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'Peace or Pacification Process? A brief critique of the peace process' by Chris Gilligan

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Text: Chris Gilligan and Jon Tonge ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

The following chapters have been contributed by the authors, Chris Gilligan and Jon Tonge, with the permission of Ashgate Publishing Limited. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
This chapter is taken from the book:

Peace or War?
Understanding the Peace Process in Northern Ireland

Edited by Chris Gilligan and Jon Tonge (1997)

ISBN 1 85972 519 8 Hardback 167pp

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This chapter is copyright Chris Gilligan 1997 and is included on the CAIN site by permission of the author and the publishers. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of the author or the publisher, Ashgate Publishing Limited. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Peace or War?
Understanding the Peace Process in Northern Ireland

Edited by Chris Gilligan and Jon Tonge


List of tables
List of figures
List of contributors
List of abbreviations
Part One: Introduction and overview
Chris Gilligan and Jon Tonge
2The origins and development of the peace process
Jon Tonge
3 Peace or pacification process? A brief critique of the peace process
Chris Gilligan
Part Two: Political perspectives
4 Divided loyalists, divided loyalties: Conflict and continuities in
contemporary unionist ideology
James White McAuley
5 Unity in diversity? The SDLP and the peace process
Mark McGovern
6 From the centre to the margins: The slow death of Irish republicanism
Mark Ryan
Part Three: Issues in the peace process
7 Cross-border cooperation and the peace process
Alan Greer
8 Security strategies in Northern Ireland: Consolidation or reform?
Paddy Hillyard
9 Education: A panacea for our sectarian ills?
Kevin Rooney
10 The economics of the peace process
Pete Shirlow
11 The Northern Ireland peace process: A gender issue?
Rachel Ward
Part Four: Conclusion
Chris Gilligan and Jon Tonge

Chris Gilligan and Jon Tonge

The peace process of the 1990s appeared to offer the best chance yet of ending violent conflict in Northern Ireland. If a temporary peace did not arrive until 1994, the gestation of the peace process occurred from the mid-1980s onwards. The very term peace process' is controversial. Critics might argue that the process was a sham, based upon a tactical repositioning of republicanism which proved extremely short-lived. Supporters of the peace process argue, often from different political perspectives, that it provided a framework for reconciliation or even conflict resolution.

This book explores the nature of the peace process, outlining the political changes which allowed it to develop and examining specific themes within the process itself. For this reason, the book is divided into three main sections. The first provides general discussions of the aims and objectives of the peace process. The second section analyses the changing roles of the political parties and party ideology in shaping the peace process and responding to developments within that process. The third section offers discussion of some of the most important themes within the peace process. In carefully selecting these themes, the co-editors are aware that it is impossible to cover in detail every important aspect of the peace process. The book is designed to promote discussion, rather than provide a definitive account of the peace process. Peace or War? begins with an overview of the peace process from Jon Tonge in chapter two. When and why did it start? What did it major participants anticipate? Why did it stumble? Following this, Chris Gilligan discusses whether the peace process was genuine attempt at resolving the conflict, or merely an attempt at creating nonviolence. Gilligan highlights the seeming contradiction between the stress upon the need for inclusive dialogue and the lack of citizen involvement in the peace process. In Part two, Jim McAuley assesses the attempt to reconstruct Unionism as a response to the peace process. He suggests that attempts at remodelling have been rendered problematic by the pressure placed upon Unionists not to participate in the peace process. Mark McGovern provides an assessment of how the SDLP's pursuit of internal consociationalism and external intergovernmentalism have shaped the peace process. He examines the tensions within the Party's approach to a lasting settlement.

The SDLP's traditional historical analysis of British responsibility for the problem rests uneasily alongside the Party's beliefs of unity in diversity and parity of esteem. In chapter six, Mark Ryan argues that Irish republicanism has undergone a slow death, masked by a continuing 'armed struggle'. Sinn Féin's recognition of the southern state in 1986 contributed significantly to republicanism's loss of distinctiveness. Concurrently, the pursuit of inclusive dialogue and emphasis upon parity of esteem for the nationalist community have led to greater recognition of the northern state.

Part three's exploration of themes within the peace process begins with an analysis of attempts to promote cross-border cooperation. In exploring different models of cooperation, Alan Greer makes the point that such cooperation is not new, but its attempted extension raises hopes or fears amongst nationalists and unionists. The Framework Documents attempted extensions of cross borderism allied to a limited series of cheeks upon such activity. In the following chapter Paddy Hillyard provides a critical account of the lack of, reform of policing in Northern Ireland and a similar lack of urgency on the issue of release of prisoners. Following this, Kevin Rooney offers a sceptical view of Education for Mutual Understanding as a vehicle by which community tension might be defused. Rooney suggests that such problems seek only to obfuscate the true nature of the problem. In chapter 10, Peter Shirlow points out that social exclusion and a deprivation amongst the nationalist and unionist working classes have fostered an intra-class war. He urges the establishment of a wide ranging Commission for Economic Reconstruction and Social Inclusion as a remedy. Finally Rachel Ward rejects the idea of women as neutral peacekeepers in the peace process. Whilst welcoming the increased profile of women in politics in Northern Ireland, Ward points to the criticism of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition by other Women's groups over its lack of policies. As in so many other aspects of the peace process, ambiguity prevails.

Publication Contents

Peace or pacification process?
A brief critique of the peace process

Chris Gilligan


The announcement by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) of a complete cessation of military operations in September 1994 was heralded internationally. The declaration confounded many pessimists and appeared to open the way to a lasting settlement of the conflict in the province. The various political shifts and developments which enabled the IRA ceasefire, and six weeks later the Loyalist ceasefire, are commonly referred to as the peace process (Fitzgerald, 1994, pp.12-15; Wilson, 1994, p.5). The peace process has been welcomed as the most significant development in the last quarter of a century of the provinces troubled history, but it did not indicate a final resolution of the conflict. The course of the peace process has not been free of turbulence. Although the ceasefire marked a break from the past, relations between the British government and Irish Republicans have continued to be acrimonious. This acrimony came to a dramatic head with the IRA bombing of Canary Wharf in London's docklands in February 1996.

