Peace without Reconciliation in Northern Ireland: Lessons for Libya?


Ireland has a centuries-long conflict. The most recent phase of conflict in Northern Ireland, which lasted from 1969-1994, resulted in the loss of over 3,700 lives and was accompanied by economic devastation. The ethno-national conflict revolves mainly around a constitutional question, namely whether Northern Ireland should remain as part of the United Kingdom or become part of a United Ireland. In 1998, the Good Friday Agreement was reached between the British and Irish governments and the main political parties in Northern Ireland, bringing relative peace to the region. Major reform has taken place in policing and justice and the principle of equality has been enshrined throughout Northern Irish society. This report discusses how Northern Ireland emerged from conflict into relative peace. It examines the institutions which resulted from the Agreement and the guiding principles behind them. The report details progress towards reconciliation; and explores remaining areas of division and continuing challenges to reconciliation, including dealing with the past, ongoing segregation, cultural divisions, identity issues, and a lack of political leadership in promoting reconciliation. The report concludes by recognising that the Irish peace process has been exported around the world as a model, whilst imperfect process; and outlines seven lessons which may be useful to other conflict situations including Libya. [1]

Keywords: Northern Ireland, Reconciliation, Conflict, IRA, Irish republicanism, British loyalism, Good Friday Agreement

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Executive Summary

Conflict in Ireland lasted from 1798 to 1994.[2] In the twentieth century, violence erupted in 1916 (The Easter Rising), 1919-1921 (The War of Independence), 1922-1923 (The Irish Civil War), 1939-1940 (The S plan bombing campaign in England) and 1956-1962 (The Border Campaign/ Operation Harvest). The most recent period of conflict, known as ‘The Troubles’, took place in Northern Ireland between 1969-1994.

Northern Ireland was created in 1921 as a result of the partition of Ireland.[3] Comprising the six North Eastern counties, Northern Ireland was a unionist-dominated state. Grievances from the Catholic community regarding discrimination led, in 1968, to the non-violent Civil Rights Movement, demanding equality for Catholics. Clashes between Civil Rights marches and the overwhelmingly Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) resulted in outbreaks of violence. Violence was also directed at the marches by loyalist parmilitaries. Violent outbreaks in 1969, notably the burning of Bombay Street, marked the start of the Troubles.

Conflict has mainly revolved around the constitutional question of whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom or should be part of a United Ireland. Unionists and Loyalists (mainly Protestant) want Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK. Irish nationalists and republicans (mainly Catholic) want Northern Ireland to leave the UK and become part of a United Ireland.

Considering the level of violence in the conflict, which claimed thousands of lives and caused significant economic devastation, the priority of the peace negotiations conducted in 1997/98 was to bring an end to violence and loss of life. The Good Friday Agreement achieved in 1998 resulted in multi-party power-sharing governmental institutions, changes in policing, enshrinement of equality, and the release of political prisoners. The agreement brought relative peace to the region.

Despite relative peace, true reconciliation is still only an aspiration. Efforts have included home-based initiatives, facilitation from the Church, and an active civil society; as well as significant international assistance from the European Union and the United States. However, today Northern Ireland remains divided along communal lines. Key areas of division include dealing with the past, legacy and identity issues, and competing narratives on the conflict and its causes. Reconciliation efforts are hampered by a sense that victims and survivors have not received justice. Further, segregation in housing and education persist, despite progress in these areas; and peace walls are more numerous than they were prior to the 1998 Agreement.[4] The continual collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly has also not been conducive to reconciliation efforts, revealing the limits of power-sharing institutions and the persistent lack of trust between the parties; and some would argue the need for revision of the model to adapt it to the new political realities.


Ireland has a deeply troubled history, with violent ethno-national conflict spanning centuries. Labelled intractable and zero-sum, the most recent phase of violence in Northern Ireland (known as ‘The Troubles’), spanning almost 30 years (1969-1994), was one of competing nationalisms. The unionist and loyalist population (mainly Protestant) seek to remain part of the United Kingdom. The nationalist and republican population (mainly Catholic) seek, on the other hand, Irish unification and the removal of the border between the North and South of Ireland, which was established by partition in 1921.[5]

The main parties to the 1969-1994 Northern Ireland conflict included the Provisional Irish Republican Army (thereafter ‘Provisional IRA’ or ‘PIRA’) [6] who were engaged in a conflict with the British Army. The PIRA viewed the conflict as colonial in nature and called for the British government to withdraw from Northern Ireland, claiming that Britain had no legitimate ownership of any part of Ireland.[7] The British Army had been deployed to the streets of Northern Ireland in 1969, originally as a peace-keeping force, but were quickly viewed by the Catholic nationalist and republican population as the enemy. The Provisional IRA and the British Army engaged in ongoing street gun battles, and PIRA snipers carried out attacks on British Army barracks.

Other republican paramilitary groups included the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), whose political wing was the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), the Official IRA and the IPLO. There are also dissident republican groups including the Continuity IRA (formed 1986) and the Real IRA (formed 1997).

Republican and loyalist paramilitaries were also engaged in violent conflict with each other. The main loyalist groups were the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF, formed 1966[8]), the Ulster Defence Association (UDA, formed 1971) and the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF, formed 1971).

The PIRA also described their role as defending and protecting Catholic areas from loyalist attacks: incidents included the burning of Bombay Street in West Belfast in 1969. The PIRA was further engaged in combat with the mainly Protestant police force, the RUC, which was formed in 1922 and superseded in 2001 by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Allegations of collusion between the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries have prompted a number of inquiries.

