Several groups violated the ceasefire in 1998. In January 1998, peace talks nearly failed when the Loyalists of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) admitted their involvement in the murder of three Catholics and thus their violation of the ceasefire. In this admission, the UFF interrupted its campaign against the killing of Catholics.1 Talks continued and the parties reached a final agreement and signed a comprehensive peace agreement on 10 April 1998. The European Union is determined to review and agree on other agreements with the UK to replace the backstop in the future. We want a future global relationship agreement by the end of 2020, so that the backstop is never used. We want to continue this work as soon as the withdrawal agreement is ratified. However, no credible alternative proposed in the negotiations or elsewhere has been proposed to achieve the common goal of the United Kingdom and the European Union of avoiding a hard border. The backstop is a necessary guarantee, based on legal certainty and not on wishful thinking. Not only do we ensure that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland, but we believe that these rules are a good result for Northern Ireland, if they are ever necessary. This view is shared by a number of political parties and economic, agricultural and trade union leaders from both communities in Northern Ireland. Their community commitment to declaring the importance of backstop as a necessary insurance for jobs and the economy is important and welcome.
The government will continue to do everything in its power to ensure the effective functioning of all its institutions, in accordance with our responsibility as guarantor of the agreement. To that end, Foreign Affairs Minister Karen Bradley and I met last Friday in Stormont with the leaders of the five major political parties, following our respective consultations with the respective leaders in recent weeks and months. During this meeting, the parties were asked at this stage to indicate the most constructive way to initiate a new negotiation process in the coming period. All party leaders reaffirmed their willingness to participate again in the institutions and issued opinions on the basis necessary for an effective negotiation process. It was not an easy meeting last Friday; It`s not a secret to anyone. It is understandable that people are skeptical. In particular, it is up to governments to respond to this skepticism and challenge it to move this process forward. It was agreed that the two governments would continue to cooperate with the parties to find a way forward urgently with a new political process that could reach agreement for a functioning North-South Executive, Assembly and Council of Ministers. As a result of these subsequent consultations, I do not underestimate the way forward to reach this resolution.
However, I remain of the view that an agreement can be reached and that there is an increasing urgency to start discussions with a credible basis. I will continue to work with the Secretary of State and each of the party leaders, in some cases in the North and South, to launch the necessary political process as quickly as possible. The Good Friday Agreement provided for the creation of the International Independent Commission for Decommissioning (IICD) to monitor, review and verify the complete disarmament of all paramilitary organizations. The deadline for the end of disarmament was May 2000. The Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act (1997), which received royal approval on 27 February 1997, had a provision in section 7 for the creation of an independent decommissioning commission.