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A segregated city
Peter Shirlow

Policy makers aim to construct Belfast via non-controversial representations. Illusionary and buoyant renditions of Belfast are linked with somewhat surreal distortions. The essential problem that afflicts Belfast is that geography matters in a way that is explicit and unconcealed. Growing up within a more intensively segregated city, within which boundaries have become more rigidified by violence, has a momentous impact upon the understanding of place. The fate of the city lies somewhere between the uneven developments that arise out of globalisation and the balkanisation that defines ethno-sectarian life. The rise of ethno-sectarian violence in the late 1960s led to greater segregation and new interfaces across the city. The analysis of fear and prejudice underpins the need to translate policy and political rhetoric around segregation into practice and to connect practice with the reality of sectarianised habituation. Memory and reproduction of low-level violence are intertwined in the promotion of ethno-sectarian attitudes.

in Northern Ireland after the troubles
Former political prisoners and reconciliation in Northern Ireland

Drawing on more than 150 interviews with former IRA, INLA, UVF and UFF prisoners, this book is a major analysis of why Northern Ireland has seen a transition from war to peace. Most accounts of the peace process are ‘top-down’, relying upon the views of political elites. This book is ‘bottom-up’, analysing the voices of those who actually ‘fought the war’. What made them fight, why did they stop and what are the lessons for other conflict zones? Using unrivalled access to members of the armed groups, the book offers a critical appraisal of one-dimensional accounts of the onset of peace, grounded in ‘mutually hurting stalemate’ and ‘ripeness’, which downgrade the political and economic aspects of conflict. Military stalemate had been evident since the early 1970s and offers little in explaining the timing of the peace process. Moreover, republicans and loyalists based their ceasefires upon very different perceptions of transformation or victory. Based on a Leverhulme Trust project, the book offers an analysis based on subtle interplays of military, political, economic and personal changes and experiences. Combined, these allowed combatants to move from violence to peace whilst retaining core ideological beliefs and maintaining long-term constitutional visions. Former prisoners now act as ambassadors for peace in Northern Ireland. Knowledge of why and how combatants switched to peaceful methodologies amid widespread skepticism over prospects for peace is essential to our understanding of the management of global peace processes.

Peter Shirlow, Jonathan Tonge, James McAuley and Catherine McGlynn

This chapter highlights the importance of prisoner releases in peace processes beyond Northern Ireland. Where the terms of such releases are ambiguous, or freedom is used overtly as a bargaining chip, the beneficial effects are often only brief. The chapter offers a set of ‘ideal-type’ conditions for prisoner releases, to maximise the chances of such measures making a positive contribution to sustainable peace. It also highlights how the literature on demilitarisation, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) has tended to overlook the centrality of prisoner releases to a successful peace process. Moreover, the focus has often been upon the mechanics of demobilisation of ‘armies’ at the expense of a serious consideration of whether those former combatants have adapted their political views. Disarmament as part of the overall DDR process represents a dilemma for governments. Former prisoners and other combatants often form part of the newly reconstituted armed forces, as has happened in Namibia, Tajikistan and Cambodia, among other countries.

in Abandoning historical conflict?
Peter Shirlow, Jonathan Tonge, James McAuley and Catherine McGlynn

This chapter reviews the literature on the struggle for legitimacy conducted by republican and loyalist former prisoners in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s. Although similar tactics were used by both sides in refusing to comply with prison authorities, the larger and more enduring campaigns conducted by republican prisoners were to reshape the conflict. The determination to be recognised as prisoners-of-war was replicated by republicans by their desire to prove that they enjoyed a sizeable electoral mandate. Due to their willingness to endure deprivation and hunger and view prison as another site of struggle, republican prisoners helped shape the direction of their movement, although the precise extent of influence remains disputed. Loyalist prisoners were disoriented by the experience of imprisonment by the state they purported to defend and loyalism struggled, within and beyond prison, to develop a political role. One important element of the prison experience for non-state combatants was access to education.

in Abandoning historical conflict?
Peter Shirlow, Jonathan Tonge, James McAuley and Catherine McGlynn

This chapter explores post-conflict attitudes and behaviour of those former non-state combatants in Northern Ireland who have engaged in broader formations of social and political reconciliation and transformation through various post-prison and community initiatives. It examines how the influx of former prisoners into organisations such as Sinn Féin, the Progressive Unionist Party, and the Ulster Political Research Group has reshaped the political thinking of those groups, and whether former prisoners have been able to maintain a distinct standpoint within such organisations or have been marginalised by leadership-driven change. The chapter also considers contemporary reconstructions of ‘the other’ and whether, and to what extent, these have changed in the post-conflict era. Despite visible efforts to build inter-community linkages, it is also important to consider the ideological and discursive divisions that remain between loyalists and republicans. Central to the processes of conflict transformation are the effects of social cohesion on the broader civil society.