The conflict was protracted and bloody, claiming over 3,700 lives including many civilians. Northern Ireland suffered economically and there were also a number of economic hits in Britain  by the PIRA, particularly in London.[9]

This phase of violent conflict between 1969 and 1994 was brought to an end with the historic Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998, also known as the Belfast Agreement. Agreement was reached between the British and Irish governments and most of the main political parties in Northern Ireland.[10] Crucially it was endorsed by referendum.[11]

The Agreement established largely consociational[12] power-sharing institutions. These included all the main political parties: UUP, SDLP, Sinn Féin, DUP, Alliance Party, PUP, and the Women’s Coalition. The central element of the GFA was the principle of consent, which states that it is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide their constitutional future – i.e. whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK or become part of a United Ireland – through a vote, namely a border-poll. The Agreement did not eradicate political aspirations, but rather accommodated them, but these were to be pursued through peaceful means.

The main priority was to end violence and take the gun out of Irish politics permanently, breaking the cycle of centuries of violent conflict. At this point, reconciliation was an aspiration to be achieved after the immediate priority of ending violence. Reconciliation efforts have included home-based initiatives including significant cross-community work, Church initiatives, civil society efforts and significant attention from the EU and US. This included practical support through the peace funds provided by the EU.

Whilst Northern Ireland marked twenty-five years from the GFA this year, it did not have a functioning government. The government had been suspended from 2022 (for the eighth time); this time in protest at the Brexit protocol. Therefore, reconciliation remains a challenge in Northern Ireland. This report examines the extent to which it has been achieved, as well as the remaining challenges.

The report is structured into three sections. Section 1 examines Northern Ireland’s path from conflict to peace. Section 2 looks at the role of institutions in promoting reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Finally, section 3 analyses the progress made, and the remaining challenges, to reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Methodologically, this report draws upon survey data, peace-monitoring reports, relevant policy documents and academic literature on Northern Ireland reconciliation. It concludes with potential lessons which can be drawn from the Northern Ireland experience and which may be relevant for  Libya.

1. Northern Ireland’s path from conflict to peace

    • The emergence of ‘The Troubles’ (1969-1994)

The island of Ireland, which comprises 32 counties, was partitioned in 1921 following the Government of Ireland Act (1920). Partition created Northern Ireland (the six North-Eastern counties) which remain in the United Kingdom (UK) both legally and constitutionally. The 26 counties of the South of Ireland became the Irish Free State after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty; and latterly became the Republic of Ireland in 1949, following the Republic of Ireland Act (1948).

Since its establishment, the Northern Ireland state was at times referred to as a ‘Protestant state for a Protestant people’. The Protestant British population held a majority. The minority Catholic (Irish nationalist/republican) population felt like second-class citizens. They suffered structural discrimination in housing and jobs, as well as electoral gerrymandering. The overwhelmingly Protestant police force, the RUC, was viewed suspiciously by the Catholic population who believed that the RUC was involved in collusion with loyalist paramilitary organisations (UVF/ UDA/ UFF).

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) emerged in the late 1960s. NICRA campaigned for civil rights and equality and held its first march in August 1968, with approximately 2,500 people in attendance. Another march took place on 5 October 1968, which the RUC attempted to reroute. Violence broke out and multiple marchers were hit by police with batons. This provoked outrage amongst the nationalist population and sections of the Protestant population (some of which were involved in NICRA).

Tensions escalated in 1969. Since its foundation, the IRA had been engaged in sporadic armed actions against the Northern Ireland state, including the 1956-62 Border Campaign;[13] but a tactical ceasefire had been declared by the leadership in 1962. In 1969, PIRA, after splitting from the Official IRA, embarked on its armed campaign. Key events took place during this period which stoked ‘the Troubles’. These included the loyalist burning of the Catholic Bombay Street in the Clonard area of Belfast (1969); the introduction of internment by the British government in 1971, when approximately 340 people (predominantly Catholics) were arrested on suspicion of involvement with the IRA; and Bloody Sunday in January 1972 when British soldiers shot dead thirteen people in Derry at an anti-internment march[14]. And so began the violent period that would become known as ‘The Troubles’, during which the PIRA fought a long campaign against the British Army. Loyalist paramilitaries, meanwhile, fought a violent campaign for Northern Ireland to remain as part of the UK.

  • The armed groups

The Provisional Irish Republican Army

The PIRA was engaged in a long war with the British Army, as the PIRA sought British withdrawal and a united, sovereign, thirty-two-county Ireland. The Republican Movement, comprising of the PIRA and Sinn Féin (the alleged political wing of the PIRA) viewed the conflict as colonial in nature. Britain was seen as an aggressive coloniser that was to depart Ireland, thus resulting in a united Ireland. The PIRA called a ceasefire in 1994 and then again in 1997, after the ceasefire had been temporarily broken.

The Irish National Liberation Army

Formed in December 1974 the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) was a socialist Irish republican organisation, believed to be the military wing of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP). Like the PIRA, the INLA sought to remove Northern Ireland from the UK and to create a socialist Republic comprising all 32 counties. Their campaign was mainly waged against the British Army and the RUC. The INLA called a ceasefire in August 1998.

Loyalist paramilitaries

Loyalist paramilitary organisations, including the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) were engaged in the violent conflict, as they sought to keep Northern Ireland as part of the UK. The UVF[15] was formed in 1966 and declared a ceasefire in 1994.

The UDA was formed in 1971 and also called a ceasefire in 1994. The UFF was a group within the UDA which undertook attacks using the name UFF to prevent the UDA being outlawed. However, the UFF was proscribed by the British government as a terrorist organisation in 1973 and the UDA became a proscribed organisation in 1992.

Loyalist paramilitaries engaged in an armed campaign against Irish republicans and described their goal as that of protecting Protestant loyalist and unionist areas, as well as protecting the union with the United Kingdom.

  • The Political Parties

The largest representative of unionism during the Troubles was the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), led from 1995 to 2005 by David Trimble. The UUP represented a moderate unionist position. Other unionist parties, which were more closely associated with loyalist paramilitaries, were the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP). The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) led by Reverend Ian Paisley took an anti-Agreement position.

The main representative of Irish nationalism was the constitutional nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) led, at the time of the GFA, by John Hume. Representing Irish republicanism was Sinn Féin, led by Gerry Adams, believed to be the political wing of the PIRA.