The peace process has an element of schizophrenia. It has raised hopes of a final resolution of the conflict, yet there is now more emphasis on conflict management than upon conflict resolution. The atmosphere in Northern Ireland appears to oscillate between hope and fear, a sentiment which is captured in the title of David McKittrick's journalistic account of the peace process (McKittrick, 1995). The end of the IRA ceasefire has heightened the fears of a return to the past. This chapter sets out to explain this apparent schizophrenia, and in doing so also argues that there can be no return to the past. This schizophrenia is not a passing phase of the peace process which will be replaced by either a return to the past or a transcending of the conflict. One of the problems with the concept of peace is that it is a morally loaded one. No reasonable person could possibly object to peace, everyone should desire a peaceful outcome to conflict. Unfortunately this sentiment often prevents any dispassionate analysis of the peace process. In their desire to reach a positive outcome the majority of people do not stop to reflect on the different dimensions of the peace process. This chapter attempts a critical analysis of the peace process. The reader would be justified in groaning at the prospect of another criticism of the peace process. All of the parties to the process have been fulsome in their criticisms, but this chapter differs in that the aim of the criticism is to produce a greater understanding of the peace process. The chapter also differs from most other criticisms in that it does not end in a call for more peace process.

The chapter begins with an examination of two different ideas of peace which feature in the peace process. It then examines the developments which made the IRA ceasefire possible. Through an examination of two ideas of pacification which feature in the peace process, the chapter questions the merits of the calls for more peace process. It points out that an important component of the peace process has been the circumvention of public opinion. This is both a weakness and a strength of the peace process, an argument which is illustrated through an examination of the end of the IRA ceasefire. Finally the chapter concludes that the peace process may actually end up disadvantaging the very people that it is supposed to benefit, the ordinary citizens of Northern Ireland.

Two ideas of peace

There are two distinct uses of the term 'peace' in discussions of the peace process. The first is peace as the absence of conflict; the second is peace as the outcome of a process. The first usage was employed by the British Labour Party MP, Harry Barnes, in a statement in response to the end of the IRA ceasefire in February 1996:

Despair is understandable but ignores the gains of… 17 months of peace. [The peace] saved hundreds of lives, thousands of injuries and millions of pounds… Popular resistance to terrorism is now needed. Dublin and Belfast have begun this process with tremendous rallies and vigils for peace (Barnes, 1996, p.17).
This notion of peace has predominated throughout the quarter-century of conflict in Northern Ireland. Since the IRA began its military campaign in 1970, 'terrorism' has been identified as the main problem in the province. Barnes is following a long line of politicians who have condemned the use of violence and appealed to the majority of 'decent' citizens to resist this violence. In the peace process this notion is encapsulated in the principle of non-violence. This usage of the term places the emphasis on an enlightened outcome, peace. The second usage of the term places the emphasis on the means to achieve that outcome, the process. Sinn Féin's Tom Hartley employed both senses of the term peace when he said:
[Sinn Féin] want to create a society in which peace is not a mere interlude between wars, but an incentive to the creative and collective energies of all the people who live on this island. There is no other way of achieving that than through talks, inclusive and without preconditions. [R]eal peace [needs to be] built on the solid foundations of the democratic principles of justice and equality (Hartley, 1996, p.16).
Hartley characterises the first usage of the term peace as vacuous, describing only the absence of war. This absence will only be temporary unless the underlying issues which gave rise to conflict are resolved. In this interpretation peace is ephemeral and utopian and it can only be made 'real' by giving it solid foundations. During the peace process this understanding of peace has come into prominence. Where the first usage of the term identifies 'terrorism' as irrational, inflexible and therefore a threat to peace, the second rests on an assumption that the paramilitaries are both rational and adaptable. This involves a recognition that the paramilitaries do have genuine grievances. Furthermore, it endorses the argument that unless there is a two-way process of give and take between the protagonists in the conflict any peace will only be a temporary interlude between wars. This meaning of the term is encapsulated in the principle of inclusion which lies at the core of the peace process.

The growing employment of the second understanding of the term peace is not simply coincidental with the development of the peace process. This highlighting of peace as a process became part of the language employed by Sinn Féin in the late 1 980s (Adams, 1988; Hume 1996, pp.93-5) and is indicative of a shift in British government thinking about Republicans. The shift was signalled in an interview with Peter Brooke on the occasion of his first one hundred days in office as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mallie and McKittrick, 1996, pp. 98-100). The second usage has gradually become established as the normative framework through which the conflict and prospects for peace in Northern Ireland are discussed.

The principle of non-violence

The British and Irish Governments reiterate that the achievement of peace must involve a permanent end to the use of, or support for, paramilitary violence. They confirm that, in these circumstances, democratically mandated parties which establish a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods and which have shown that they abide by the democratic process, are free to participate fully in democratic politics and to join in dialogue in due course between the two Governments and the political parties on the way ahead (Joint Declaration for Peace, 1993, para. 10).

Support for the principle of non-violence

As the above paragraph from the Downing Street Declaration (DSD) makes clear, the principle of non-violence is directed towards bringing an end to paramilitary violence. The idea that peace relies on a cessation of paramilitary violence has been around from very early in the current conflict, and enjoys widespread support. Paramilitary violence is considered to be qualitatively different from other forms of violence, so much so that it has been given its own name. 'Terrorism' is distinguished from other forms of violence in that it has no popular endorsement and its primary aim is to terrorise the population which is at the receiving end of the violence (Miller, 1994, pp.4-7; Said, 1988, pp.46-70).

