely be former president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, former leader of the Alliance Party, Dr. John (Lord) Alderdice, former leader of the Women’s Coalition, Professor Monica McWilliams, and former leader of the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP), Gary McMichael. Also, I attended the unveiling of a portrait of David (Lord) Trimble at the School of Management at QUB on June 27, 2022 and have read many of the comments following his recent passing, which need to be addressed. 

            Why do they need to be addressed? Well, the history of Northern Ireland has two key contexts that are best characterised by the terms ‘overt’ and covert’. Almost all what is published falls under the term ‘overt’ and forms the official history, i.e. what Westminster wants you to know. The ‘covert’ history is all too often there is plain sight, but academics and the media notoriously follow the money, and that money comes from Westminster.   

            The first part of this context occurred before my time, and I may, or may not, be familiar with aspects of the others.  

Phase One: defence of the nation. 

The formation of the Northern Ireland (NI) state occurred during a time of considerable turbulence. When they looked south its occupants saw another new state that had just undergone a ‘War of Independence’, and, upon securing that independence, almost immediately turned in on itself in a brutal ‘Civil War’. After the first event the victors exorcised many of the incumbent Irish Civil Servants who were replaced by their own supporters, and the same process occurred again after the latter event. Most of those Civil Servants who were forced to flee would quite happily have objectively administered the new state for their new political masters, and the majority were Roman Catholics, but, as ever, to the victors go the spoils, and these jobs were shared out to reward loyalty to the cause. Many ousted Civil Servants moved elsewhere in the Empire/Commonwealth, but a significant number of these Irish patriots relocated to Northern Ireland to help build this state. The leaders of the Northern Ireland Parliament were concerned that, after they had finished this bloodletting, the army in the south would switch their attention to them. They were concerned for the very existence of their new state, and so they took steps to import sufficient modern weapons that the NI state could withstand any assault by the southern army. However, the expected assault failed to materialise. 

            During World War II, the Northern Ireland state first served to protect convoys of supplies from Canada crossing the Atlantic for the United Kingdom. And then, when the United States entered WWII, Northern Ireland served as a crucial linchpin to not only protect maritime convoys, but in-and-around a hundred airfields were constructed here. Some were used by flying boats and seaplanes to protect shipping. Others were crucial in protecting heavily-laden aircraft flying into Ballykelly, which once had the longest runway in Europe to facilitate these heavily-laden aircraft coming to a rolling stop, i.e. otherwise, had they used their brakes to come to a stop then, they would need to replace their brakes every time they landed because they were so heavily laden.  

            The Atlantic supply chain to the UK and Europe was still in full flow when a cessation to hostilities in Europe was announced at the collapse of Nazi Germany. As a result, the NI state was still jam-packed with weapons and munitions of every conceivable type intended for the front line. Our American and Canadian cousins wanted to avoid the costs inherent in flying/shipping all the hardware and munitions back to North America, and they were also reputedly keen to show their appreciation to those in Northern Ireland who had supported the war effort, and so they allegedly gifted a vast arsenal of weapons and munitions to the Northern Ireland state, which were concealed in underground bunkers for future use. Such was their generosity that considerable stocks were also allegedly secured in bunkers throughout the Irish Free State/Republic of Ireland for the protection of the Anglo-Irish population who felt under threat. Moreover, even after the Northern Ireland Parliament was successfully overthrown or ‘prorogued’ in 1972 by Westminster, arguably to prevent it from emulating Rhodesia’s 1965 declaration of UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence), it retained its independent ability and infrastructure to defend itself. It is important to note here that this arsenal was always intended solely for state-on-state warfare in the event that the Republic of Ireland engaged in hostilities and, insofar as is known, none of these weapons were ever used during ‘the Troubles’. 

Phase Two: 1966-1973. 

            In short, the assessment by those advising the Northern Ireland was that either the Republic of Ireland or the IRA, or both, would use the upcoming 50th anniversary of the 1916 rebellion to mount an offensive against the NI state and take the six counties. In preparation, they called upon every person with military training to make themselves available – both regular soldiers and irregulars. Many of these individuals had served throughout the British Empire/Commonwealth in various theatres of war. Quite a few were veterans of the Cold War, and their activities can be labelled under the terms ‘overt’ and ‘covert’. The former provides the basis for almost all the official histories published by academics and the media. But the ‘covert’ activities that had a global impact throughout the Cold War. 