There was also the non-aligned cross-community Alliance Party and the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, as well as the Labour Coalition. Within five years of Agreement being reached, the DUP and Sinn Féin had overtaken their more moderate rivals to become the largest representatives of, respectively, unionism and nationalism. A position they have continued to hold to the present day.

  • Working towards Agreement

Since the late 1970s secret talks had been taking place between the PIRA and the British and Irish governments. Talks also took place between Sinn Féin and the SDLP between 1988-1992 (known as the Hume-Adams talks). In these talks the SDLP leader John Hume and his party sought to convince the PIRA to end its armed campaign. Hume’s main argument was that it is the people of Ireland who are divided, not the territory, and that Irish unity must come about by the consent and unity of the people.

By the 1990s, efforts to achieve a peace agreement had gained momentum amidst a war-weary population, bolstered by outside actors. These actors included US President Bill Clinton who took an active role in the Irish peace process; and the European Union.  The EU and US, actually played a crucial part in these times of crisis, with US delegations acting as facilitators and mediators between the deeply opposed positions of British unionism and Irish nationalism.

In 1994, the PIRA declared a ceasefire ending its armed campaign of almost 30 years. Within months, the loyalist paramilitary organisations also declared a ceasefire. The PIRA ceasefire broke down in 1996, but resumed again in 1997, paving the way for its alleged political wing Sinn Féin to partake in all-party talks. These led to the historic Good Friday Agreement in 1998 (also known as the Belfast Agreement). The talks in 1997/98 were chaired by US Senator George J. Mitchell, and described by the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair as ‘one of the most extraordinary peace negotiations ever undertaken.’ and he said:  He famously said ‘I feel the hand of history upon our shoulder’.[16]

The Irish conflict had been deemed unsolvable and zero-sum, with the two sides adopting what appeared to be irreconciliable positions. Unionists were absolutely determined to protect the position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, whilst Irish nationalists were equally determined to advance the cause of Irish unification. Beyond the fundamental issue of identity, there were a number of stumbling blocks on the path to agreement, including: 1) unionist demands for PIRA decommissioning of weapons; 2) nationalist demands for demilitarisation (e.g. British army barracks, checkpoints and the hard border with the south); 3) unionist opposition to the early release of paramilitary prisoners;[17] and 4) the procedural issues of how the internal power-sharing institutions would function in Northern Ireland.[18]

Until the last minute, it seemed practically impossible to achieve an Agreement that would be acceptable to both traditions; and intensive negotiations were undertaken, between unionists and nationalists, to work out what was acceptable and achievable. Meanwhile, the UUP was under pressure from the more ‘hard-line’ DUP who remained opposed to Agreement and to Sinn Féin’s inclusion in any peace.

But agreement was achieved and the experience demonstrates that negotiations involving all parties to a given conflict are more likely to produce a sustainable and enduring agreement, than one that excludes key actors. At the time, a key area of contention was whether or not any party should be admitted to the talks whilst violence continued (specifically Sinn Féin).

Significantly, the Agreement was endorsed by popular referendum (1998) in Northern Ireland, with 71.1% voting in favour. On the same day, a referendum was held in the South of Ireland on the removal of articles 2 and 3 from the Irish constitution, which laid claim to Northern Ireland, with 94.4% voting in favour.

The referenda, in both parts of Ireland, bolstered the legitimacy and durability of the Agreement and the resulting institutions. These votes have been cited as evidence that the people of Ireland support this Agreement, particularly in the face of continuing violence from ‘dissident’ Irish republican groups.[19] The key aim of the Agreement was to end the violence and enable the pursuit of political aspirations through peaceful and institutional means. Political conflict continues, but it is mainly non-violent.

2. The role of Institutions established by the 1998 Agreement

  • Establishment of the Northern Irish institutions

The 1998 Agreement was based on a three-strand approach, which had been advocated by Irish nationalist and SDLP leader John Hume since the 1970s.

Strand one established power-sharing institutions in Northern Ireland. The key principles of the power-sharing arrangements were: 1) proportionality (proportional representation); 2) cultural equality for the two main traditions of unionism and nationalism; 3) cross-community consent and mutual veto rights; 4) parity of esteem; and 5) mutual respect. These were essential principles for a society emerging from conflict with a deep distrust of ‘the other’ community.

The power-sharing assembly (the Stormont Assembly) comprised the main political parties of unionism (UUP and DUP) and nationalism (the SDLP and Sinn Féin), as well as ‘others’ including the centrist Alliance Party, the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, the UK Unionist Party, and the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP). Members of the Assembly (MLAs) were to be elected on the basis of proportional representation (PR). PR was viewed as the most appropriate mechanism to ensure proportionality of representation in a divided society.

MLAs are required to designate their communal background as unionist, nationalist or ‘other’ due to the fact that key decisions require parallel consent (concurrent majorities of nationalists and unionists) or a weighted majority. However, critics have argued that this designation ‘has reinforced sectarian political divides and that it has not facilitated adequate grass-roots and local participation’.[20] Communal designation has resulted in intra-bloc ethnic-outbidding, where parties seek to show that they are the strongest defender of their communal interests, leading critics to argue that the consociational model actually reinforces difference.

An Executive with legislative powers was established on a cross-community basis. Ministers are appointed to the Executive within the Assembly by the d’Hondt mechanism. This means that positions are allocated based on the party’s vote share, allowing for a more proportional allocation of Ministries.

The office of First Minister (FM) and deputy First Minister (d)FM is legally and practically equal. The procedure for appointing FM and (d)FM was amended in the St Andrews Agreement of 2006 meaning that the FM is now drawn from the largest party in the largest communal designation (unionist or nationalist) and the (d)FM is drawn from the largest party in the second largest communal designation. At the time of the GFA, the equal status of FM and (d)FM was of practical and symbolic significance. However, despite the joint office, in reality, unionism and nationalism have remained in an ongoing battle to be First Minister. Elections continue to be dominated by the race for First Minister. Critics of the system (integrationists in particular) have argued that this has increased polarisation in Northern Irish society, providing no incentive for moderation or cross-community voting.[21]

Strand two established North-South bodies, namely the North-South Ministerial Council and North-South implementation bodies. These support co-operation between the North and South of Ireland. The six key areas for co-operation are: agriculture, education, environment, health, tourism and transport.