The most vocal opponents of paramilitary violence usually focus on the immediate effects of the violence; the number of people who have died; the often gruesome nature of the deaths, the extent of injuries and the consequences for those affected and the damage to mental health, livelihoods, property and communal relations. Yet the existence of paramilitary violence also has wider effects in Northern Irish society, the presence of armed troops is only one of the most obvious ways in which the existence of paramilitary violence has had an influence on the province. The state has intervened in response to paramilitary violence by introducing no-jury courts, providing massive economic subsidies, and by moulding the human geography of the province (O'Dowd et al, 1980). The human geography has not only been shaped by the state, for example, through a combination of voluntary and involuntary population movements, the province now has high levels of residential segregation (Boyle and Hadden, 1994, p.33-8). To the casual observer it appears self-evident that there can be no peace without an end to violence. However, to focus exclusively on the effects of paramilitary violence is to examine the outcome of a more complex process. Any analysis of the violence needs to go further than the hackneyed observation that the existence of violence has had negative consequences for the people of the province. To gain a greater understanding of the conflict, and the suggested means for ending the violence, we need to examine the different dimensions of the violence.

Some criticisms of the principle of non-violence

Paramilitary violence is usually the aspect of Northern Irish society which features most prominently in any discussion of the province. Nonetheless the obvious question begged is whether the violence is an expression of an underlying problem, or the main problem itself? For the purposes of our present investigation it is important to point out that when British troops were first deployed in Northern Ireland in 1969 the IRA did not exist as a military force (Bowyer Bell, 1990, pp.337-366). This point is often forgotten in discussions about peace, the IRA did not initiate the conflict, a conflict already existed. The current conflict arose from the response to the demand for civil rights. In the late 1 960s peaceful protestors demanded an end to practices which treated Catholics as second class citizens, these responses were met with repression by the local security forces. British troops were deployed as a 'peace-keeping' force when the ensuing civil disturbances, such as rioting, threatened to destabilise the province. In some instances, most significantly the 'Rape of the Falls', the introduction of internment and 'Bloody Sunday', the actions of the 'peace-keeping' forces actually served to escalate the conflict further, and for some proved critical in moving individuals to a position where they actively supported paramilitary violence. In political terms this represented a shift from questioning the form of rule of a particular regime, the Stormont government, to questioning the right of the state itself to rule (Farrell, 1976, pp.261-290; McCann, 1981, pp.27-104; O'Brien, 1974, pp.229-232). The civil rights movement was demanding reform of the state; Irish Republicans demanded the revolutionary overthrow of the state. The fact that IRA violence reemerged in response to already existing violence suggests that paramilitary violence is an expression of an underlying problem, rather than the cause of the conflict itself The principle of non-violence tends to obscure the origins of the IRA's existence as a response to an already existing conflict rather than its cause.

In the paragraph quoted from the DSD the two Governments do not differentiate between violence perpetuated by Republicans and that perpetuated by Loyalist paramilitaries, but in practice British government policy in Northern Ireland has been differential in its application to Loyalists and Republicans. When internment was introduced in 1971 the first dawn raids carried out by British troops were entirely in Republican areas and against Republican suspects. The military operations usually identified as part of a 'shoot-to-kill' policy by the Special Air Services and the Royal Ulster Constabulary were targeted exclusively at Republican paramilitaries. This differential approach towards the paramilitaries has continued throughout the peace process. Loyalist paramilitaries did not come under the same level of public or private pressure to declare a ceasefire. This difference was also evident after the IRA and Loyalist ceasefires. The IRA were prevailed upon to declare their ceasefire permanent, but Loyalists, who explicitly declared their ceasefire to be conditional upon the maintenance of the IRA ceasefire, were not pressed for a similar declaration. This unevenness has been a concern during the peace process since the differential approach to paramilitary violence is taken as an indication by some Irish Nationalists that the British government do not have a commitment to treating Nationalists and Unionists equally.

The British Government refuses to enter into any substantial negotiations with Republicans whilst violent methods are employed, although it has sanctioned the use of violence against the paramilitaries. So, although the principle formally repudiates violence, it is based on an implicit threat of coercion. The British government do not deny that violence has been perpetrated by the state, but they claim that unlike paramilitary violence state violence is legitimate. The British government demand that the IRA repudiate the use of violence for political ends, while upholding their own right to employ violence (Townshend, 1993, pp.167-l90). This points to a fundamental issue which underpins the principle of non-violence, the legitimacy of the state. It also indicates a massive imbalance of power which the principle of nonviolence disguises. The British state possesses one of the best armed and trained armies in the world, whereas the IRA in comparison has scant personnel and armoury. Are the effects of violence as detrimental, for individuals and for Northern Irish society as a whole, as the picture presented by the very vocal critics of paramilitary violence suggests? The evidence is more ambiguous than the casual observer is usually led to believe. It is possible to quantify the cost in terms of human lives lost, physical injuries sustained and property damaged. It is more difficult however to measure the wider consequences of the violence. There is evidence from psychological studies on children which suggests that the existence of paramilitary violence has little overall effect on mental health (Cairns and Cairns, 1995, pp.99-102; Whyte, 1990, pp.94-97). There is continuing debate over whether the conflict has had a detrimental impact on the economy or slowed the decline which was already evident before 1969 (Canning et al, 1987, pp. 211-235; Patterson, 1996, pp.124-127; Rowthorn, 1987, pp.111-134; Ryan, 1994, pp.120-121). One author pointed out the ambiguous effects of conflict, when he argued that community action groups and paramilitary groups developed from a 'common root' and that the existence of crisis in the late 1 960s and early 1 970s 'motivate[d] and mobilise[d] individuals into forming associations for the betterment of their communities' (Griffiths, 1976, pp. 169-194).