            When the IRA was a no-show a decision was taken to artificially bolster its membership with agents tasked with upping the ante. Yes, a bit too sensitive to be included here. 

            The assessment at that time by ministers in the Northern Ireland Parliament was that the Republic of Ireland was susceptible to being destabilised by IRA activity and loyalist counter strikes to such an extent that the British army would be invited in to restore order, and a puppet government installed. The fly in the ointment, so to speak, was that applications by the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom to join the EEC (European Economic Community) were accepted and, together with Denmark, they formally joined on January 1, 1973. This event was unexpected as successive British governments had previously applied for membership and all these applications had been rejected. Once again their carefully laid plans were disrupted by unfolding events. In the relatively long run-up to that event it was deemed bad form to undermine a neighbouring state that was soon to be a fellow EEC member. Because of this, an official decision was taken to call a halt to subversive activities, and at the end of 1969 the leadership of the IRA moved to recognise the British government, Irish government and that of Northern Ireland.  

            This led to a split as the northern actors were by now confident that the Northern Ireland Parliament could be overthrown. And so the Provisional IRA/Sinn Féin was born. However, there was another reason. 

Phase Three: ‘the Troubles’ – A rethink was needed by 1973. 

             As steps were taken to unwind this strategic position a number of observations were made that led to the existing framework being adjusted to target a more important global threat. At this time complete control was exerted covertly over both loyalists and republicans. It was noted that republicans had, either directly or indirectly, found themselves with links to almost all the terrorist groups or freedom fighters associated with the USSR, i.e. the Eastern Bloc and Communism. The Cold War was in full flow at this time, and those governments affected by these groups were desperate for intelligence on their operatives and activities, which republicans now had in abundance. In fact, not only did they possess this knowledge, but they were reputedly also able to actively influence these groups and their activities. The same could be said of loyalist paramilitaries, which were approached by a substantial number of Western governments and agencies, and their allies. In short, Northern Ireland was arguably the most important intelligence operation of the Cold War. 

            Tight control was maintained over huge arsenals imported by both loyalists and republicans to prevent Northern Ireland deteriorating into feudal warfare similar to that in Somalia, Afghanistan and other theatres of war. Research will likely reveal that a relatively small number of weapons were used during the conflict compared to the hundreds of tons available. 

            It should come as no surprise then that both republicans and loyalists were to almost simultaneously declare ceasefires in 1994 after the conclusion of the Cold War just over two years beforehand, and when the USSR ceased to exist. As Western intelligence agencies swarmed into the USSR and the Eastern Bloc, the primacy of Northern Ireland effectively came to an end, and ‘the Troubles’ began to wind down. 

            However, there were at least two factors at play that Westminster overlooked. Firstly, their own military-industrial complex was heavily invested in ‘the Troubles’ and those involved were reluctant to see this cash cow end. Secondly, republicans still held republican ideals, and loyalists still aimed to thwart these. And so, there was still a residual impetus for some violence.  

The Good Friday or Belfast Agreement 1998. 

            I’ll keep this brief. The Good Friday or Belfast Agreement 1998 is an Act of Union by another name. Almost anybody who comments upon it has read the opening section dealing with Northern Ireland, and it is readily apparent that few – if any – have read the most important section describing the relationship between the sovereign governments of the United Kingdom (Westminster) and Republic of Ireland (Dublin) as Member States of the European Union, and the devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Gibraltar, etc. 

            Without getting into an involved discussion, which would only serve to muddy the waters here, it can be argued that – in the aftermath of Brexit – the only intelligent way to treat with the GFBA 1998 is for it to be transformed into an Act of Union between sovereign nations, i.e. for Westminster to cut Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (and the other states) adrift as sovereign nations. 

            Why so? 