Strand three covered East-West relations between Ireland and Britain, establishing the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the British-Irish Council, which supports co-operation between the UK and Ireland. The aims of the Council are to further promote positive, practical relationships among the people of the islands and to provide a forum for consultation and co-operation.[22]

  • The principle of Consent and its implications for Northern Ireland’s future

The Northern Ireland conflict has revolved around the unresolved constitutional question – namely whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK or become part of a United Ireland. Crucially, the GFA enshrined the right of Northern Ireland citizens to be recognised as British, Irish or both; and to possess a British or Irish passport, or both.

These rights stem from the central principle of the Agreement, namely consent. This states that it is for the people of the island alone to decide their constitutional future through a vote. Irish unity is possible if a majority of people in Northern Ireland vote for it.  Therefore, whilst Northern Ireland remains in the UK for the foreseeable future, the constitutional question remains open, to be decided by a future vote (also known as a border-poll). [23]

Unsurprisingly, the Agreement was interpreted differently by the nationalist and unionist communities. Unionists viewed it as copper-fastening the union; whilst nationalists saw it as a roadmap to a united Ireland. Therein lay its strength. The Agreement allowed each side to see a way forward for their political aspirations, thus making agreement possible between historically antagonistic and irreconcilable positions. This has been referred to as ‘constructive ambiguity’.

But the constructive ambiguity that made space for agreement became a source of antagonism during the implementation phase, as the Assembly repeatedly collapsed around continuing crises. The institutions collapsed in 2000 due to unionist demands for PIRA Decommissioning[24]. Then in 2002-2007 due to the discovery of an alleged PIRA spy-ring [25]at Stormont. The institutions were dissolved between 2017 and 2020 due to the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme.[26] At the time of writing the institutions are currently suspended. In fact the Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended for 40% of its entire existence.

Therefore, good relations have taken second place to political and governmental stability; what Duncan Morrow has described as ‘crisis-managed containment’.[27] In a sense, reaching agreement was only the beginning of the process. As US Senator George J. Mitchell, who chaired the peace talks, stated: ‘it is a fragile peace which could end at any time, there are many crucial decisions yet to be made’.[28] It was evident that trust amongst parties in the Assembly was largely absent. Therefore, the initial years of implementation were characterised by the stop-start nature of the Assembly.

  • Changes in Northern Irish policing

A significant element of institutional change took place regarding policing in Northern Ireland. It is difficult to envisage the progress that has been made in Northern Irish society without these changes to the police. The mainly Protestant RUC was viewed with suspicion (at best) by the nationalist community. The police had failed to attract many Catholic recruits. To address this issue, a report formally titled ‘A new beginning: Policing in Northern Ireland’ (and known as the ‘Patten report’ after the name of its drafter Christopher Patten) was produced in September 1999.

The report made 175 recommendations. Key points included: 1) a new oath, expressing an explicit commitment to upholding human rights; 2) a new code of ethics; 3) all police officers and police civilians should be trained in the fundamental principles and standards of human rights and the practical implications for policing; 4) performance of the police regarding human rights should be monitored by the policing board; 5) an entirely new policing board should be created; 6) responsibility for policing should be devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive as soon as possible; 7) the police should take steps to improve its transparency; 8) the police ombudsman should be, and be seen to be, an important institution in the governance of Northern Ireland; 9) policing with the community should be the core function of the police service; 10) police stations built from now on should have, so far as possible, the appearance of ordinary buildings; and, 11) police cars should continue to be substituted as patrol vehicles in place of armoured land-rovers.

The Patten report was significant in moving towards normalising policing in Northern Ireland, as well as demilitarisation. In November 2001, the RUC became the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) with new symbols and the uniform was changed from black to green.

Of paramount significance was the fact that positive discrimination would be applied in recruitment to the police. Police would be recruited on a 50:50 basis, meaning that 50% recruited would be from the Protestant community and 50% would be from the Catholic community. The result was that by 2011 Catholics comprised 30% of the PSNI. In 1996, only 7% of the RUC had been Catholic. The changes brought about by the Patten report also resulted in Sinn Féin making the historic step of taking their places on policing boards. However, since 50:50 recruitment ended in 2011[29] the number of Catholic recruits has fallen again, sparking debates around whether to reintroduce 50:50 recruitment: something unionists are opposed to. In 2021, Catholic recruits stood at 24%.

An additional measure concerned the ‘parades’ issue. Throughout the 1990s, a key source of communal violence in Northern Ireland was paraded, particularly (Protestant) Orange Order parades, which often resulted in violent clashes at interfaces as parades passed by a mainly Catholic area. The parades commemorate historic events, most notably the British Protestants’ victory at the Battle of the Boyne on 12 July each year[30]. The main 12 July Orange march passes Ardoyne, a Catholic area, in North Belfast, at which riots broke out every 12 July. As Catholic nationalist protestors clashed with the Orange marchers, riot police were deployed, water cannons were used against the protestors and plastic bullets were fired. Film and photographs of protestors being dragged off the road by police had a negative impact on reconciliation efforts. This was particularly so amongst a Catholic nationalist community that was already hostile towards the police.

In 1997, a parades commission was set up in Northern Ireland. This was an independent body with the powers to place restrictions on contentious parades. The establishment of the parades commission was a significant step in de-escalating a contentious issue.

Devolution of policing and justice from Westminster to Northern Ireland also took place in 2010, three years after British Army foot patrols ended.[31] Devolution of these powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly was a significant step in the political process. Taken together, the end of British Army foot patrols, establishment of the parades commission, changes in policing, and the devolution of policing and justice powers, made a significant impact on Northern Irish society and helped in its transition from violence.

  • Enshrinement of Equality in Northern Ireland

All-party talks, which lead to the GFA, resulted in Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act (1998). The Act was intended to be transformative regarding equality there. Its aim was to change the practice of government and public authorities to ensure that equality of opportunity and good relations are central to policy making, policy review and the delivery of services (Equality Commission, April 2010). Public authorities were required to promote equality of opportunity between the nine equality categories which were: 1) persons of different religious beliefs; 2) different political opinions; 3) racial groups; 4) age; 5) marital status; 6) sexual orientation; 7) men and women generally; 8) persons with or without a disability; and 9) persons with or without dependants.

The legal enshrinement of equality was epoch-changing for Northern Ireland, particularly given its long history of discrimination in housing and employment against the Catholic nationalist population. The enshrinement of equality was a vital pre-requisite to any progress being made on reconciliation. Structural discrimination, which had been so destructive in Northern Irish society, was largely eradicated; this was a necessary step for Northern Ireland as it began to move on from its past. Without equality, reconciliation attempts would remain fruitless.

Today, Northern Ireland is a more equal and confident society, with wider acceptance and tolerance of communal identities. Individuals feel more secure in expressing their cultural identities. Surveys such as the Northern Life and Times have demonstrated that more people now prefer a workplace with mixed religion, more people feel they can be open about their cultural identity in their workplace, and the numbers of people wishing to live in a religiously homogeneous area have fallen by almost 50%. 94% of people feel safe where they live. Support has also grown for integrated education.[32] Overall, the indicators point to a more moderate society.

3. Positive progress and remaining challenges in the reconciliation process

Whilst the 1998 Agreement and the resulting institutions have brought relative peace to Northern Ireland (the enormity of which should not be underestimated), the political process did not see a parallel process of meaningful reconciliation.

Understandably, reconciliation came behind the more immediate priority of ending violent conflict and killings. However, an inbuilt process of reconciliation, rather than a supplementary issue to be decided upon at a later stage, may have proven more conducive towards creating a properly shared society. In principle, the Agreement committed to ‘fostering agreement and reconciliation’, but in practice a more developed good-relations strategy could have been enacted alongside the political process. As Professor Feargal Cochrane stated: ‘The uncomfortable truth was that, beyond the level of general rhetoric, the GFA did not connect adequately with communities in a way that would help to encourage integration or reconciliation’.[33]

  • Positive Progress

There have been attempts at the governmental level to address culturally divisive issues in Northern Irish society through various agreements that have been reached since the 1998 GFA. These agreements did not alter the fundamental nature of the institutions, or the three-stranded approach on which the GFA was based. Rather, they sought to restore the Assembly after periods of collapse and to address ongoing difficult issues. These include the operation of the institutions, acceptance of the police, identity, rights, cultural expression and legacy. The ‘New Decade, New Approach Agreement’ (2020) stated that reconciliation will be central to the Executive’s approach with a focus on building a united community based on the principles of equality and mutual respect.

Culture and identity issues

In 2016, a commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT) was established, with fifteen members.[34] Its focus was on ‘flags and emblems and, as required, broader issues of identity, culture and tradition’, and with the aim to ‘identify maximum consensus on their application’.[35] A significant finding of the commission, after widespread societal consultation, was that survivors and victims of the conflict felt that they did not wish to engage on issues of flags, identity and culture, while their needs as survivors and victims remained unaddressed.

The commission also concluded that hurt could be caused by commemoration and memorialisation practices, which are viewed as an important part of culture and identity in each community in Northern Ireland. Whilst the commission explored a number of aspects related to commemoration, it failed to reach an agreement on recommendations.

Additional reconciliation efforts entailed significant international intervention, notably through the EU’s Peace Programmes. Home-based processes and initiatives, mainly funded by the Northern Ireland Assembly (such as local cross-community schemes) have also been conducted at a communal level. These were carried out to improve community relations, mainly by voluntary groups, religious organisations, NGOs, councils and other bodies.

Progress through EU Investment in Northern Ireland

The European Union (EU) played a vital role in the Irish peace process through the financial aid it provided via the Peace Programmes in place since 1989. The key aim of these programmes was reconciling communities and contributing to peace. Between 1995 and 2013 the three EU Peace Programmes contributed 1.3 billion euro to Northern Ireland. The Irish peace process was top down, therefore a key achievement of the EU funded programmes was the facilitation of dialogue and decision making at a more communal ground level.

Key projects which have been funded by the peace money include: 1) projects to support victims and survivors; 2) young people and small and medium sized enterprises SMEs; 3) infrastructure and urban regeneration projects; and 4) projects in support of immigrants and of celebrating the ethnic diversity of society as a whole.[36]

Reports such as A Shared Future (2005)[37] identified the fact that communities in Northern Ireland were living separate but equal lives EU funding through the Peace Programmes has significantly contributed to efforts to promote cross-community participation and reconciliation and to reduce parallel living. Areas targeted include: 1) engagement with former prisoners across the divide; 2) projects involving the police; 3) human rights promotion;  4) economic regeneration;  5) cross-border connections;  6) reducing tensions at interface areas;  and 7) creating neutral spaces in the arts, leisure and commercial development.

Notable examples of investment in neutral spaces include the Titanic Quarter and Victoria Square shopping area in Belfast.[38] Developing these areas has been significant to Northern Ireland, which has seen its tourist trade grow since the peace process. Tourism has greatly boosted the Northern Irish economy. The West Belfast black taxi political tours and the Titanic Museum have become world-leading tourist attractions, which have had a positive impact on local communities. These programmes contributed to economic and social stability within Northern Ireland, and to enhancing cohesion between communities, through the shared initiatives and spaces that they funded.

Community based initiatives & the role of NGOs

Community based initiatives have played a central role in promoting reconciliation in Northern Ireland. They are particularly important at times of crisis. The Northern Irish government has provided money each year to schemes which are designed to improve community relations, including: 1) summer camps for children; 2) shared education schemes in schools; 3) cross-community programmes for adults; and 4) joint community facilities and buildings.

