Conflict in Northern Ireland: Lessons learned (Jam Session)

An overview of the history of Northern Ireland conflict resolution: attempts, failures and successes.

Dr. Richard B. Finnegan is a Professor Emeritus at the Department of Political Science and Informational Studies, Stonehill College (USA). Richard B. Finnegan’s interests include the development of democracy in Ireland in the twentieth century and the effects of education policy on Irish political development.

We express our gratitude to Dr. Anna Ohanyan, Richard B. Finnegan Distinguished Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science and International Studies, Stonehill College, and EPF Board member, for introducing Professor Finnegan to Armenia and EPF, thanks to the Annual International Conference The Local Roots of Global Peace: Junior Voices on Global Security Studies, organized by her, which took place at Eurasia International University (EIU) on June 23-24th, 2017.

Please see the links to the conference (photos) and EIU.
Please see more information on the LION program.

The talk with Professor Finnegan was conducted by Robert Ghazinyan, EPF.

Please see below some excerpts from the talk show:

“There was no geopolitical importance for that matter. I mean, it does not weight heavily on the scales of world politics, but the issue of the democratic legitimacy and national self-determination are important issues, and they were being played out in that conflict. So (it was about) the Irish nation, as conceived by Dublin, and the whole Ireland, and the right of Irish, which they have fought for, to govern themselves and the protestants of Northern Ireland. So, they had a self-determination claim as well, only applied to Northern Ireland. So, you had this problem. Then you had the Catholic nationalist community in the Northern Ireland. So, you have the problem of dual minorities: the Catholics of Northern Ireland, nationalists feeling as oppressed minority, and the Ulster Protestants, one out of five. Twenty per cent of the whole Ireland feeling that they are threatened as an oppressed minority. And how do you create the consensual governing institutions? So, it was an important question, though not important geopolitically.”

“… British were trying to deal with the conflict. They were trying so through the democratic processes, like they would hold an election for another Assembly and they would resolve the issues through the courts. There is a vigorous independent media in Northern Ireland which tends to echo each community, but nevertheless there were the people who believed. The only people who did not believe in democratic processes was the IRA (The Irish Republican Army), which said that we should change the status of the Northern Ireland through violence, and they had the sense if they did enough of that, the British would withdraw. So, this also goes back to the Republic of the Northern Ireland: when it became independent and autonomous, it was not a sure thing that Ireland would have a democratic government. In 20s and the 30s, we had Portugal, Spain, and the fascism was not such a dirty word. And the IRA had the same kind of ‘they and they alone know what the destiny of the nation is, and don’t get it away’. But that ultimately was resolved in the Free State of Ireland through elections. The long term political, cultural violence had been built by the British, and they had been participating in the elections since the end of the 19th century.”

“One of the ways that the Treaty of the Agreement of 1998 succeeded, was by putting aside a lot of very serious issues, like the release of the prisoners and the disarmament of the IRA. The police forced the name of the police and police powers and judicial power. They were actually put aside […]. And I knew from the personal experience that some members of the Democratic Unionist Party (DPU) would not stay in the room with members of Sinn Féin by the time the peace process came about. They knew each other. (They didn’t) talked to each other. We take a break and have coffee together. Even that simple change… And then, once the Agreement was in place, those same people now had to work out those remaining and very difficult issues. The unionists did not want the name of the police changed, because the Royal Ulster Constabulary was their police force, but the nationalists wanted to change the name because that was not a police force enforcing the law, it was an organization oppressing one community. So that talking aloud and postponing the difficult issues and then talking aloud the difficult issues to be resolved… and they were there by 2007. It just took a while. And during that time the British had to suspend the new government in Northern Ireland many times actually. But then would be back to talking and finding the agreement. In 2007, the judicial powers were given back to Northern Ireland, and Sinn Féin joined the policing board, the oversight board, and those were the last two links in the chain.”

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