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MODERN BRITISH POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT NORTHERN IRELAND Is power-sharing the only answer to Northern Ireland's clash of identities?
Guidance: ESSAY 2: What is meant by 'power-sharing'? What is meant by 'clash of identities'? The question also asks about the 'only' answer - is this the case? If, for example, it is in your view the most appropriate answer in the circumstances, it does not mean that there are not other (less appropriate) answers. Northern Irish Voters and the British-Irish Agreement: Evans & O'Leary
- The April 1998 British-Irish 'Good Friday' Agreement was hailed as a breakthrough in the political and military stalemate in Northern Ireland. It established an Assembly based upon a consociational model of political regulation, which posits that legitimate government in disputed territories requires the consent of all the main communities rather than a simple majority; it can support an intercommunity consensus1.
- The Agreement was put to referendum and received 95% support in Ireland and 71% support in Northern Ireland. It created two types of decision-making within the Assembly. Under the concurrent majoritarian element decisions must be approved by both the Nationalist and Unionist blocs. The second is a weighted-majority procedure, requiring 60% support of all members and not less than 40% support of both groups. These two hurdles are only formally need for the election of the First Minister; all other decisions can be made using the weighted-majority procedure.
- The Assembly of 1998 had 108 members. STV is used for member elections because it creates the possibility of cross-communal vote transfers, with the likelihood potentially increasing over time.
- Social factors:
- Protestants were found to be less integrationist than Catholics and preferred stricter social boundaries. 85% of Catholics would not mind if a relative married a non-Catholic; only 57%
of Protestants felt similarly. Around 65% of both religions would be content to live in a mixed-Christian neighborhood. Half of both religions would be content to send their children to a school of the other denomination or mixed-religion.
- Protestant support for the Union steadily declined from 93% in 1989 to 87% in 1998. Only 22% of Catholics wish to remain part of the UK, with half wanting to rejoin Ireland.
- STV allowed voters to reward Sinn Fein for becoming more moderate by giving them firstpreference voters that they would not have received when the movement was still committed to war, and by giving it lower preference voters that they would never have received at all. The average voter voted for 3-4 parties2.
- Key provisions of the British-Irish Agreement:
- guarantee that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK for as long as a majority of people in Northern Ireland wish it to be so
- creation of North/South bodies
- setting up of a Northern Ireland Assembly
- removal of the Republic of Ireland's constitutional claim to Northern Ireland
- creation of a commission into the future of the RUC
- decommissioning of paramilitary weapons
- early release of prisoners
- requirement that the new Executive is power-sharing
- nobody with links to paramilitaries that still have weapons should be allowed to be a government minister 1 Northern Irish Voters and the British-Irish Agreement: Evans & O'Leary 2 Northern Irish Voters and the British-Irish Agreement: Evans & O'Leary
- prisoners should not be released until the paramilitaries have handed in their weapons
- Prisoner release was the only item for which there was majority disapproval (60% of all respondents against).
- Catholics and Nationalists were more ready to compromise than Protestants and Unionists, and they have constrained their parties to moderate behaviour. Protestants are more likely to feel politically alienated and whilst they approve of the Good Friday Agreement, they believe it brought greater benefits to Nationalists. Most of the measures enjoyed majority inter-community support.
- Past obstacles included lack of motivation among either side's political elites, unwillingness of the supporters of parties to compromise, and an absence of stability between blocs which might allow a compromise to take place and be sustained. Religious and National Identity After the Belfast Good Friday Agreement: Todd, Trew et al
- Posits that internal political struggles usually occur over territory, power, resources, or identity; often identities come to be view as oppositional, i.e. Catholic and Protestant. Religion and national identity are at the heart of the Northern Ireland conflict3.
- In 1968, before the 'Troubles' began, only 39% of Northern Irish Protestants regarded themselves as British; a decade later two-thirds did, and only 8% considered themselves Irish; post-Good Friday Agreement only 3% consider themselves Irish. Post-Agreement 60% of Northern-Irish Catholics consider themselves Irish and only a small proportion British. This has contributed to oppositional grouping in Northern Ireland.
- Among children aged 16 (in 2004) Catholic respondents were more likely to see themselves as Irish than their parents and Protestant respondents were more like to see themselves as Northern Irish.
- c6% of marriages in Northern Ireland are between mixed Protestant-Catholic couples.
- There is a high degree of overlap between religious and national identification in Northern Ireland. On this basis religion is not a good tool to promote pluralism and tolerance. Unity would be better served by reducing political, national, religious, and historical structures which divide Northern Ireland4. The Belfast Agreement - Parliamentary Affairs vol.52: E. Meehan
- Debate over devolution normally avoided Northern Ireland due to the contested nature of the territory, identity conflicts, and civil disorder. However, the Irish question provides a useful study in British handling of federalism. However, Stormont was a devolved parliament, not a federal one, illustrated by its prorogation by Westminster in 1972.
- Pre-Good Friday Agreement it had been felt that all Irish questions had to be answered simultaneously; a piecemeal approach was not acceptable to either side5. A three-strand deal was reached:
- Strand one - Northern Irish arrangements, creation of the Assembly and transfer of legislative and executive powers. Also included were provisions for the protection of minority communities. Committee and Ministerial offices are allocated in accordance with Party strength.
- Strand two - Created the North-South Ministerial Council and saw that Ireland gave up claims to the North. It also set referendum hurdles before the two parts could be reconstituted.
- Strand three - Set up a British-Irish Council allowing common policies to be developed between the nations.
- The agreement was designed with the ECHR in mind.
- Ireland is affected by both its relationship with the North and with Britain.
3 Religious and National Identity After the Belfast Good Friday Agreement: Todd, Trew et al 4 Religious and National Identity After the Belfast Good Friday Agreement: Todd, Trew et al 5 The Belfast Agreement - Parliamentary Affairs vol.52: E. Meehan
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