The Northern Ireland Assembly also provides money to local councils to facilitate projects and schemes in their local areas with the aim of improving community relations. However, the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey (2021) revealed that only 46% of those surveyed were aware of any such cross-community projects or schemes in the previous five years, suggesting that greater awareness is needed for citizens to fully benefit from them.

Key examples of work by NGOs include:

  • The Opsahl Commission, which undertook cross-community initiatives and also introduced concepts such as parity of esteem, which became central to the political process.
  • The Trade Union Movement, which held rallies throughout the 1990s, arguably helping to set the mood for cross-community cooperation and a rejection of violence.
  • The Women’s Movement, which eventually found expression in the Women’s Coalition. Even before the party was formed, the Women’s Movement made significant efforts towards building peace at a communal level.

There are also prominent groups such as the Corrymeela Community, founded in 1965. The group facilitates the coming together of members of opposing communities to have difficult conversations, as well as to support one another. The group also facilitates discussions around history and identity, contributing to building positive relations, understanding and empathy.[39]

However, despite these efforts, Northern Ireland continues to be a polarised society lacking cohesion, and a shared Northern Irish identity remains elusive.

  • Remaining challenges to reconciliation

The monumental challenge of dealing with the past

Dealing with the past has proven one of the most significant challenges to reconciliation in Northern Ireland. The GFA provided scant details on how to deal with the past. This was an issue to be dealt with at a later stage in the process. Consequently, it has continued to re-emerge as a source of division and contention.

There is no agreed narrative regarding the conflict, or its causes; and it is unlikely that one will ever emerge. Each community has its own narrative regarding past events. The unionist community’s narrative emphasises loss (including symbolical loss), and the erosion of their British identity and culture, whereas the nationalist narrative emphasises the achievement of equality and the parity of esteem. In fact, there is a section within unionism and loyalism which argues that unionists should never have accepted the GFA, viewing the process since as one of appeasement to nationalism. History is deployed in current political and cultural disputes.

Unlike South Africa, Northern Ireland never adopted a formal mechanism for dealing with the past, though a truth and reconciliation commission was suggested (but never set up). In 2019, the ESRC Northern Ireland General Election survey revealed that there has been a shift in support for a truth and reconciliation commission in Northern Ireland: 45.7% of those surveyed were in favour of a commission, which is an increase from 31.5% in 2017.[40]

The role of political leadership in reconciliation – is this lacking?

Political actors have presented a united front in the face of significant external threats to the peace process, such as violent attacks on security forces by dissident republicans. They have not, though, shown the same solidarity across the community regarding cultural issues. In the cultural arena, political leaders have mainly emphasised their own ethno-national communal interests. In 2012, changes were made in relation to the flying of the Union Flag: meaning that the number of days the flag would fly on public buildings was reduced to designated days, in line with protocol in the rest of the UK. This sparked unionist outrage and there were protests. At various points in the process, loyalists and unionists have claimed that their British identity is being undermined in Northern Ireland. Some loyalists believe that this is the ultimate design of the political process in place since the GFA.

The Peace Monitoring Reports, which examined the loyalist flag protests, noted the fact that the unionist leadership focused on communal solidarity, resulting in a ‘re-sectarianisation of politics’. [41] The reports also concluded that the continuing focus on symbolic and divisive issues in the Assembly increased polarisation. A decade later, loyalist protests and rallies against the Brexit protocol have provoked a similar reaction from the unionist leadership, which has emphasised intra-communal interests and solidarity.

The endurance of Peace Walls

Peace walls provide the most visual reminder that Northern Ireland remains a divided society. They are physical structures (or barriers) constructed mainly of brick, iron or steel, which extend for miles through residential areas, mostly in Belfast, Derry and Portadown. These jagged lines of separation have the purpose of separating the nationalist community from the unionist community. Some are permanent whilst others are makeshift. They were first built at the beginning of the Troubles in 1969, and were intended to ‘reduce opportunities for communal violence and disorder’.[42]

In 2022, there remained over 60 peace walls in Northern Ireland, more than there were at the time of the Agreement in 1998. Indeed, today some of the walls are higher and longer than they were in 1998. Research has shown that the enduring peace walls deter economic investment.[43] As well as having a detrimental effect on physical cross-community contact, the walls also have a psychological impact on cross-community relations. Leading political figures such as former US President Barack Obama have called for their removal, arguing that this is essential for Northern Ireland’s political future. But, research has also demonstrated that many residents living beside the walls do not want them to be removed.[44] They have increased residents’ sense of security by providing a physical barrier between communities at times of violent protest and riots.[45]

A Divided Society: Segregated Housing and Education

Many commitments in the 1988 GFA have not been enacted, including integrated education and integrated housing estates. Whilst there are some mixed schools in Northern Ireland (all religions), education remains highly segregated between Catholic and Protestant schools. The fact that only 7% of children attend an integrated school is a stark reminder of this.[46] Yet opinion polls have consistently shown support for integrated education, usually around 70% of the population supporting mixed schools.[47]

A key problem is the lack of availability of integrated schools, with many areas simply lacking this option. An increase in the provision of integrated schools would increase choice, whilst preserving the right to attend a faith school if desired. Integrationists have also argued that increased integration in education would erode polarisation in Northern Irish society.

Segregation has also been an enduring problem in relation to housing. 90% of housing estates are single identity (Protestant unionist or Catholic nationalist).[48] Some contain paramilitary flags and murals, marking them out as either nationalist or unionist. This is something which can appear intimidating to those of a different ethno-national background. As a result, the middle ground have led calls for an increased number of mixed housing areas, where neither community has more than a 50% share.

