The key issue for prisoners in the final negotiations of the Good Friday Agreement

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

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

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

And they said that the ineligibility of these prisoners to run for parliamentary elections “excluded good potential Sinn Féin candidates.”

Regarding the Irish language, Sinn Féin stressed that it would only be used if requested.

On constitutional change, Sinn Féin said the Irish government would likely have difficulty removing Articles 2 and 3 of the constitution.

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

NIO Minister Paul Murphy then met with John Hume and Seamus Mallon of the SDLP.

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

Another note from Ted Hallett of the NIO, dated April 7, 1998, referred to a meeting between Senator George Mitchell and the British and Irish ministers.

Senator Mitchell’s assessment was that, despite Mr. Trimble’s protests, the UUP would accept part two of the deal on North-South issues.

Mr Trimble later told Dr Mowlam that the Irish plan to amend the Constitution of the Republic was “totally inadequate” and that their north-south text was full of “trash”.

The Secretary of State then met with a PUP delegation to discuss the prisoners.

The PUP emphasized “the fastest possible release of the greatest 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 the castle buildings later in the evening.

In a final meeting with Dr Mowlam and Minister Murphy that day, Senator Mitchell considered that “provided that Stream 2 [North-South] problems have been solved, the other problems should fall into place ”.

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