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About this book

This major work of synthesis presents an up-to-date assessment of the issues at the very root of the troubles in Northern Ireland. Framed against the background of Ulster history since the early seventeenth century, the major factors in the development of the Ulster question since 1945 are examined. These include:

- the evolution of Ulster Unionism and the Nationalist and Republican traditions
- the role of Britain
- the increasingly important part played by external actors, especially the USA

Since the outbreak of the present troubles in August 1969, a thriving academic literature on Ulster and its history has emerged. Based on the most authoritative texts, this thoroughly revised and updated edition includes new materials on the period as a whole, and an assessment of the developments since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Table of Contents


Despite the vast output of academic work on Ulster since 1969 there is much disagreement about the nature of, and solution to, the problem. Recent assessments of the literature (Whyte, 1991; O’Leary and McGarry, 1995) have identified a range of approaches that attempt to explain it: external explanations emanating from the unionist and nationalist traditions that focus on the responsibility of Dublin and London respectively; varieties of Marxist approaches along similar lines; and more academically sourced internal-conflict theories focusing primarily on relations between the unionist and nationalist communities within Northern Ireland. All of these forms of explanation account, to varying degrees, for the problem, but without being entirely satisfactory; and, considered collectively, have cast doubt ‘whether any single solution can be applied to Northern Ireland as a whole’ (Whyte, 1991: x).
James Loughlin

1. Ulster: A Reconstituted Question

Probably the most significant consequence of Northern Ireland’s wartime contribution was the fact that it now had the support of both major political parties, the new Labour government — traditionally sympathetic to Irish nationalism — no less than the outgoing Tory-dominated administration. Accordingly, as the London–Stormont relationship strengthened, reinforced as the cold war took off by the belief that Northern Ireland was essential to western national defence, the position of Irish nationalists on the Ulster question weakened. The security now enjoyed by unionists was to rule out any serious consideration of the constitutional question until after the outbreak of civil conflict in 1969.
James Loughlin

2. British Intervention

With British engagement in August 1969 a new and critical phase of the Ulster question opened up. The policies Westminster pursued from then until the prorogation of Stormont in April 1972 would have fateful consequences.
James Loughlin

3. New Initiatives and Old Problems

Direct rule was premised on an optimistic scenario. Stormont would be prorogued for one year, during which time Westminster would assume control of the government of Northern Ireland while discussions between all parties to the Ulster problem were pursued to resolve it. From April 1972 onwards attempts were made to establish common ground between them.
James Loughlin

4. Agreement and Process

Signed by Margaret Thatcher and Garret FitzGerald at Hillsborough Castle, county Down, on 15 November 1985, the AIA was an international treaty between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. It was a multi-dimensional response to the Ulster problem premised on the understanding that the involvement of both states was an essential basis for any solution. At its heart was the Inter-Governmental Conference, established to enable London and Dublin to harmonise their approaches to the North, and in this context the agreement committed both governments to promote the establishment of devolved government in the North based on agreement between the constitutional parties. Until such a government emerged, however, the Irish government would represent the interests of the Catholic community at the Inter-Governmental Conference, Dublin’s role in the government of the North being symbolised by a permanent Secretariat of Irish civil servants at Maryfield, outside Belfast.
James Loughlin

5. Agreement and Resolution?

The new year opened with depressingly familiar develop­ments. The killing of the LVF leader, Billy Wright, in the Maze prison on 27 December 1997 provoked an inevitable round of retaliatory killings by the organisation in early January. But at the same time, the ability of sectarian violence to de-stabilise the search for peace — a recurrent development since 1968 — was substantially weakened. The determination of the Blair government to drive the peace process forward was reinforced by the determination of the new Tory leader, William Hague, to maintain the bi-partisan approach to Northern Ireland, while the re-admission of PSF to the talks process in September 1997 and its signing up to the Mitchell principles; the appointment of the Canadian general, John de Chastelain, to oversee the weapons issue; the endorse­ment of David Trimble’s leadership by the UUC, which gave him the freedom to make decisions in the talks process; and, not least, the fact that the major loyalist paramilitary organi­sations continued to maintain their ceasefires (McKittrick and McVea, 2000; Cunningham, 2001) — all were powerful factors conducive to political progress. But no less important was the departure from the talks process of the DUP and the UKUP. Their departure left the process in the hands of par­ties willing to reach a compromise settlement.
James Loughlin


At the heart of the Ulster problem is a conflict of national identity. It consists not only of different national identities but different kinds of national identity, rooted in historical evolution.
James Loughlin
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