To sum up so far, the principle of non-violence is widely supported by a range of different groups. Some of the different dimensions of the principle have been questioned by a range of different organisations. It has been criticised for confusing cause and effect, for ignoring state violence, and for being differential in its treatment of Republican and Loyalist violence. Despite these criticisms there has been agreement that there can be no resolution of the conflict as long as paramilitary violence persists. Ironically this places Irish Republicans in a key position as a fulcrum for conflict resolution. In terms of their military power and political influence they have come nowhere near rivalling the British state, but as long as they have the weaponry and determination to wage war there can be no conflict resolution. This suggests three options for a resolution of the conflict: an IRA defeat or surrender, an IRA victory, or a compromise between Republicans and the British government. The peace process has been the process of the British government and Irish Republicans coming to a compromise.

Preparing the ground for inclusive negotiation

Building blocs of cooperation

On both the Republican and British sides there were developments in the 1980s which helped to prepare the ground for the peace process. The campaign around the hunger-strikes started the Republican involvement in electoral politics and community action. In this respect, this was the beginning of Sinn Féin's ascendency over the IRA. Equally, it brought many Republican activists into closer contact with the more immediate concerns of their core base of support. This was indicative of a shift in emphasis from a primarily military strategy to a primarily political one, and a lowering of the horizon on which the Republican outlook was focused, from the absolute principle of the right of the Irish people as a whole to self-determination towards ensuring that the immediate interests of their core base of support were sufficiently represented in and by British state institutions. The move into party politics was to lead Sinn Féin to drop their commitment to abstain from taking their seats in the Dáil, a commitment which had been a key principle for Republicans since the 1920s. In taking their seats in the Irish Parliament and later in local councils in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin was explicitly recognising institutions set up under partition and thus implicitly recognising the partition of the country itself (McIntyre, 1995, pp.108-118; Ryan, 1994, pp.58-74}

Another process which began in the 1 980s was the move to exploratory talks with representatives of 'constitutional' nationalism, initially involving dialogue with John Hume, leader of the SDLP and later with Charles Haughey, then Prime Minister of the Irish Republic. When Republicans did engage in a peace process these contacts were to be important. With the additional support from sections of Irish-America this cooperation with 'constitutional' nationalism became the pan-nationalist alliance. This alliance acted as the amniotic medium through which Republicans were able to ease their movement from a confrontational approach to a conciliatory one. The role of intermediaries was to become very important in the peace process. During the late 1980s contacts were made and a network of connections developed. But at this stage the contacts were largely secret and unfruitful, a reflection of both the pariah status of Republicans and the distance between their stance and that of other political actors (Mallie and McKittrick, 1996, pp.79-90; 133-146).

The British government's negotiation and signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement with the government of the Republic of Ireland in 1985 marked some developments which were to be important for the peace process. The Agreement brought the British government into closer co-operation with the government of the Republic of Ireland. Unlike previous initiatives, the Agreement was one between the élites of two sovereign states. It bypassed the electorate of Northern Ireland and their political representatives. This closer co-operation was also significant for moving away from viewing Northern Ireland as a purely domestic matter for the British government. In parallel with Republicans building up networks of connections with other groups, the British government developed institutional links with both the Irish government and that of the United States of America. The introduction and maintenance of the Agreement was achieved against the express wishes of Ulster unionists. This was an indication of the declining power of Unionism in Northern Ireland. Unlike the Power-sharing Assembly of 1974, Unionists failed in their attempts to wreck the Agreement. Such a failure also indicated that the British government was prepared to face down Unionist opposition. The Agreement recognised the existence of two distinct communities in Northern Ireland with different traditions and needs. This pointed to an interpretation of the conflict as internal to Northern Ireland and primarily between Irish nationalism and Ulster Unionism, which helped to institute a series of measures ostensibly aimed at overcoming this division (Boyle and Hadden, 1989; O'Leary, 1987).

Many of these elements which were to become important during the peace process. Firstly, the process was built upon the development, by both Republicans and the British government, of closer relations with political groupings which had some common, but not coterminous interests. Secondly, majority opinion in Northern Ireland was circumvented. Thirdly, there was increased concern with local and cultural issues. Despite all of these elements being in place at the end of the 1980s, Republicans and the British government were still diametrically opposed in their political ambitions. Republicans were not interested in negotiating short of a declaration of British intent to withdraw. British initiatives were aimed at defeating terrorism'. The thawing of relations between the British government and Republicans began in 1989. In March of that year, the President of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, publicly indicated that he sought a 'non-armed political movement' to end partition (Coogan, 1996, p.236). In November Peter Brooke, the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, responded by saying that the British government would respond flexibly and imaginatively to an IRA ceasefire (Mallie and McKittrick, 1996, pp.99-100). It was not only events in Northern Ireland, or within 'these two islands', which helped to bring about the peace process. International events, brought about as a consequence of the end of the Cold War, were to provide the catalyst which helped turn a stalemate into a peace process. The national liberation struggles, most notably in the Middle East and South Africa, with which Republicans had allied themselves in the past, now provided models as exemplars of conflict resolution rather than as exemplars of liberation struggles. The conflict in the former Yugoslavia provided a negative model of struggles for self-determination (Ryan, 1994, pp.35-41).

From confrontation to inclusion

The re-opening of a line of communication between Republicans and the British government was indicative of this thaw in relations between the two parties to the conflict. In the first phase of these talks the British government actively courted Republicans. It continued to promote the principle of non-violence in their insistence on the need for an IRA ceasefire, whilst stressing that was sought was 'an agreed accommodation, not an imposed solution' (Sinn Féin, 1994, p.21, emphasis in original). Sinn Féin's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, made a speech to the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in February 1992 which contained condemnations of British policy in Northern Ireland, but nonetheless passed the initiative to the British by stating that it had a responsibility to 'lead the way by outlining its plan for a final resolution of the problem'. McGuinness also insisted that an essential ingredient of that plan was 'the acceptance of the need for inclusive dialogue as a vehicle towards a final settlement' (Sinn Féin, 1994, p.23). The secret talks ended in November 1993, with public recriminations between the two parties over who had promised what. The ending of the secret talks did not indicate the conclusion of the peace process, rather but instead marked its transfer from secret, private discussions to an open, public process. The peace process was brought into the public domain with the signing of the DSD by the Prime Ministers of the two governments.

