This chapter discusses the major background considerations which will influence developments in Northern Ireland over the next few years. Over the nineteenth century the North East of Ireland underwent spectacular economic development, linked to the industry of Southern Scotland and Northern England. Parties and political organisations in Northern Ireland have occasional nuances of the standard left-right divisions characteristic of capitalist societies, but make much better sense when classified in relation to the national division in the province. For many ordinary people in Northern Ireland the Anglo-Irish Agreement represents the hope of a brighter future rather than the only lifeline to a tolerable present. The chapter concludes by discussing the four main issues likely to dominate the next few years: the limited value of the Good Friday Agreement to Northern Ireland's Protestants, decommissioning, demographics and the role of cross-border institutions.