Members of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the republican Irish Republican Army (IRA), vote to accept the Good Friday Agreement on May 10, 1998 effectively acknowledging the north-south border. This marks a major shift in modern republicanism as, up until now, Sinn Féin has regarded participation in a Northern Ireland body as a tacit acceptance of partition.
The agreement comes at the party’s annual conference, which includes about thirty IRA prisoners granted special leave in order to vote.
The British and Irish governments welcome the decision to formally approve the peace agreement signed at Stormont in April to create the Northern Ireland Assembly and new cross-border institutions. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says he now looks forward to an overwhelming “yes” vote in referendums on the deal later in the month. The British government praises Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams saying the decision marks a final realisation that violence does not pay.
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam expresses her delight at the outcome, “I recognise how significant this decision is for republicans and pay tribute to the leadership of Gerry Adams in bringing his party to support the agreement, north and south of the border.” In what she describes as an “exceptional decision,” the IRA’s commanding officer, Patrick Wilson, who is confined in HM Prison Maze, is among the 30 republican inmates freed for the conference in an effort to bring about a “Yes” vote.
Sinn Féin also votes to amend its constitution to allow members to sit in a new Northern Ireland Assembly after Adams tells his members they have a real chance to influence the strategy of the party and the way towards a united Ireland.
Martin McGuinness, one of Sinn Féin’s UK Members of Parliament (MP), tells the BBC he is optimistic about achieving a “Yes” vote in the referendum due to be held on May 22. “I think there are concerns naturally among a small section of the Sinn Féin membership, but I have to say I think the mood all over the island is that moving into the assembly to further our republican objectives towards our ultimate goal of a united Ireland is at this moment in time the sensible thing to do,” he says.
(Pictured: Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams)