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).
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