            Well, the poster child for this model, which is similar to the Nordic Council, is the Republic of Ireland. Ireland receives no subvention whatsoever from Westminster, and yet HM Treasury benefits exponentially from British-Irish trade. In a recent article, historian Brian Feeney (The Irish News, August 3, p. 16), cites work by economist David McWilliams which observes that, while in 1911 Belfast was the biggest city on the island of Ireland and two-thirds of industrial production came from NI, nowadays the economy of the Republic is six times larger than that of NI, despite only having roughly three times its population. 

            It’s fair to say that the annual subvention from Westminster has led to a century of underperformance by all three main devolved institutions, and casting all three adrift as sovereign nations would or should lead to their eventual mirroring of the Republic’s success. 

            But why would Westminster do this? 

            Well folks, according to Northern Ireland receives ‘a record’ £15 billion subvention now, Wales ‘a record’ £18 billion, and Scotland ‘a record’ £41 billion, i.e. £74 billion in total. As our readership in Polyphony is mainly resident in England, that means you could have an extra £74 billion every year going forward if you tell your Westminster MPs to get a grip and cast Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland adrift as sovereign nations.  

            But what does that mean for England? 

            Well, no recession. No cost-of-living crisis. No energy crisis this winter. Funding for Ukraine – no problem. Funding for the British Army – no problem. 

            And do you know what the kicker is? The real medium-to-long term benefit for England? Well, just the Republic of Ireland has exponentially grown its economy and its trade with England, so we would expect Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to do the same, which means HM Treasury can expect to receive far more funding from these three nations as sovereign states than they do now from them as devolved nations dependent upon begging bowl politics. Liz Truss, the candidate for leadership of the Conservative Party and therefore possible upcoming prime minister, has said there is no need for a recession. And she’s right. All Westminster has to do is cut unilaterally Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland adrift.   


Dr. Bernard Mulholland   

78 Malone Road   

Belfast BT9 5BW   

Tel: 07793068286   Novel/Fiction:

Bernard Mulholland, Nazareth Quest (Independent Publisher, 2022).

Academic publications:
Bernard Mulholland, The Early Byzantine Christian Church (Oxford, 2014).—, ‘Identification of Early Byzantine Constantinopolitan, Syrian, and Roman church plans in the Levant and some possible consequences’, Patristic Studies in the twenty-first century: proceedings of an international conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the International Association of Patristic Studies, ed. Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony, Theodore de Bruyn and Carol Harrison (Turnhout, 2015), 597-633

—, ‘the man from MENSA’ – 1 of 600: Mensa research (Charleston, 2016).

— , ‘the man from MENSA’ – 1 of the 600: Politics 1990-1995 (Charleston, 2016).

— , Ratio analysis of financial KPI in the Higher Education sector: a case study (Belfast, 2018).

—, Early Byzantine Ireland: a survey of the archaeological evidence (Belfast, 2021).

—, Navan Fort, Ireland: archaeological and palaeoecological analysis (Belfast, 2021).

Mulholland, B. (2021). ‘Can archaeology inform the climate change debate?’ Academia Letters, Article4385. 


Author: Dr. Bernard Mulholland

Dr. Bernard Mulholland is a Byzantinist, archaeologist, historian and Patristics scholar with a Ph.D. in history (QUB, 2012). Bernard's publications include: Fiction: Bernard Mulholland, Nazareth Quest (2022). Non-fiction: Bernard Mulholland, The man from MENSA - 1 of 600: Mensa research (2016). ---, The man from MENSA - 1 of the 600: Politics 1990-1995 (2016). ---, Ratio analysis of financial KPI in the Higher Education sector: a case study (2018). ---, Early Byzantine Ireland: a survey of the archaeological evidence (2021). ---, Navan Fort, Ireland: archaeological and palaeoecological analysis (2021). ---, The Early Byzantine Christian Church (Oxford, 2014). ---, 'Identification of Early Byzantine Constantinopolitan, Syrian, and Roman church plans in the Levant and some possible consequences', Patristic Studies in the twenty-first century: proceedings of an international conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the International Association of Patristic Studies, ed. Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony, Theodore de Bruyn and Carol Harrison (Turnhout, 2015), 597-633. Mulholland, B. (2021). 'Can archaeology inform the climate change debate?' Academia Letters, Article4385.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: