The 1998 Good Friday accord laid out specific steps for peaceful power-sharing in Northern Ireland. These include:
* Recognition that the majority of Northern Ireland's people must consent to any change in the political status of the British province.
* Ireland for the first time agreed to give up legal claim to Northern Ireland.
* An elected regional assembly. The Protestant and Catholic communities are to share power in the governing Cabinet, or executive, but it has yet to meet. Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble is designated first minister. Thursday was the deadline to resolve differences over the attribution of seats to Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
* Handover of all paramilitary weapons, or decommissioning, by May 2000. Ulster Unionists want evidence that the IRA has begun decommissioning before Sinn Fein joins the executive.
* Cross-border cooperation between Northern Ireland's assembly and Ireland on common issues including education, the environment, and tourism.
* The accelerated release of paramilitary prisoners by both governments, conditional on an equivocal and continued cease-fire. The Good Friday accord set a two-year deadline for early prisoner releases, and some 250 prisoners (mainly IRA) have been freed so far.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society