Dr. Féilim Ó hAdhmaill, University College Cork (Irlandia) Konflikt i proces pokojowy w Irlandii Północnej
Dr. Féilim Ó hAdhmaill a visiting lecturer in Social Policy, University College Cork, Ireland
The Conflict and Peace Process in Northern Ireland
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement (1998); an international agreement between Ireland and the UK, which ostensibly ended 30 years of armed conflict on the island of Ireland, and in the north (Northern Ireland) in particular.
This paper looks at the background to the conflict in Ireland and attempts at developing and maintaining the peace process and considers how recent changes in the aftermath of Britain’s exit from the EU and demographic changes in the north of Ireland may affect the future of that island and its relationship with the island of Britain.
The conflict in Northern Ireland has, in the past, sometimes been viewed as a sectarian conflict between two diametrically opposed religious groups. However, that is a simplification of what in essence is a conflict relating to colonial conquest and rule and the implications that has had for inter-ethnic relationships on the whole island of Ireland and between peoples on the islands of Britain and Ireland.
The colonial conquest of Ireland began in the 12th century, and conflict continued over many centuries, about whether or not Ireland should have independence from Britain. After a long campaign for national independence, the island of Ireland was partitioned by the British in 1921. The southern twenty-six counties entity, initially called the Irish Free State, was given control over domestic affairs with its own government. However, it was eventually able to gradually divest itself of British political and economic control and become a republic (Ireland) in 1949.
The six north-eastern counties of Ireland, which today constitute, Northern Ireland, remained under British control within the United Kingdom (of Britain and N. Ireland), albeit with its own devolved government dealing with domestic affairs. It was created as a separate entity from the rest of Ireland, for unionists (British- Irish people), mainly descendants of colonists from the 17th century, who wanted to remain connected to Britain. At the time N. Ireland was also viewed by Britain as being of strategic value in its competition with rival imperial powers in Europe and in relation to the political and economic needs of its own Empire.
One difficulty was that about a third of the population of N. Ireland was comprised of people who saw themselves culturally and politically as Irish nationalists. They did not agree to partition or rule from Britain and their views were echoed by successive governments in the south of Ireland. This, in turn, reinforced among unionists a siege mentality and a sense of threat from the disloyal ‘Irish’. For both sides, a sense of threat and grievance led to differing responses. Unionists built their state on discrimination against and the exclusion of the Irish nationalist minority. There was no attempt at conflict resolution or reconciliation or the building of an inclusive society. Irish nationalists, on the other hand, rejected as illegitimate and often boycotted the new statelet and its institutions. Conflict sometimes turned violent leading eventually to the 1969-97 violent conflict in the north.
In 1998 the Good Friday/ Belfast Agreement was signed by the British and Irish Governments, ostensibly bringing to an end the violent conflict which had engulfed the north of Ireland from 1969-97. The Agreement aimed to address many of the causes of the ‘armed’ conflict in the north through the implementation of a comprehensive package of wide-ranging reforms in policing, the justice system, recognition of cultural and identity rights (‘parity of esteem’), the promotion of human rights and anti-discrimination protections, demilitarisation, the release of politically motivated prisoners and the establishment of a power-sharing executive. The ‘hard’ border between north and south of the island was ended, facilitated by the IRA ceasefire, the removal of British Army watch towers and checkpoints, and the operation of the EU Single Market. Structures were also introduced to increase cross border co-operation in a range of policy areas, alongside mutual acceptance of the right of the people of the north to decide their own political and constitutional future- ‘the principle of consent’.
While ‘armed’ conflict has, for the most part, been eliminated, the ‘political’ conflict has continued between those who wish to remain part of the United Kingdom (UK) – unionists - and those who want to be reunited with the south of Ireland in an all-island republic -nationalists/republicans. This political conflict has meant that for most of the past 25 years a power-sharing executive has not existed due to the withdrawal of one or other of the main parties.
Rather than being a process of conflict resolution, the Irish Peace Process, has been a process more akin to conflict transformation (Lederach, (2003), transforming the conflict into a less violent one but not resolving it. The Good Friday/ Belfast Agreement allowed the parties to the conflict, nationalists, and unionists, as well as the two nation states, to pursue their different interests though political engagement. However, it did not end the conflict. Unionism and nationalism continue to be the dominant themes influencing politics in the north, and by extension also influence politics in the south of Ireland. The UK’s exit from the EU and its implications for north-south as well as British/Irish relations, changing demographic patterns which mean that Unionism no longer has a political majority in the north (although neither has Nationalism), and the development of a more inclusive, secular, and multi-cultural state in the south of Ireland, have all energised renewed calls for Irish reunification and independence from Britain. This in turn has fuelled concerns within sections of the unionist community and the current refusal of the main unionist party, the DUP, to take part in the power-sharing governmental arrangements, established under the 1998 Agreement. What the future holds remains unclear.
Dr Féilim Ó hAdhmaill is a lecturer in the School of Applied Social Studies at University College Cork, Ireland, where he teaches across a range of degree programmes. He specialises in Peace and Conflict Studies and International Human Rights and Social Policy and his academic research and publications have focused primarily on human rights, social exclusive and inequality. He also has a background working in the community and voluntary sector in Ireland, north and south, over many years and on conflict and peace building projects in the community. He is Programme Director for the Masters in Voluntary and Community Sector Management at University College Cork and is currently Co-Editor of the international peer-reviewed journal, Irish Political Studies.
Recent relevant publications include:
Ó hAdhmaill, F. (2021), Critical Perspective on Discourse in the Representation of Conflict in Ireland . TEANGA, the Journal of the Irish Association for Applied Linguistics, 12, 23-46.
McCann, G. and Ó hAdhmaill, F. (2020) International Human Rights, Social Policy and Global Development, Policy/Bristol University Press
Ó hAdhmaill, F. (2019) 'The Easter Rising (1916) in Ireland and its Historical Context: The Campaign for an Irish Democracy' In: Cope, Z. and Ness, E (eds). Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism. New York;London: Palgrave MacMillan Cham
O'hAdhmaill, F., (2013) 'The Catholic Church and Revolution in Ireland'. Socialist History, 43 :1-25
Ó hAdhmaill, F. (2016) 'Ireland and the Global Economic Crisis: One Island, Two Different Experiences' In: Dukelow, F., and Murphy, M. (eds). The Irish Welfare State in the Twenty-First Century: Challenges and Change. London: Palgrave MacMillan.