It has been suggested that the British government s purpose in entering into secret talks with Republicans was to con Republicans into a surrender (McAlliskey, 1996, pp.23-8). This may have been the initial intention, but such an interpretation underestimates how much has changed in the politics of the province, and overestimates how much control the British government has exercised over the peace process. The British government still uphold the principle of non-violence, but it is now supplemented by the principle of an inclusive negotiated settlement. The British government may have begun to work in closer co-operation with the Irish government and the White House in an attempt to isolate Republicans. The pressure on Republicans may have been further enhanced by the moves to promote cross-community reconciliation. In order to secure the involvement of these other bodies in pressurising Republicans the British government had to give some commitment to the principle of inclusion. Even after the end of the IRA ceasefire the British government was not able to return to promoting a straight 'anti-terrorist' line (Major, 1996, p.6; Mayhew, 1996, p.10).

One consequence of the promotion of the principle of inclusion is that many of the issues which marked a clear dividing line between Republicans and other parties with an interest in the conflict no longer retain their clarity. The border was an issue on which Republicans had a clear agenda, in that there could be no compromise or negotiation on its continuation. Even discussion on a resolution was not possible until the British at least gave a definite commitment to withdraw. In the course of the peace process this issue has become fudged. The border has now become contingent through its future being an open question to be resolved in the process of negotiation. It has become porous through the treatment of the counties which straddle both sides as a region for United States and EU investment. Additionally, it has become ephemeral through the main divide in Ireland now being characterised as the border in peoples minds. This lack of clarity has actually assisted the development of the peace process as various participants, particularly Republicans and the British government, have been able to radically alter their approach while maintaining that their approach has been consistent.

Many of the groups which support the principle of non-violence also support the principle of inclusion. The Irish government, the White House, community reconciliation groups, the churches, the SDLP and some victim support groups. This has altered the substance of the principle of non-violence. The British government can gain acceptance that there should be an IRA ceasefire before any settlement is possible, but if they appear too belligerent or inflexible on the issue they lax themselves open to the accusation of deviating from the principle of inclusion. As a consequence the British government is no longer able to wield the principle of nonviolence as an effective device to silence critics. At a very simple level the accusation of 'being soft on terrorism' does not carry weight when the accuser was involved in secret talks with the 'terrorists' before they declared a ceasefire. It is not uncommon now to find the British government being accused of being a barrier to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the province.

There is still a tendency to view the politics of Northern Ireland as based around a dichotomous conflict. This idea is implicit in the recognition of the rights and identities of the two communities in Northern Ireland. It can be seen in the idea that the two governments should represent the interests of each of these traditions at an intergovernmental level, but rather than seeing the conflict as a fundamentally dichotomous one, it is more useful to characterise politics in the province as consisting of networks of shifting connections (alliance is too strong a word to describe the temporary common stances). Obvious examples of these connections are between Sinn Féin and both the SDLP, and the Irish government, or the connection between Ulster Unionists and the British government. Yet the connections also cross the traditional British/Unionist and Irish/Nationalist divide. There is the obvious intergovernmental co-operation between the British and Irish governments. There have been exploratory talks between Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) have appeared to be more conciliatory in their stance towards the government of the Republic of Ireland and Nationalists within Northern Ireland (Nesbitt, 1995, pp.12-15, 21-26).

The openness of the principle of inclusion is widely welcomed as a positive development in the politics of the province and is seen as providing the prospect for a lasting settlement. If inclusion is a positive development which is widely supported in the peace process, why has the peace process been so unstable and why did the IRA ceasefire breakdown? Through an examination of two ideas of pacification which are apparent in the peace process, the next section raises some questions about the merits of the principle of inclusion.

Two ideas of pacification

There are two distinct ideas of pacification which are employed in the peace process. The first is of pacification as rendering aggressors impotent. This usually entails destroying the capacity of the paramilitaries to wage war. The second is of pacification as pacifism, usually through developing a less confrontational political culture in Northern Ireland. Ian Paisley Jnr of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) provided an example of the first idea in a response to the end of the IRA ceasefire, when he said:

[Sinn Féin/IRA] determined whether 'peace' was on, in crisis or off. Those people who think that peace rallies, telephone polls or whatever else will repossess the peace are sadly deluded.. All decent human beings want peace but the reality is that peace has got to be won. If you accept it as a gift from terrorists it is not free - it is enslavement.. .Now is the time for short sharp shock military tactics against the leadership of IRAISinn Féin (Paisley Jnr, 1996, p.16).
According to this outlook Republican paramilitaries and politicians have to be forced into submission Those who believe that popular expressions in favour of peace will bring about a resolution of the conflict are naive and utopian. Here the use of military tactics is viewed as a means to achieve peace. Paisley also adds a qualification to the term peace. He wants to know under whose terms it is achieved. In viewing peace as the outcome of a process there is a similarity between this understanding of peace and the understanding associated with inclusive negotiations, but the similarity is superficial. The approach of Paisley Jnr and many of those in his party is highly confrontational, whereas the approach associated with the principle of inclusion spurns confrontation. Paisley suggests that there must be winners and losers and that peace is a zero-sum option. His critics argue that everyone stands to benefit from peace.

From pacifying to pacifist

The confrontational approach advocated by the DUP is no longer central to government policy in Northern Ireland, but it is still significant to the peace process. This confrontational approach is now highlighted in order to warn of the danger of a return to the past. Confrontation itself is viewed as producing and prolonging the conflict. People who espouse similar views to those of Paisley Jnr are accused of being stuck in the past, repeating well worn phrases that have done nothing to further the search for peace. In the words of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition they are 'dinosaurs' (O'Neill, 1996; Wilson, 1996, pp.41-57). The one issue on which the idea of emasculation does have a resonance is the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons. Even on this issue the approach is one of seeking mediation, in the form of the Mitchell Commission, rather than confrontation.

There are three aspects of the 'pacifist' approach which we shall outline here; its normative rules; the range and level of support for such an approach and its institutionalised forms. The 'pacifist' approach places an emphasis on mediation as a means of conflict resolution. Throughout the peace process various different individuals and groups have reiterated that any proposed settlement of the conflict cannot be imposed. Instead it must be reached through agreement, in order for it to endure a settlement must command the support of the people across both main communities. The main emphasis is on mediation in cross community relations, but many advocates of a non-confrontational approach promote this as a guide to all human interactions. They claim that democracy depends on trust, but too often people do not show sufficient respect for others with different views. The 'pacifist' approach urges the acknowledgement of fears and urges mutual understanding between individuals and groups. In order to stimulate this more conciliatory approach people and state institutions are urged to think what sacrifice they themselves can make in order to foster the kind of environment where people can live together. During the peace process this is referred to as the creation of 'confidence building measures' (Darhy, 1991; Morrow & Wilson, 1995, pp.69-78).

This 'pacifist' approach is widely advocated, from the British and Irish governments through a range of community reconciliation groups to both the Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries. A formal commitment to this approach can be seen in a range of documents, mission statements and manifestos. Support for such an approach can be gauged by the proliferation of mediation bodies and the acceptance of ecumenical services (Dunn, 1995). The level of support for this approach appears to depend on how much the individual or group believes that such an approach will benefit them. The Ulster Unionists, who benefited from the political institutions which were set up under Stormont and who have experienced changes in those structures as a decline in their power and prestige are unenthusiastic about a 'pacifist' approach. The Loyalist paramilitaries who did not benefit are more enthusiastic (Ervine, 1995, pp.22-24). Nationalists are overwhelmingly in favour of a 'pacifist' approach and they feel that their situation is likely to improve under any new institutional structures. Indeed the 'pacifist' approach has, in part, been a product of the efforts by the British government to incorporate nationalists into the state institutions in Northern Ireland.

The 'restructuring' of the administration of society, is being achieved through a combination of adapting old institutions, revamping existing institutions and creating entirely new ones. An example of the first is the reorganisation of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. The establishment of a Central Community Relations Unit within the Central Secretariat in 1987 signalled a new commitment by the British government to assess and reorganise the administration of the province (Gallagher, 1995, pp.32-41). This has entailed measures like the drawing up of Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment (PAFT) guidelines designed to ensure that 'issues of equality and equity condition policy-making and action at all levels of Government activity' (CCRU, 1995, p.6). An example of the second is the revamping of the Fair Employment legislation in 1989, which gave more extensive powers to the revamped bodies which have responsibility for 'the promotion of equality of opportunity and the elimination of discrimination' (Edwards, 1995, p.30). An example of an entirely new institution is the Mitchell Commission set up to adjudicate on the issue of the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.

Demobilising discontent

It has already been noted that the peace process has come about through an acceptance that Britain bears some responsibility for the divisions in Ireland, an admission which has led to recognition that paramilitary violence is not simply mindless. The peace process has placed an emphasis on people working together to create a lasting peace. What happens to those people who do not see the merits of working together? What about those people who do not agree with a 'pacifist' approach? To gain a full appreciation of the peace process it is also important to remember that there has been a less benevolent side to conflict management measures. The peace process has been made possible through demobilising discontent in the province. This has entailed making concessions to opponents, but it has also meant the different participants having to demobilise potential opposition from among those who were previously their supporters. There are three main ways in which this has been achieved. One is by circumventing the discontent, by excluding the influence of those who might undermine the process. A second way is through diffusing discontent, by, for example, deliberately creating a lack of clarity on core issues. The third is of corralling discontent, by, for example, driving supporters into the process of co-operation and negotiation.

On the British government's side, the circumvention of discontent began with the development of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The Agreement was successful precisely because it was not vulnerable to pressure from the public mobilisations which brought down the Power-sharing Agreement in 1974. It operates through the governments of Britain and Ireland, not the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. On the republican side the peace process has been pursued by the leadership. During the peace process much of the relationship between the leadership and the grassroots now depends on the level of trust. Republicans have been viewed as resolute defenders of the nationalist ghettos in Northern Ireland. This provides the scope for both diffusing discontent and corralling discontent. Those who are uncomfortable with the peace process are continually told that there has been no sell out and that the IRA still retains its Republican objectives (see Breen, 1995, p.7). Closer supporters are encouraged to work actively to put pressure on the British government to give some substance to their commitment to an inclusive negotiated settlement. Many people still trust the leadership, but the lack of any discernable dividends from the peace process has led to many people in Republican areas becoming cynical and demoralised.

Republican sympathizers are not passive in the sense of inactive, but passive in the sense that they are spectators in the peace process rather than being part of the decision-making process. This has led to a sense of frustration and powerlessness among people in Republican areas (Campbell, 1995, p.10; Hugill & Nelson, 1995, p.13; Keenan, 1996, pp.36-40; Kelly, 1995, pp.22-23). While the frustrations may be most palpable among existing and former Republican activists, a sense of unease has been more widespread, especially in ghetto areas and among Unionist politicians (Lyttle, 1995, pp.2-3; McKittrick, 1995, p.1). This sense of frustration and powerlessness has arisen as a result of the 'pacifist' approach, ironically the 'pacifist' approach, in trying to circumvent confrontation, actually ends up rendering people impotent.

The end of the IRA ceasefire = the end of the peace process?