In recognition of this problem the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) made a commitment to increasing shared housing, as outlined in the Draft Programme for Government 2016-2021. A commitment was made to deliver 800 shared social housing units as part of the Social Housing Development Programme; and each shared neighbourhood is supported by a good relations plan. The NIHE stated: ‘(…) the shared housing strategy is not about forcing people to live in a certain way or in a certain area, but rather to improve the choices that are available by tackling the barriers that prevent individuals from opting to live in a shared housing area’.[49]

The GFA enshrined parity of esteem. Therefore, good-relations policies in Northern Ireland around integrated education or housing are not about assimilation or homogenisation to one official ethos. Rather, they are about encouraging diverse cultural expressions and interactions, with mutual respect. The 2021 Life and Times survey indicated that 77% of people, if they had the choice, would prefer to live in a mixed-religion neighbourhood, whilst only 12% said they would prefer to live in a neighbourhood with their own religion only. As with integrated education, greater provision of shared housing estates is likely to result in an increased uptake.

The Irish Language

Twenty-three years after the GFA’s commitment, there was still no Irish language Act. This was a particular point of contention for the Irish language community, for which such an act would be important in terms of identity, culture and symbolically. Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Irish language groups campaigned for an Irish language Act. In May 2022, thousands of people attended a rally in Belfast, organised by the Irish language group An Dream Dearg, calling for lesiglation on Irish. On 25 May 2022, an Irish language Act, namely the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill, was was finally tabled at Westminster, whilst the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended. The Bill will promote cultural pluralism, respect for diversity and will establish commissioners for the Irish Language and Ulster Scots (British Unionist language).

 Division in Sport

Northern Irish sport has remained largely divided along communal lines. More than a decade after the GFA in 1998, the Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Reports concluded: ‘There is no occasion in Northern Ireland when people stand together, to salute one flag or sing one national song, to experience the sense of being one people with a single, shared identity’.[50] This was typified during the 2012 Olympics when Team GB celebrated at Buckingham Palace and Team Ireland celebrated at Áras an Uchtaráin, the residency of the President of Ireland in Dublin.

Another telling example is football (soccer), which remains divided along sectarian lines as there are Catholic Irish nationalist clubs (such as Cliftonville) and Protestant British unionist clubs (such as Linfield). The Northern Irish soccer team draws its support mainly from the Protestant unionist community, whilst the Catholic nationalist community mainly supports the Republic of Ireland team. However, politicians have engaged in cross-community gestures e.g. when DUP First Minister Peter Robinson attended a Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) match. Similarly, Sinn Féin’s Carál Ní Chuilín attended a football match in Windsor Park, the home ground of Linfield football club.  But, beyond such gestures which take place at an elite level, sport remains split along community lines. This  is, in part, reflective of the fact that there is no shared Northern Ireland identity.

The impact of Brexit

A significant element of the Irish peace process was de-escalating the constitutional question: i.e. whether or not Northern Ireland should remain in the UK or be part of a united Ireland. The aim was to ‘normalise’ Northern Ireland. Normalisation included demilitarisation, and the removal of the hard border between the North and the South of Ireland. Brexit drastically altered the political landscape, as Northern Ireland is the only region to share a land border with the EU. It has, therefore, been necessary to demarcate between EU and non-EU territory. Speculation was rife about the re-erection of a hard border between the North and South of Ireland. The border in Ireland is much more than a physical demarcation of territory. It is significant to identity and culture and it is important symbolically and psychologically. Any re-erection of a hard border would be viewed unfavourably by the nationalist community and would have a significant detrimental impact on community relations.

In an attempt to avoid a hard border between the North and South, the Northern Ireland Protocol came into effect in 2021, establishing checks on goods between Britain and Northern Ireland. Unionists are deeply opposed to the Protocol, claiming that the union is being undermined,[51] to the extent that this issue brought down the Assembly in February 2022. Therefore, 23 years after the GFA was reached, Northern Ireland is again without a functioning Assembly. Whilst communal reconciliation efforts continue, it is arguably more difficult to promote reconciliation in a society in which the power-sharing government has collapsed.


Conflict in Ireland has lasted for generations, with the latest phase taking place in Northern Ireland 1969-1994. The conflict has been highly complex with a traumatic recent past including sectarian violence and .[52] The GFA, reached in 1998, has largely taken the gun out of Irish politics. It has moved the conflict into the political arena. This was a notable achievement after over thirty years of bloody conflict in which some 3700 people died.

A momentum was built up behind the Irish peace process. A crucial part was played by external actors, particularly the EU and US. These two took on a significant role in establishing the preconditions for talks, acting as facilitators and mediators between the opposing sides and providing financial support. Community based initiatives and the work of NGOs has also been fundamental to promoting community reconciliation, often funded by European Union peace funding.

The shift from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in 2001 was a crucial phase in the process, heralding a new era in which Sinn Féin accepted the legitimacy of the police for the first time. A significant section of the population now accepts the police service. However there are still complex issues around policing, including dealing with past events.[53] But the change that took place, resulting in a police force that is accepted (even begrudgingly) by a significant section of the population, has enhanced reconciliation attempts.

Northern Ireland has become a more equal society. There is greater equality in employment and housing. There is also greater recognition and respect for the competing ethnic identities, and identity rights have been legally protected. The GFA enshrined the right to be British, Irish, or both. There is a greater sense of security and confidence in communal identity, particularly amongst the nationalist community, which has resulted in a greater sense of ownership of Northern Ireland.

However, despite it being a more equal society, Northern Ireland is not a reconciled or healed community. The past continues to haunt the land and there is no agreed narrative over the conflict, its causes, or how to deal with the past (including justice for acts committed, particularly whether or not British soldiers should be prosecuted e.g. for Bloody Sunday). Parallel living has also been identified as a problem, as segregated housing and education persist. Efforts have been made to decrease segregation, and the Northern Ireland Executive has provided funding for increased shared public spaces. But additional progress is still needed in this regard.

