The St Andrews Agreement (2006) and St Andrews Agreement Act (2007)
Implementation of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement was not straightforward. Although the first election to the Assembly was held in June 1998, powers were not devolved from Westminster until 2 December 1999. Then, after only 11 weeks in operation, the Assembly was suspended. This was because the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) was reluctant to be in government with Sinn Fein until it was sure that the republican movement was committed to using only peaceful and democratic means to pursue its aim of a united Ireland.
The Assembly was restored in May 2000 but, on 14 October 2002, it was suspended again and Northern Ireland returned to Direct Rule from Westminster. This suspension lasted until 8 May 2007. It was restored following the St Andrews Agreement, which was the result of negotiations held at St Andrews, Scotland in October 2006.
The UUP and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) had been the main negotiators of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. This time, at St Andrews, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein (SF) had to agree to a deal, because they had emerged as the largest parties in the second election to the (suspended) Assembly in November 2003.
Negotiations concerned political issues, such as Sinn Fein’s support for policing and the way in which the institutions set up under the 1998 Agreement worked. The DUP wanted Sinn Fein to endorse the PSNI and to secure some changes to the way the Assembly operated, before agreeing to enter government with Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein wanted to ensure that all parties would participate fully in the power-sharing Executive Committee and observe the joint nature of the Office of First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMdFM). In the 1999-2002 Assembly, the DUP had not participated fully in all the institutions set up under the 1998 Agreement.
Practical changes to the institutions
The main changes arising from the Agreement are: