A Tragedy of Errors: The Government and Misgovernment of Northern Ireland

A Tragedy of Errors: The Government and Misgovernment of Northern Ireland

A Tragedy of Errors: The Government and Misgovernment of Northern Ireland

A Tragedy of Errors: The Government and Misgovernment of Northern Ireland


The decommissioning of the Provisional IRA in 2005 suggests that Northern Ireland may finally be ready to turn from the deadly paramilitary clashes of the twentieth century to the thorny problems of a normalized political process. As both former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and Victim's Commissioner, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield is in a unique position to evaluate the wisdom and long-term effects of the past fifty years of Northern Irish politics and policy.
Bloomfield probes a number of crucial questions about the United Kingdom's management of Irish affairs. Three decades of fighting have had grave consequences for Northern Ireland- what were the costs? Was violence inevitable? Bloomfield delineates the unwise decisions and abrogated responsibilities that led to the civil crisis of the Troubles while emphasizing the United Kingdom's overriding duty to ensure peace. Peppered with incisive- and critical- portraits of the major political players, including Tony Blair and John Hume, A Tragedy of Errors gives us an unflinching insider's view of Northern Irish politics and helps us understand the divisions that still dominate the region.


When I read Modern History at Oxford in the late 1940s, there were relatively few well-known and reliable works about the history and politics of Northern Ireland. The ‘special subject’ options available in the final year of the course did not include – as they do today – a study of the recent history of the Province.

As a by-product of the turbulence to come, we now have available a huge variety of accounts: biographical, autobiographical, journalistic, polemic or sociological. We are able to read the accounts of a wide range of eminent historians, journalists or protagonists. It would be tempting to conclude that yet another book would simply add a further cairn to the mountain of controversy and analysis.

I would not have put pen to paper if I could not hope to offer a distinctive perspective. The son of English parents who settled in Northern Ireland in 1929, I bring to the consideration of controversial events no overwhelming baggage of inherited loyalty or affiliation. True, I am associated with the Protestant tradition; baptised into the Church of England, confirmed in the Church of Ireland, but also at various times a member of Methodist and Presbyterian congregations. My ‘baggage’ is essentially British; but while I personally remain at ease with Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom, I have always been comfortable with the concept that ultimate status should be determined by majority opinion, that peaceful advocacy of an end to partition should be regarded as a wholly legitimate political activity.

I have never been a member of any political party. In spite of this I can, I believe, validly claim to have been closer to political events in Northern Ireland throughout a most turbulent period than any outside observer and most political protagonists. Now and then I was a subordinate player in important events; more often a privileged and fascinated spectator.

Between 1956 and 1991, save for relatively brief intervals, I was involved in a close working relationship with the political leaders of Northern Ireland.

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