State Papers

Prisoners key issue during final Good Friday Agreement negotiations

Following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, David Trimble and Seamus Mallon are elected First and second Minister respectively with the speaker Lord Alderdice looking on.

DURING the final days of the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, Sinn Féin asked that early release prisoners be allowed to stand for election.

Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness asked Secretary of State Mo Mowlam on April 6, 1998 – four days before the agreement was publicly signed – whether prisoners on licence could be election candidates.

They reiterated their view that prisoners should be released as quickly as possible after the agreement.

And they said the ineligibility of such prisoners to stand in the assembly elections "ruled out good potential Sinn Féin candidates".

On the Irish language, Sinn Féin pointed out that it would only be used if demanded.

On constitutional change, Sinn Féin said that the Irish government was likely to face difficulties in removing Articles 2 and 3 of the constitution.

They said constitutional changes to British legislation, including the Act of Union (1801) and the 1920 Act, would help pave the way.

NIO minister Paul Murphy later met the SDLP's John Hume and Seamus Mallon.

They said the election of the first and deputy first ministers by the assembly should be done on a cross-community basis.

A further note by Ted Hallett of the NIO, dated April 7, 1998 reported a meeting between Senator George Mitchell and British and Irish ministers.

Senator Mitchell's assessment was that, despite protests by Mr Trimble, the UUP would accept Strand Two of the Agreement on North-South matters.

Mr Trimble later told Dr Mowlam that the Irish draft changes to the Republic's Constitution were "wholly inadequate" and their North-South text was full of "garbage".

The Secretary of State later met a PUP delegation to discuss prisoners.

The PUP emphasised "the quickest possible release of the largest number of prisoners".

The file notes that on April 8, 1998 the Taoiseach, Bernie Ahern met the SDLP and Sinn Féin at Stormont House before leaving for his mother's funeral. He would return to Castle Buildings later in the evening.

At a final meeting with Dr Mowlam and Minister Murphy that day, Senator Mitchell felt that "provided the Strand 2 [North-South] issues were resolved, the other issues should fall into place".

The Agreement was finally announced on the afternoon of Good Friday, April 10, 1998.

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State Papers