The Northern Ireland experience of conflict and agreement

A model for export?

Author: Robin Wilson

Northern Ireland is no longer the relentless headline-maker in the global media it once was, when multiple killings and bombings provided a daily diet of depressing news and images. This book commences with a review of the literature on essentialism and then in the three domains: what has come to be known as 'identity politics'; the nature of nationalism; and power-sharing models for divided societies. It draws out implications for key aspects of the Northern Ireland problem. The book is based on secondary sources on Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina (B-H). A key resource is the independent journalistic network in the Balkans responsible for the production of Balkan Insight, successor to the Balkan Crisis Report, a regular e-mail newsletter. The book explores how policy-makers in London and Dublin, unenlightened by the benefit of hindsight, grappled with the unfamiliar crisis that exploded in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s. It shows that a taken-for-granted communalism has had very negative effects on societies recently driven by ethnic conflict. The book argues that conflicts such as that in Northern Ireland can only be adequately understood within a broader and more complex philosophical frame, freed of the appealing simplifications of essentialism. More than a decade on from the Belfast agreement, the sectarian 'force field' of antagonism in Northern Ireland remained as strong as ever. Unionism and nationalism may be antagonistic but as individual affiliations 'Britishness' and 'Irishness', still less Protestantism and Catholicism, need not be antagonistic.

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