Consociational conflict transformation: Ethno-national identity in post-Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland
Date: 24 August 2015
University of Exeter
PhD in Ethno-Political Studies
The case of Northern Ireland is heralded by many as a consociational success story. Since the signing of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in 1998, significant conflict transformation has taken place in the form of a considerable reduction in levels of violence and the establishment of power sharing between unionists and nationalists. ...
The case of Northern Ireland is heralded by many as a consociational success story. Since the signing of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in 1998, significant conflict transformation has taken place in the form of a considerable reduction in levels of violence and the establishment of power sharing between unionists and nationalists. This thesis, however, asks whether consociational arrangements are transforming conflict in a different way: through mitigating the salience of ethno-national identities. It argues that if this is taking place, it would be demonstrated in the focus of the election campaigns of Northern Ireland’s political parties, which would be almost exclusively based around socio-economic issues affecting the whole population, rather than narrow single identity concerns. Elections contested using Proportional Representation – Single Transferable Vote (PR-STV) offer the greatest potential to induce moderation, as this electoral system is preferential and allows inter-party lower order preference votes (or transfers) to be cast. It should, therefore, be in the interest of parties to maximise their support by moderating their campaigns with the intention of attracting inter-bloc transfers. If this is occurring, it would demonstrate a shift from traditional unionist versus nationalist politics to a more inclusive political system that is less concerned with ethno-national divisions. On the whole, however, this has not been realised. Although election campaigns are today less strident than they were in the pre-1998 era, it remains the case that they usually foreground single identity symbolism, as it is this that resonates with voters. Whilst consociational power sharing has been very successful in reducing levels of violent conflict and facilitating elite level cooperation between unionists and nationalists, it has been much less successful in reducing divisions within wider society. This indicates a dissonance between ‘high’ politics and society in Northern Ireland. The conclusions of this thesis also highlight a disparity between what political theory argues may happen and what actually does, as demonstrated by the practice of politics. It is the novel way in which this research tests its hypothesis that makes an original contribution to knowledge. This is achieved through the unique application of ethno-symbolism to analyse political party election campaigns.
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