The end of the IRA ceasefire appeared to mark the end of the peace process. Any explanation of the peace process must be able to take account of the end of the ceasefire. It is an open repudiation of the principle of non-violence and appears to be a return to a confrontational approach. Has the attempt to create a more conciliatory political culture in the province failed?

The IRA statement which announced the end of the ceasefire claimed that the IRA retained 'a total commitment to [their] Republican objectives'. What these objectives were was not made clear. The statement made no direct reference to the withdrawal of British troops, nor to the achievement of a united Ireland, but it did state that the 'resolution of the conflict in our country demands justice, it demands a negotiated settlement'. The statement is vague on the question of Republican objectives, but clear on the IRA's commitment to the principle of inclusion. The IRA blamed its return to violent methods on 'selfish party political and sectional interests in London [which] have been placed before the rights of the people of Ireland' (IRA, 1996, p.6). According to the IRA their ceasefire broke down because of the lack of commitment by the British government to the principle of inclusion. According to the British government the breakdown of the ceasefire is an indication that the IRA were not seriously committed to the principle of non-violence (Major, 1996, p.6).

This difference of interpretation does not indicate a return to a dichotomous conflict. The end of the IRA ceasefire actually demonstrates how both the British government and Republicans are locked into the peace process. The end of the IRA ceasefire was not an attempt to destroy the peace process, but to kick start it. The British government's response has not been to abandon the peace process as an unproductive attempt at rendering the IRA impotent. Instead it has reiterated its commitment to the peace process. The British government has attempted to use the principle of nonviolence to exclude Republicans, but the principle of inclusion has infected the process so completely that they find that this is now problematic.

The end of the IRA ceasefire has revealed another aspect of the peace process. Republicans claim that the ceasefire ended because the British government did not provide any substance to the principle of inclusion. Eighteen months after the announcement of its ceasefire, Sinn Féin still awaited entry into cross-party talks. Yet Sinn Féin also claimed that the peace process was not finished. If this is true then the peace process is able to exist in the absence of the principle of inclusion. The British government claim that the break down of the ceasefire vindicated their concern that the IRA were not seriously committed to the principle of non-violence, but they claim that there is still a peace process. If this is true then the peace process is able to exist in the absence of the principle of non-violence. This is an indication that both parties have lost any sense of direction or clear purpose. The peace process has been achieved through the setting aside of purposeful action in preference to negotiating an outcome. One consequence of this is that the process has become more important than the outcome. The British government is most likely to benefit from this situation. It retains control of, or oversees, all of the powerful institutions in society and all the parties to the peace process look to them to play a leading role. In a situation where people have a diminished sense of their own capacity to bring about an objective they are reduced to pleading that others do it for them. It is remarkable that the IRA, who fought for a quarter of a century against the British state, claimed in their statement announcing the end of the ceasefire that 'a negotiated settlement... is not possible unless the British government faces up to its responsibility'.


It is ironic that the peace process has been made possible by the development of the principle of inclusion, because the peace process has been founded on the exclusion of the vast majority of people from any influence over it. The exclusion of ordinary people from the peace process is one of its strengths and also one of its weaknesses. The exclusion of ordinary people has given their political representatives greater room to manoeuvre. It has made the renegotiation of long cherished principles possible and it has allowed more time and space for them to negotiate with erstwhile enemies. Yet the exclusion of ordinary people has also meant that the peace process has not established any roots in Northern Irish society. It was noticeable for example that the public demonstrations in Dublin which called for a restoration of the IRA ceasefire were larger than those in Belfast. The exclusion of ordinary people from the peace process has meant that they are not engaged in it. This stands in stark contrast to the 1 960s and I 970s when masses of people were engaged in the 'politics on the streets'. The politicisation of ordinary people brought about massive changes in the early I 970s. Society became completely militarised, governments collapsed, new political parties emerged and the whole administration of society was reorganised. The peace process represents the end of the political cycle which emerged in the late 1 960s and in part it has been achieved through the demobilisation of ordinary people. This does not mean that the peace process is insignificant for the politics of the province. The political cycle set in motion by the civil rights movement may not have been taken over by a more energetic movement. Analysis of the peace process suggests it may be characterised by entropy rather than by dynamism, but that does not mean that it is not significant. The politics of the province cannot exist in a vacuum and the peace process has become the mechanism through which new political institutions are being developed. A major concern is that the peace process is being developed at the expense of the population of the province, the very people it is supposed to benefit. If the peace is gained through the pacification of the population of the province it is likely to make the last quarter of a century appear positively liberating by comparison.


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Publication Contents


Chris Gilligan and Jon Tonge

The primary aim of this book was to provide a substantial discussion of themes within the peace process. Although it was not an attempt to produce a catechistic question and answer session, the book nonetheless sought to address four key issues. Firstly, why did a peace process develop? Secondly, what were the major themes within the process? Thirdly, what have been the major difficulties? Finally and most tentatively, what are the future prospects for the peace process?

In respect of the first question, it is evident that a peace process developed due to changes in republicanism, which sought new allies and accepted a twenty-six county state speaking on behalf of a thirty-two county nation. No longer did republicans see themselves as sole 'liberators' of Ireland. The extent to which this does indeed constitute the death of republicanism, as Mark Ryan has argued, depends upon the extent to which the winning of new friends has been accompanied by the abandonment of old ambitions. The discussion of changing republican agendas highlighted how the emphasis upon parity of esteem and inclusive dialogue amounted to a creed of 'new reformism' seemingly at odds with traditional republican objectives. Unquestionably the acceptance of the once 'neo-colonial' southern state; emphasis upon parity of esteem and search for inclusive dialogue represent a new form of republicanism. What needs to be determined is whether this shifting republicanism is based upon revised ends or means. The desire for inclusion in all-party talks may offer a chance to articulate 'republican objectives', but do those objectives any longer amount to genuine republicanism?

