Peace at Last? The Impact of the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland

Peace at Last? The Impact of the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland

Peace at Last? The Impact of the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland

Peace at Last? The Impact of the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland


Spanning more than thirty years, and costing over 3000 lives, the conflict in Northern Ireland has been one of the most protracted ethnic conflicts in Western Europe. After several failed attempts to resolve the fundamental differences over national belonging between the two communities in Northern Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 seemed to offer the long awaited chance of sustainable peace and reconciliation.

By looking at the various dimensions and dynamics of post conflict peace-building in the political system, the economy, and society of this deeply divided society, the contributors to this volume offer a comprehensive analysis of Northern Irish politics and society in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement and conclude that this is probably the best chance for a stable and long-term peace that Northern Ireland has had but that the difficulties that still lie ahead must not be underestimated.


Even if the Irish problem is not your primary interest, this book is worth your attention. To explain why, as with so many things in Ireland, I need to go back into a little history.

For half a dozen generations my family lived on a small farm outside the border town of Newry. My understanding of the future for Northern Ireland in my early years was much influenced by this background. the province, as it is almost universally known among Protestant Unionists, would survive only for as long as the Protestants could hold out, with little backing from an untrustworthy British government, but in the end the Catholics would win and there would be an independent united Ireland.

In 1968, when I was entering teenage years, the violence of the current ‘Troubles’ broke out. Like others, I began to appreciate that the bloody violence that had overwhelmed the Civil Rights marches might herald an incredibly costly transition process. This led some Nationalist-minded people to question whether it was worth pressing for unity with the South at all costs, and their demands became rather for equality within the state than for total constitutional upheaval. For some Unionists too, the only realistic future was to be found in a greater accommodation with Nationalists than had previously been contemplated. These views were not shared by more fundamentalist Unionists or by more extremist Republicans, so the aim of the new approach was to build a broad centre including moderate Unionists and Nationalists along with liberals, socialists and other nonaligned groups. This whole approach was based on the premise that if Nationalists could see their civil and political rights fully respected and a good and even close working relationship with the South, they would give allegiance to a new Northern Ireland. For Unionists, it was argued, the prize of peace was worth the price of sharing power with the minority and accepting that Northern Ireland was not just like any other part of the United Kingdom. the only really serious attempt to put this model into practice was during the first six months of 1974 with the brief and turbulent life of the power-sharing Assembly and Executive. It was not acceptable to Republicans but its downfall came because it could not command the support of the majority of Unionists.

The next twenty years saw a series of half-hearted and ultimately futile initiatives but meantime the scene was changing. the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland had both joined the Common Market on the same day in 1973, and as it progressed through the European Community . . .

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