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Questions (And Answers) On Accord

Some questions and answers about the Belfast peace accord, which is designed to bring peace between Protestants and Catholics in violence-ridden Northern Ireland.

Q: What happens if the agreement is approved?

A: Northern Ireland, directly ruled by the British government since 1972, would be principally governed by a 108-member elected Assembly, presided over by a Cabinet-style administration made up of 12 members from several parties.

Q: Would Northern Ireland remain part of the United Kingdom?

A: Yes, and Britain's Northern Ireland Office would retain authority in key areas, such as security policy. The agreement specifies that Northern Ireland's union with Britain would remain unless a majority of people in Northern Ireland vote in the future to unite with the Republic of Ireland.

Q: Why did the Republic of Ireland hold a referendum Friday?

A: To decide on amending two clauses of the Constitution to delete the claim on the territory of Northern Ireland. The proposed amendment affirms that Ireland has no wish for union without the consent of a majority within Northern Ireland. The referendums in both parts of Ireland also are intended to undermine any claim by the Irish Republican Army or other anti-British groups that the agreement runs contrary to the democratically expressed wish of all people on the island.

Q: How would the Assembly cooperate with the Republic of Ireland?

A: The agreement provides for a North-South Ministerial Council, which would have authority for designated policy areas. Those might include agriculture, education, transport, environment, waterways, tourism, inland fisheries, development, health, or European Union programs.

Q: Would the IRA and other groups have to dispose of their arms before their allies could serve as ministers?

A: The agreement doesn't say so. However, British Prime Minister Tony Blair promised Protestant leaders that Britain would require disarmament to start before any group's allies could take ministerial posts. It would loom as a major issue for the new Assembly.

Q: What else would be agreement do?

A: Prisoners convicted of terrorist crimes would be freed within two years, if their groups continued to observe cease-fires.

Northern Ireland would get a bill of rights protecting all citizens, and a new Human Rights Commission. Britain would appoint a commission to review the role and structure of the predominantly Protestant police, and do more to promote the Irish language in areas where people want it.

The Republic of Ireland also would create a Human Rights Commission and enact new safeguards for equal opportunity in employment.