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?
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