in Abandoning historical conflict?
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Peter Shirlow, Jonathan Tonge, James McAuley and Catherine McGlynn

This book examines the extent to which the peace process in Northern Ireland developed as a result of the repudiation or maintenance of previously held views by those who had ‘fought the war’ and spent time in prison as a consequence of their actions. Most contemporary accounts of the peace and political processes were concentrated at elite level, examining the ability of political representatives to construct and maintain an inclusive set of compromises. The book argues that none of these compromises were sustainable without backing from ‘combatants’ in the conflict. As such, any account of the peace process which failed to take account of why so many former prisoners supported the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was incomplete. It also explores why conflict ended amid ideological continuity not change, with emphasis on loyalism and republicanism. Moreover, the book highlights the importance of prisoner releases in peace processes beyond Northern Ireland, and how the literature on demilitarisation, demobilisation, and reintegration has tended to overlook the centrality of prisoner releases to a successful peace process.

in Abandoning historical conflict?
Peter Shirlow, Jonathan Tonge, James McAuley and Catherine McGlynn

Long after the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, the far-reaching consequences envisaged in the consociation of the competing political groupings of Ulster unionism and Irish nationalism became manifest. A long and tortuous path led to the formation of an inclusive coalition government headed by the supposed political extremes of the Democratic Unionist Party, representing the Unionist-British position, and Sinn Fein (SF), part of the wider Irish republican movement. Among the extensive range of interviews conducted, there was a near complete rejection that the peace process and demilitarisation was either a rejection of violence as being terrorist-inspired and that previous military activity lacked ideological reason or that the discursive value of loyalism or republicanism had been abandoned. Republican consciousness, as it pertained to demilitarisation and demobilisation of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), has been closely allied to the fortunes of SF, although not all former IRA prisoners are supportive of that particular political party.

in Abandoning historical conflict?
Peter Shirlow, Jonathan Tonge, James McAuley and Catherine McGlynn

The contribution of paramilitary prisoners to conflict transformation remains a surprisingly under-stated aspect of the Northern Ireland peace process. Former prisoners have utilised the organisational capacity and structures of paramilitary groups and developed these as agents of conflict transformation. ‘Management systems’ and structures evidently mobilised to engage in violence were reoriented towards developing positive community roles in respect of restorative justice, opposition to violence and reducing sectarian tensions at interfaces. Concurrently, former prisoners and their representative groups have developed client relations with the local state, in the search for funding for local conflict transformation and reconciliation projects. These radical developments have been facilitated by dialogue initiated by former prisoners, on an inter-communal basis through meetings with former prisoners on the opposing side and via intra-group dialogue. A combination of tactical flexibility, societal change, perceptions of victory or continuing change and outworking of the longstanding recognition of the limited utility of violence contributed to ceasefires and concentration upon politics.

in Abandoning historical conflict?
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Peter Shirlow, Jonathan Tonge, James McAuley and Catherine McGlynn

This chapter summarises the roles played by former prisoners in conflict transformation and assesses the extent to which they can assist in the desectarianisation of Northern Ireland. Former prisoners have made significant political contributions to the development and maintenance of peace. Without forfeiting all of the views that contributed to their incarceration, republicans have been obliged to work with the state; loyalists have been required to accept republicans within state structures and explore means of working with the historic ‘enemy’ across the communal divide. Memories of conflict will fade; the local ‘stature’ of republican and loyalist former prisoners may reduce and funding for conflict transformation may diminish. The role and future of the former prisoner community is set against the enduring realities of criminalisation and discrimination. The role played by that community in upholding and delivering peace has been instrumental in the relegation of violence to a mere bit player in the politics of Northern Ireland.

in Abandoning historical conflict?
Peter Shirlow, Jonathan Tonge, James McAuley and Catherine McGlynn

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement laid down procedures for the accelerated release of prisoners affiliated to groups that had committed to a ‘complete and unequivocal ceasefire’ and acknowledged the need to ‘facilitate the reintegration of prisoners into the community by providing support both prior to and after release, including assistance directed towards availing of employment opportunities, re-training and/or re-skilling and further education’. This chapter explores the extent to which prisoners have managed to leave behind inter-community mistrust to attempt societal reconstruction from below, within a context of hostility towards them beyond their immediate community of support and personal difficulty in achieving reintegration into mainstream society. The activism and negotiation associated with civil society is evident in the vast array of non-governmental organisations operating in Northern Ireland. Community restorative justice schemes brought former prisoners into ever-closer contact with state agencies and moved armed groups away from the arbitrary dispensing of local ‘justice’. The chapter again indicates the greater level of social capital within republican communities, affording a greater level of opportunities for developmental work for republican prisoners.

in Abandoning historical conflict?