Perhaps less evident, but of equal importance, are the changes in the British government's approach, from one of conflict resolution to conflict management. Without intergovemmentalism, the search by republicans for inclusive dialogue would not have developed. The new approach of the British government has been to work closely with the government of the Republic of Ireland to divert republicans from a military strategy towards a seeming cul-de-sac of indeterminant negotiation.

This leads us to the second question; what have been the major themes of the peace process? The move to conflict management from conflict resolution has been reflected in new approaches, language and institutional structures. On the side of Irish nationalism this can be seen in the construction of the pan-nationalist alliance, a development in which republicans played a central role. Given the similarity of parts of the historical analysis of both constitutional nationalists and militant republicans (a point made by Mark McGovern) this development might not be seen as entirely surprising. Cross-border cooperation was now seen as the motor of change designed to facilitate Irish unity. Its development can be seen in the broader context of the general diminution of the concept of absolute sovereignty and the more specific issue of British promotion of the idea that sovereignty over Northern Ireland is conditional. As with much else in the peace process, cross-borderism was not developed on a bottom-up basis. Its promotion within existing and embryonic institutions formed part of the overall pattern of top-down intergovemmentalism which has characterised political activity in Northern Ireland. A recurring theme within the book has been the marginalisation of both the unionist and nationalist communities beyond the promise of an ultimate say in the formal outcome of a process from which they have largely been excluded. This stands in stark contrast to all the talk of inclusion. The peace process promised the inclusion of a range of voices, including those of women, loyalist paramilitaries, young people, the victims of the conflict and, conditional on an IRA ceasefire, republicans. Yet this inclusion has been at the expense of the majority of unionists and nationalists in the province.

The major difficulty in answering the third question is the tension between the desire for a resolution of the conflict with a successful outcome and the reality of an approach based on conflict management. This introduces two levels to the analysis; at a broad level the issue of the possibility of reconciling nationalist and unionist aspirations and at a more mundane level the resolution of the day-to-day issues arising from the peace process. Even if issues like decommissioning of weapons and Orange parades could be resolved, it was evident that problems could only be postponed without confirmation of changed republican thinking on the future role of unionists. The republican movement oscillated between rejection of the northern majority consent principle and vague notions of covenantship with unionists. The peace process appears to be based on the postponement of this question. The minor issues which needed to be negotiated have been numerous. The lack of movement on the issues of policing and prisoners has been one of the issues which has slowed the peace process. Hillyard emphasised in his chapter the value of confidence-building measures to be developed at the outset of any 'son of peace process'. Whilst critics of the RUC are themselves split between reformers and abolitionists, it may be difficult to achieve any substantive changes in this area.

A further problem, that of consent for parades, was rooted in the theme of parity of esteem. Although the manifestation of such tussles may be violent confrontation, the desire for parity of esteem is not necessarily a barrier to a peace process. Arguably, itis an ambition arising from a tacit recognition of the existing constitutional position in Northern Ireland. The seeming revival of sectarianism has perhaps undermined the efforts of programmes such as Education for Mutual Understanding, subject of Rooney's critical assessment in chapter nine. Such programmes tend to be predicated upon the assumption that ignorance of the other community needs to be overcome. Yet it is at least arguable that the most knowledgeable actors in the conflict are fervent republicans or loyalists. Their political convictions and prescriptions are unlikely to change in the event of a revamped teaching of culture in schools. Unless the tension between the desire for change and the fear of change can be reconciled the peace process is likely to be turbulent.

Finally, what future is there for the peace process? Many of the conditions upon which it was predicated have not disappeared. The themes of intergovernmentalism, cross-borderism and parity of esteem are likely to remain. Indeed a limited political process endured beyond the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire. To be sustained, this political process needed to be based on more than the ambiguities and prevarication of the 1993-96 model, which may well have floundered even if they had progressed towards all-party talks. The intergovernmental approach found in the Downing Street Declaration and Framework Documents used republican language whilst affirming unionist positions; it spoke of the need for inclusion whilst excluding most of the population; affirmed the exclusivity of sovereignty whilst undermining that idea and advanced cross-borderism whilst attempting ringfencing. That such masterpieces of ambiguity achieved even eighteen months of peace might be seen as remarkable. On the other hand it can be viewed as an exemplar of a peace process, in which ambiguity appears to be the central approach.

One reason the peace process appeared to stumble was the short-termism of the (ultimately highly futile) avoidance of an early general election by the Conservative Government in the mid- 1 990s. This perhaps explains why it showed little enthusiasm in selling the Framework Documents to reluctant unionists. It also indicates that conflict-management was of greater priority that conflict-resolution. Definitive accounts of the role of the British Government between 1993-96 are awaited. The 1997 general election and local elections in Northern Ireland did little other than to confirm the continuing political rise of Sinn Féin and the steady overall growth of the nationalist vote. Sinn Féin's support within the nationalist community reached unprecedented levels and the Party's overall share of the vote in the reached 16.9 per cent, a new record. The significance of this may be to confirm the hegemony of political rather than military approaches within republicanism. Yet this dominance, whilst justifying Sinn Féin's promotion of its 'peace strategy' cannot be entirely assured.

The size of Sinn Féin's vote owed at least something to a sympathy factor engendered by Sinn Féin's exclusion from talks. Two questions are begged. Firstly, will Sinn Fern's abandonment of an 'ourselves alone' approach finally lead to inclusive dialogue with a new British Government? Secondly and perhaps more importantly, has the Party agreed a minimum negotiating position within inclusive talks? The previously non-negotiable issue of the border has now been incorporated within a broader package of demands sought by Sinn Féin, some of which are more reformist than revolutionary in essence. Options such as joint authority, pooling of sovereignty, or even the status quo, with Britain as a persuader to Unionists, appear to be realistic negotiating positions. The rhetorical and actual pursuits of absolute sovereignty might yet be abandoned. Any continuing peace process will test the strength of republican and loyalist vetoes over change.

Publication Contents

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