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Politics and society in Northern Ireland over half a century

After three decades of violence, Northern Ireland has experienced unprecedented peace. It is now generally accepted that the peace accord which ended the Northern Ireland conflict, the 1998 Belfast Agreement, is an exemplar of this trend. This book examines the impact of the 1998 Agreement which halted the violence on the Northern Irish people. It covers changes in public opinion across all areas of society and politics, including elections, education, community relations and national identity. The surveys presented show that despite peace, Protestants and Catholics remain as deeply divided as ever. The book examines the development of the theory of consociationalism and how it has been woven into the intellectual debate about the nature of the Northern Ireland conflict. The role of religion in conflict transformation has emerged as an important issue in Northern Ireland. Ethnonationalism in Northern Ireland is fuelled by its multifaceted and complex nature. The constitutional position of Northern Ireland has been the topic of recurring debate since partition in 1920. The role of education in promoting social cohesion in post-conflict societies is often controversial. The book explores both the nature and extent of victimhood and the main perpetrators of the political violence. The key elements of a consociational approach include a grand coalition representing the main segments of society; proportionality in representation; community (segmental) autonomy; and mutual vetoes on key decisions. The main lesson of peace-making in Northern Ireland is that political reform has to be accompanied by social change across the society as a whole.

This chapter examines the theories that have been advanced to explain the conflict and how they have been translated into the design of political institutions. It examines the development of the theory of consociationalism and how it has been woven into the intellectual debate about the nature of the Northern Ireland conflict. The chapter discusses the various attempts to construct institutions to resolve the conflict leading up to the 1998 Belfast Agreement. It focuses on the 1998 Agreement and its aftermath with the problems of implementing the main terms of the Agreement. The chapter considers the evolution of political thinking about possible solutions to Northern Ireland in the three decades leading up to the 1998 Belfast Agreement. It provides a core empirical base for anyone interested in the dynamics of public opinion in Northern Ireland. The chapter presents the introduction to the subsequent chapters of this book.

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Religion is a cause of many of the world's violent conflicts. This chapter focuses on religious identity in Northern Ireland and examines the nature and extent of religious conviction as well as its role in perpetuating communal division. It outlines the role of religion in relation to the Northern Ireland conflict. The chapter also focuses on the nature and extent of religious differences. Building on this analysis, the chapter assesses the role of religion in perpetuating or ameliorating communal division. Using census data from 1951 onwards, the results demonstrate the high rate of religious belonging, as measured by religious affiliation. In 1951, 95 per cent of individuals claimed to belong either to the Catholic faith or to one of the three main Protestant denominations. The chapter examines the issue using the 2007 Life and Times Survey, which contained specific items designed to measure religious identity.

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This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book analyses of Northern Ireland politics remain convinced as to the suitability of consociationalism in resolving deep-seated ethnic divisions. It deals with the conflict of 1969; there had been at least six failed attempts before the Belfast Agreement was finally reached in 1998. The book argues that Catholic support for maintaining the link with Britain has increased considerably during the post-Agreement period. Political stability is also compromised by the sharp polarization in political identity. It shows that the human costs of political violence in terms of deaths and paramilitary attacks have all but ceased since 1998. The book investigates a number of important implications for post-conflict peace-building agendas based on consociational models of governance.

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This chapter explores the competing interpretations by examining the nature of the educational system in Northern Ireland and evaluating its consequences for community contact. Using authors' extensive collection of public opinion surveys, it addresses the key question of whether or not integrated education has a significant long-term effect on the outlooks and behaviour of the adult population. The chapter outlines the evolution of the educational system in Northern Ireland. It focuses on the nature and growth of integrated education, and examines public support for integrated education and its party political dimensions. The chapter deals with patterns of schooling among the adult population, and discusses the consequences of type of education system, integrated or segregated, on cross-community contact within the adult population. It evaluates the role of integrated education on community relations.

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In order to examine the social dimension of peace building as experienced by the mass public, this chapter focuses on the views of ordinary citizens towards community relations. Using a wide range of survey data, the chapter explores the nature and extent of communal divisions. The chapter addresses the question of whether or not public perceptions of relations between the two main religious (Catholics and Protestants) communities have changed since the introduction of the Belfast Agreement in 1998. It outlines the government policy in relation to community relations in Northern Ireland, with particular emphasis on the obligations of public bodies as specified in the 1998 Agreement. The chapter also focuses on the nature and extent of communal division as well as public attitudes towards greater integration. It discusses the perceptions of community relations and also examines the implications for post-conflict reconciliation.

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The effort to bring about reconciliation in post-conflict societies is the question of how to deal with the victims of violence. The resolution of this issue is often considered the litmus test of a successful peace endeavour for societies emerging from conflict. This chapter focuses on the nature and extent of victimhood in Northern Ireland and public attitudes towards how to deal with the injustices inflicted on them in the past. It outlines the nature of the 1998 Belfast Agreement with reference to the rights of victims. Using a range of official government statistics and the extensive collection of public opinion surveys, the chapter examines both the nature and extent of victimhood and the main perpetrators of the violence. Building on this examination, the chapter investigates public attitudes towards dealing with the violent legacy of the past, particularly in terms of the rights of victims.

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Northern Ireland continues to be an exemplar of a state with divided identities. This chapter examines the identities that the two communities hold, focusing on ethnic or national identity and political identity. These are referred to as 'traditional' ethnonationalist identities. The chapter also examines how far these identities continue to reinforce one another and emphasizes the disinclination of Protestants and Catholics to move away from their traditional allegiances. It includes the changing patterns of national identities apparent in both Protestants and Catholics over more than 40 years. The chapter explores the trends in political identity over the same period. It evaluates some of the explanations to account for the changes that have occurred in traditional identities. The chapter provides an in-depth analysis of the importance of the rise in the Northern Irish identity. It assesses the prospects for change in pattern of ethnonationalist identity.

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This chapter examines the Northern Ireland party system and the role that it has played in structuring the conflict. It explores the relationship between party support and religion since 1968, and the political engineering that the British government has experimented with in order to try and weaken the political salience of religion. The chapter includes the social and demographic changes that have taken place since the start of the Troubles and demonstrates their implications for party fortunes. It discusses the electoral institutions with a particular focus on the burden that they place on the parties. The chapter deals with the patterns of party competition, showing how intra-community party competition is now more important than inter-community party competition. It analyses the social bases of the parties. The chapter evaluates if any of these changes will lead to the development of a pluralist democracy.

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For most of the twentieth century, the issue of jurisdictional incongruence was at the heart of the Northern Ireland conflict. This chapter examines the trends in public opinion towards constitutional preferences, which reflect territorial aspirations. It also examines the broad trends in constitutional preferences from 1968 to the present, but with a specific focus on the period since 1989. The chapter discusses the 1998 Belfast Agreement, without doubt the most successful attempt at a constitutional settlement. It deals with patterns of post-1998 public opinion and specifically the erosion of consent among the Protestant community. The chapter explores the opinions towards devolved government since 1998 and tests the hypothesis that the two communities have become more enamoured of devolution. It assesses the potential for change and the extent to which the both Catholics and Protestants communities would accept a democratically expressed preference for Irish unity.

in Conflict to peace