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About this book

Clearly and accessibly written, Dixon provides a lively introduction to the nature and politics of the Northern Ireland conflict and of successive attempts to resolve it. The comprehensively revised 2nd edition has been updated to take account of new information and an entirely new chapter has been added on implementing the Good Friday Agreement.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Abstract
This chapter aims to give a short background and introduction to the conflict in Northern Ireland, by presenting a brief history, introducing nationalist and unionist perspectives on the conflict, and considering also the extent of violence and segregation. The popular historical accounts given by nationalists and unionists of the history of the conflict in Northern Ireland are very different. These accounts are not merely of historical interest but are deployed by politicians to win advantage in the propaganda war over the future of Northern Ireland. Past grievances are used to justify current claims to justice. Although these highly ‘propagandistic’ accounts of history are often undermined by historical research, these ‘myths’ continue to persist. Do these very different accounts of the history Northern Ireland, including the recent period of conflict covered by this book, contribute to the continuation of the conflict?
Paul Dixon

2. The Approach and Argument: Power, Ideology and ‘Reality’

Abstract
This chapter explains the approach and argument of the book to analysing the conflict in Northern Ireland. It stresses the dynamic nature of the conflict and the inter-relationship between power, ideology and ‘reality’, which reveal the constraints and opportunities affecting the various parties (individuals, groups and governments) to the conflict. The argument of this chapter will be enlarged upon as the book progresses.
Paul Dixon

3. Partition and Civil Rights

Abstract
The partition of Ireland in 1920 was an unhappy compromise between contending interests, and widely seen as a temporary measure until Ireland could be reunited. Republicans and nationalists tended to believe that Ireland would be reunited as a state independent of the UK. The British and unionists, on the other hand, looked forward to a united Ireland more closely tied to Britain, either through a closer relationship within the Empire/Commonwealth or even the re-entry of Ireland into the UK. The forces of history, geography, religion, demography, anti-colonialism and economics have all been invoked to argue that the reunification of Ireland is inevitable. Belief in the inevitability of Irish unity persists among many British and Irish politicians, but now it is more often assumed that a united Ireland would be independent rather than achieved within the Union.
Paul Dixon

4. The Crisis of British Policy over Northern Ireland, 1968–73

Abstract
British governments had tried to minimize their involvement in the Northern Ireland conflict. As they were drawn into deeper involvement they drew on the assumptions shaped by the experience of British and colonial politics. At first the British attempted to resolve the conflict by reforming Northern Ireland and bringing it up to ‘British standards’ of democracy in an attempt to undermine the material basis for communal division and replace nationalist/unionist divisions with ‘normal’ left/right politics based on economic interests. When violence did not subside, the conflict came to be seen increasingly in ‘colonial’ terms, and the use of repression was justified to subdue ‘sinister forces’. The increasingly repressive nature of the unionist government’s security policy in Northern Ireland by alienating nationalists made the task of finding a political accommodation between nationalism and unionism more difficult. The key questions facing the British government were: how could it avoid direct rule without supporting a unionist government that was polarizing opinion in Northern Ireland? Could the tension between the army’s counter-insurgency strategy, which demanded political determination to defeat the IRA, be reconciled with the government’s political strategy, which involved negotiations with nationalists and republicans in order to draw them into a ‘peace process’? Would the British be able to conciliate nationalists without provoking a backlash from loyalists fearing that the Union was being sold out? This period saw the height of ‘the Troubles’ and exposes the limits on the British government’s power to impose its will on the conflict.
Paul Dixon

5. The First Peace Process, 1972–4: The Power-Sharing Experiment and Its Failure

Abstract
After the introduction of direct rule in 1972, the British government tried again to construct an accommodation on the moderate, centre ground of Northern Irish politics where, it was assumed, there existed a ‘moderate silent majority’ for peace. The ‘power-sharing experiment’ attempted to deal with both unionist and nationalist claims and to find a compromise to which the Northern Irish political elites could bring their parties and voters. If a deal was struck that was ‘too favourable’ to either nationalism or unionism, then it was less likely that the party leaders who had the rough end of the deal would be able to persuade their supporters and voters to endorse that agreement. Furthermore, the ability of political leaders to lead their parties and voters was likely to vary from party to party, and be influenced by the wider political environment. Power-sharing with some kind of Irish dimension was always likely to be the only settlement that could attract significant cross-community support. After the violence of the previous four years, was it possible for nationalist and unionist political elites to reach a settlement that could bridge the gap between their parties and voters? What kind of power-sharing, and what kind of Irish dimension could maximize support for accommodation? How could the governments, if not the parties themselves, create the conditions in which support for a centrist settlement would be maximized? Alternatively, what constitutional arrangement might minimize nationalist and unionist alienation, and contain the conflict?
Paul Dixon

6. The Limits of British Policy, 1974–81: From Withdrawal to Integration

Abstract
The UWC strike and the two Westminster elections of 1974 destroyed the assumption on which British bipartisan policy had rested since at least the introduction of direct rule in 1972. This was that there existed a ‘moderate majority’ for compromise, and that unionist and nationalist ‘extremists’ had little popular support within their communities, but relied on intimidation to impose their will. The sweeping success of the loyalist coalition in the February 1974 General Election and the popular support for the UWC strike exploded the myth that, on the loyalist side at least, the ‘moderate silent majority’ were coerced by a small group of ‘extremists’ who had no popular support. It was not until the Hunger Strikes of 1981 that the extent of the Provisionals’ popular support became obvious. Having defied Britain’s attempts to ‘impose’ a settlement, there was now a widespread expectation in Northern Ireland that the Labour government would live up to its threats and withdraw. This period established the parameters of British policy towards Northern Ireland. Why did Britain not withdraw after the collapse of power-sharing? What explains Britain’s ‘pro-unionist’ policy between 1974 and 1979? Why did Mrs Thatcher abandon the unionism of the Conservatives’ 1979 manifesto and sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985? To what extent has British policy towards Northern Ireland been constrained and therefore characterized by continuity?
Paul Dixon

