The Irish Parliament gave near-unanimous approval Wednesday to the peace agreement for Northern Ireland reached in Belfast 12 days ago by leaders of the Protestant majority and the Roman Catholic minority of the British province.

The approval in Dublin after 11 hours of debate over two days, with only a single voice raised against the agreement in the 166-member Parliament, cleared the way for a referendum in the Irish Republic on May 22. But the overwhelming support Wednesday was a clear indication that the referendum would be approved easily in this country."The agreement is history in the true sense of the word," Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said during the debate.

The agreement will also be put to voters in Northern Ireland on the same day. If approved, it will drastically revise the political structure of Northern Ireland, where sectarian warfare has killed more than 3,200 people since 1969.

Ahern said the agreement was "a major breakthrough in terms of consolidating peace and ending 30 years of conflict" between Protestants, Catholics and British police and military forces.

He added that approval of the agreement in the North and the South of Ireland would represent the first time since 1918 that "a concurrent act of self-determination by the people of Ireland as a whole" had been made.

Ahern said the agreement would also end any British right to impose sovereignty.