Academic journal article Capital & Class

From the 'Long War' to the 'Long Peace': An Introduction to the Special Edition

Academic journal article Capital & Class

From the 'Long War' to the 'Long Peace': An Introduction to the Special Edition

Article excerpt

Introduction

In recent decades, there have been multiple attempts to introduce the institutions of consociational governance in a range of settings where ethno-cultural divisions have given rise to sustained political violence. The context in which this experiment in cross-cultural power sharing is most often identified as having worked best is Northern Ireland (Fenton 2018: 3). The status of the Good Friday Agreement as 'the brightest star in the new consociational universe' (Taylor 2009: 7) was underlined at a gathering of the great and the good in Queen's University Belfast held on 10 April 2018 to mark the 20th anniversary of the deal. Addressing a receptive audience in the Whitla Hall, Bill Clinton (2018) made the case that the design of the Northern Irish peace settlement had been crafted with sufficient skill that it would withstand the human error of those politicians who had been entrusted with putting it into practice. The Good Friday Agreement, the former US President insisted, should be acknowledged as 'the work of genius that is applicable if you care at all about preserving democracy'. The lavish praise, often shading into hyperbole, that has perennially characterised international commentary on the Northern Irish peace process has, it should be said, no little basis in fact. Since the advent of the Good Friday Agreement, after all, incidents of politically motivated violence that were once an everyday reality of life in Northern Ireland have thankfully become more and more rare. According to one estimate, there are at present around 2,400 Northern Irish people who are alive and well but who would have long since been cold in the grave had the peace deal not materialised (McCaffery 2018). It is important to mark at the outset then that the single greatest achievement of the Good Friday Agreement has been the removal of the gun from Irish politics' (Shirlow 2018: 392).

While the praise that international commentators have frequently heaped on the Northern Irish political settlement has some grounding in fact it is also a product of the flattering distortions that can arise when viewing events from the safety of a comfortable distance. What sometimes appears to people living elsewhere as a seamless transition to peace has in reality been a remarkably arduous process that has entailed seemingly endless rounds of re-negotiation and that has seen the political institutions at Stormont suspended on no fewer than five occasions. The latest of these suspensions occurred in January 2017 when a visibly ailing Martin McGuinness announced that Sinn Fein was withdrawing from the power-sharing executive. All attempts to revive the Stormont assembly have subsequently come to nothing and consequently when the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement came around the devolved institutions that were supposed to be its principal achievement remained in a state of suspended animation. It was hardly surprising then that an event such as that hosted in Queen's University Belfast that was no doubt originally conceived as a star studded celebration of two decades of the peace deal would in the end have a distinctly elegiac tone.

In the autumn of 1999, Capital & Class published a special edition devoted to a Good Friday Agreement that was at that stage barely a year old. The arrival of the 20th anniversary of the Northern Irish peace deal naturally prompted a great deal of reflection on its progress, or otherwise, and provided the rationale for the collection of 10 essays presented here. In the articles that follow, scholars working in different settings and writing from different academic disciplines set out to provide a critical and engaging profile of Northern Ireland two decades on from the Good Friday Agreement. The essays gathered here underline the progress that has been made over the course of the peace process, with the emergence in the six counties of a society that is a great deal more multicultural than ever before and in which younger people are often able to explore more progressive and cosmopolitan cultural preferences than previous generations. …

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