7. The Anglo-Irish Agreement: Origins and Impact

Abstract
The Anglo-Irish Agreement (AIA) was signed by the British and Irish governments on 15 November 1985. The ‘Conservative and Unionist’ prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, stout defender of British sovereignty against the European Union, had signed an Agreement that gave a foreign government a consultative role in British policy towards Northern Ireland. What had brought about the shift in Conservative policy from the integrationism of its 1979 election manifesto to the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Did the AIA represent a ‘remarkable volte face’ in Anglo-Irish relations, or was there more evolution and continuity in British policy? Did the British sign the AIA primarily in order to improve the security situation in Northern Ireland, by addressing nationalist alienation and winning the Republic’s cooperation in the fight against terrorism? Was the AIA designed to coerce unionists and nationalists into power-sharing? Or was it just a step towards accommodation?
Paul Dixon

8. Endgame? The Origins of the Second Peace Process, 1988–94

Abstract
There are strongly divergent ideological explanations of the ‘peace process’ from the contending parties and governments in Britain and Ireland (for a detailed account of the peace process, see Dixon 2008a). These competing explanations are deployed to win political support and sympathy in the propaganda war and put pressure on other parties to the conflict to make concessions or compromises in negotiations. Nevertheless, based on the evidence available, we can cast doubt on key partisan accounts of the peace process and its evolution. In particular, two influential perspectives, one unionist and one nationalist, are singled out for criticism. A more convincing explanation of the peace process, it is argued, lies in understanding the problems of attempting to achieve a ‘balanced’ settlement that brings both republicans and unionists to a historic accommodation along the lines of the Sunningdale settlement. During the recent conflict, both the ‘real war’ and the propaganda war resulted in the development of a considerable gap between public rhetoric and underlying, sometimes privately acknowledged, political ‘realities’. The key problem of the peace process was to bridge the ideological gap between unionists and republicans, and bring sufficient cross-community elites, parties and voters to an agreement that would be sustainable. Leading participants in the peace process have attempted to choreograph its public presentation and wind down the propaganda war in order to maximize support for the process from diverse constituencies of public and party opinion. Privately, there has been at least some recognition, even among ‘enemies’, of the problems and constraints facing the various parties to the conflict in building peace (Dixon 2002a).
Paul Dixon

9. Bridging the Gap? The Peace Process, 1994–8

Abstract
On 31 August 1994, the IRA declared a ‘complete cessation of military operations’. Prior to this ceasefire there appeared to have been little convergence in the public positions of any of the parties to the conflict, and no obvious convergence in public opinion (see Table 1.2 on p. 23 for some Northern Irish opinion poll data over time). Both unionists and republicans could believe they had won. In this climate, it was difficult to see what kind of agreement might ‘bridge the gap’ and win the acquiescence, if not the consent, of both republicans and unionists. The Irish government concentrated on soothing republican fears and demonstrating to the republican movement the effectiveness of the political path by championing the nationalist cause. The British government had to perform a ‘dual role’: to deliver concessions to nationalists to underpin the IRA’s ceasefire and reassure them they would be dealt with fairly in any negotiations, and at the same time reassure unionists by championing the Union and bring them to the negotiating table with republicans. As a ‘senior British source’ argued: ‘It is the job of the British Government to push the Unionists to a line beyond which they will not go; it is the job of the Irish Government to pull the Republicans to a line beyond which they will not come. What was left in the middle, the limits of potential agreement, would be left for discussion between the parties’ (Observer, 5 February 1995).
Paul Dixon

10. The End of the Peace Process? The Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, 1998–2007

Abstract
The signing of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998 was a remarkable achievement. The shape of the deal had been anticipated by: the Brooke–Mayhew talks of 1991–2; the Downing Street Declaration in December 1993; the Framework Documents of 1995; and the ‘Heads of Agreement’ document in 1998. What was impressive was the willingness of Sinn Féin and the Ulster Unionist Party to support an agreement that represented such a shift from their previous negotiating positions. The British and Irish governments intended that the GFA would be built on the moderate centre-ground of Northern Irish politics, with the SDLP and UUP marginalizing their hardline Sinn Féin and DUP rivals. There was, as in 1994, no obvious convergence in nationalist and unionist public opinion propelling this accommodation from below. This lack of convergence meant that the GFA was designed so that ‘each protagonist could interpret it as a victory for his tradition’ (Rawnsley 2000, p. 138). Sinn Féin leaders presented the GFA as part of a process towards Irish unity, while pro-Agreement unionist leaders claimed it was a settlement that involved the strengthening of the Union. The rough parameters of the GFA had been outlined, but the implementation of the Agreement was part of ongoing negotiations and some issues, including criminal law, policing, local government, a bill of rights and decommissioning were left open to interpretation and negotiation in order to provide political elites with the ‘creative ambiguity’ and ‘wriggle room’ to allow the Agreement and peace process to survive and evolve.
Paul Dixon

11. Conclusion: Democracy, Violence and Politics

Abstract
This conclusion reviews and draws together the themes and arguments of the book to show how the concepts of power, ideology and ‘reality’ can provide a convincing explanation of the recent conflict, and in particular of the peace process. An attempt is then made to assess the, albeit shifting, interests of the key parties and governments to the conflict, and their power — through both the ‘real’ and propaganda wars — to realize these interests. Why has the British government been unable to impose a settlement on the conflict? What are the limits to its powers and that of other parties? How might a more democratic peace be constructed in Northern Ireland?
Paul Dixon
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