The Politics of Northern Ireland: Beyond the Belfast Agreement

The Politics of Northern Ireland: Beyond the Belfast Agreement

The Politics of Northern Ireland: Beyond the Belfast Agreement

The Politics of Northern Ireland: Beyond the Belfast Agreement


In this book, one of the leading authorities on contemporary Northern Ireland politics provides an original, sophisticated and innovative examination of the post-Belfast agreement political landscape. Written in a fluid, witty and accessible style, this book explores: * how the Belfast Agreement has changed the politics of Northern Ireland * whether the peace process is still valid * the problems caused by the language of politics in Northern Ireland * the conditions necessary to secure political stability * the inability of unionists & republicans to share the same political discourse * the insights that political theory can offer to Northern Irish politics * the future of key political parties and institutions.


The historian A.T.Q. Stewart once observed that the political divisions in Northern Ireland are not the result of a misunderstanding between unionists and nationalists. Rather, the divisions are a consequence of unionists and nationalists understanding each other all too well. Both communities are adept at the translation and interpretation of the other side's messages.

Instead of extremists, who can be managed in a democracy, government (wherever it resides) has to deal with two hostile populations who cannot agree on definitions. Words like 'democracy', 'liberty', 'rights', 'esteem' become porous, and the parrot-cries of party no longer offer any guide to truth. and no one involved in the situation can really be impartial.

This, Stewart argued, was 'the labyrinth out of which the politicians must find a way' (2001:180). the Northern Ireland problem, then, can be defined as a profound division over the ends of politics as well as the means to achieve them. These have been questions that political argument in Northern Ireland has been unable to resolve by reasoned debate. Equally, it has not proved possible to resolve them by political violence. Hence the 30-year impasse. Nevertheless, it has been the consistent objective of the British and Irish Governments-as it has been the consistent assumption of liberal opinion-that it is indeed possible to reach agreement on these questions. the Talks about the future of Northern Ireland, from which issued the Belfast Agreement, were based on a number of such expectations. Political negotiations on an inclusive basis would establish a new platform of tolerance from which progress could be made and would provide a form of political therapy through which a rational consensus on principles could be reached. Lasting political bargains would be struck in a satisfactory balance of gains and losses and on those foundations the Agreement implied the emergence of a new and stable political dispensation.

Recent works on Northern Ireland such as Ed Moloney's analysis of republicanism (2002) and Dean Godson's study of David Trimble (2004) have provided enormously detailed and insightful accounts of the peace

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