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Northern Ireland's 'reluctant peace'

Northern Ireland - The Reluctant Peace by Feargal CochraneA new book by Feargal Cochrane, Professor of International Conflict Analysis at the University, looks at 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland and suggests there is hope for the peace process.

In his book, titled Northern Ireland: the Reluctant Peace, Professor Cochrane offers a comprehensive overview of the 'Troubles' from the late 1960s to present day. He analyses the attitudes of both sides of the divided community and considers why, 15 years after the Good Friday Agreement, sectarian attitudes and violence continue to plague the region.

Professor Cochrane, who grew up in Belfast during the 1970s and 1980s, said: 'The question so many people have asked about Northern Ireland since the late '60s is: why have the people who live there had so much difficulty settling their political differences and their contested identities without resorting to violence?

'The simple answer to this is because violence has worked in Northern Ireland. More precisely, it has worked for some people some of the time, in a manner that the democratic political process has not.

'Power and leverage lay with paramilitaries in Northern Ireland and politicians in London, rather than with locally elected politicians in Northern Ireland, all of which led to disinterest and disdain for the local political process.'

Violence filled the vacuum created by the absence of normal political dialogue, which claimed the lives of over 3,500 people and maimed thousands more, as militant republicans, militant loyalists and successive British governments fought to a standstill for a generation.

Professor Feargal CochraneProfessor Cochrane suggests that the Provisional IRA eventually realised that the ‘undeclared war’ would not lead to their objective of Irish reunification. The British government, he says, also came to understand that it could not defeat Irish republicanism militarily and that radical voices on both sides had to be included in peace negotiations.

He said: 'The result was the peace process of the 1990s which saw paramilitary ceasefires declared in 1994 and which led in turn to multi-party negotiations and the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) on 10 April 1998.

'Despite all of the problems that remain and the enduring community sectarianism that continues to plague the region, the chances of building a peaceful future in Northern Ireland have been immeasurably improved by the GFA and the political institutions that flowed from it.

'If these institutions can demonstrate a relevance and utility to people’s day-to-day concerns and aspirations, then the main political parties will be able to show that politics works in Northern Ireland. Much remains to be done to achieve this but a start, at least, has been made.'

Professor Cochrane is Director of the Conflict Analysis Research Centre at the University’s School of Politics and International Relations.

Northern Ireland: the Reluctant Peace by Feargal Cochrane was published in April 2013 by Yale University Press.

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Story published at 10:36am 24 April 2013

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Last Updated: 23/05/2013