In the May 2022 Assembly elections, for the first time in the history of Northern Ireland, a nationalist party (Sinn Féin) won the position of First Minister, which had previously been held by the DUP.  Until January 2024 no unionist party would confirm whether they would enter the Assembly with a Sinn Féin First Minister. This demonstrates the lack of trust that persists amongst the elite political actors and the monumental task that reconciliation poses in such a divided society. In February 2024 the Northern Ireland Assembly was restored after the DUP endorsed an agreement regarding the Brexit protocol arrangements for Northern Ireland.[54]

Some argue that the GFA may need to be re-engineered, to reflect the current phase of the process, with more of an emphasis on peace-building and less on peace-making which was required in 1998. Moreover, the GFA was written to address a majority-minority situation that no longer exists, with the growth of the middle ground represented by the Alliance party. Hence the calls for revision of the designation system within the Assembly. Some (including some political parties) have called for scrapping the required designation of MLAs as unionist, nationalist or other, to reflect the new reality of Northern Ireland which now comprises three designations: unionist 41%, nationalist 39%, middle-ground 20%. Communal designations could be replaced with a weighed majority, ensuring majority support from at least two of the three current designations for key decisions.

The population of Northern Ireland, which is approximately two million, is roughly split 50-50 between the Catholic Irish nationalist population and the Protestant British unionist population. Society continues to be defined by two irreconcilable, competing ethno-national positions, as well as a growing significant middle ground, which claims that it is neutral on the constitutional question.

Overall, Northern Ireland is a more polarised society along identity lines. However, it is also a more moderate society, in which individuals feel confident in expressing their cultural identity. The 2021 Northern Ireland Life and Times survey concluded that 10% of those surveyed ‘strongly agree’ that their own cultural identity is respected by society, and 40% ‘agree’.[55]

Despite progress, reconciliation still faces major challenges including legacy issues and most fundamentally the opposed political aspirations of unionism and nationalism, which are intrinsically connected to issues of identity and culture. There are sections of the society who do not feel any benefit from the peace dividend, nor do they feel that they have any stake in the process.

Reconciliation still has far to go in Northern Ireland, and requires a long process, which is complementary to the mainstream political process and operation of power-sharing. Reconciliation necessitates a multi-faceted approach that includes government-led initiatives, as well as efforts by NGOs, the community sector and academia. Further, it requires elite-led initiatives which are accompanied by the provision of adequate resources.

Lessons Learnt

Whilst each conflict is unique in character and history, there are general lessons which can be drawn from the Northern Ireland experience. The conflict in the six counties has been one of the most studied in the world; with scholars labelling it intractable and zero-sum. Therefore, the peace process, which has brought relative peace to the region, is deemed a remarkable achievement. Lessons from the peace process here have been exported around the world to other conflicts, by politicians, civil society and academia. Reconciliation is an ongoing challenge in Northern Ireland, but the region has moved from violent conflict to relative peace. The following lessons may be useful for other countries emerging from conflict:

  • The peace process and reconciliation in Northern Ireland has been built upon a foundation of equality and parity of esteem, principles which are enshrined in the 1998 GFA. The first stepping stone to peace in Northern Ireland was the enshrinement of equality between the nationalist and unionist communities, as well as others. The principle of equality has been inbuilt into the power-saring institutions, which includes mutual veto and segmental autonomy. Reconciliation cannot be achieved in a post-conflict society without a foundation of equality; which must be in the Agreement, the institutions and wider societal culture.
  • Northern Ireland has demonstrated that ending violent conflict does not require an agreed, shared narrative of the past. In Northern Ireland there is no agreed narrative and this continues to be a battleground between the different traditions of nationalism and unionism. The Northern Ireland peace process has shown that it is possible to end conflict and to move forward whilst holding opposing views on the conflict, including opposing views on the reasons for the conflict emerging. The priority was to end violence and the loss of life. Therefore, what has been important is agreeing to move forward on a peaceful basis, pursuing political objectives through the power-sharing institutions resulting from the Agreement. There will probably never be a shared narrative of the past in Northern Ireland, but this does not prevent progress and relative peace.
  • A key part of the Northern Ireland process was the devolution of justice and reform of the police. Historically, the nationalist and republican community were hostile to the police in Northern Ireland, namely the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). In 1999, the Patten report heralded significant change to policing in Northern Ireland resulting in the RUC becoming the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Key changes included positive discrimination which resulted in a significant increase in Catholic members of the community joining the PSNI. Other changes included a new oath taken by all recruits expressing their commitment to human rights. Acceptable policing is a cornerstone on which genuine reconciliation efforts rest.
  • In the Northern Ireland experience, ending violent conflict has only been the beginning of serious reconciliation efforts. The political process in Northern Ireland has been elite-led. There was no strategy of good-relations which could have been enacted alongside the elite-driven process. A complementary strategy of good relations may have proven more conducive to sustaninable reconciliation. Northern Ireland has also shown that reconciliation and integration efforts require the adequate allocation of resources and services, to complement and enhance civil society efforts.
  • Agreement in Northern Ireland has lasted due to the fact that talks leading to Agreement were inclusive of all parties to the conflict. Scholarly literature on Northern Ireland has debated whether or not those engaged in violence should be admitted to peace talks. In 1997, Sinn Féin accepted the Mitchell Principles, therefore paving the way for the party to enter all-party talks (with some opposition from unionism). Agreement without Sinn Féin would probably not have lasted. The Northern Ireland case has, therefore, demonstrated the importance of inclusive talks.
  • A notable feature of the peace process in Northern Ireland is the involvement of outside actors and facilatators, alongside Civil Society. The US and the EU were integral to facilitating a dialogue leading to the Agreement. The EU has also been key to providing funding for reconciliation efforts, through the peace funds. The US and EU were crucial in providing momentum and support to the peace process. For example, Senator George Mitchell was Chairperson of the talks which led to the Agreement in 1998. US President Bill Clinton also provided his support.
  • Constructive use of language has proven crucial to achieving peace between diametrically opposed and irreconciliable traditions in Northern Ireland – what has been termed constructive ambiguity. The 1998 Agreement allowed both traditions to hold it up to their respective base as providing a way forward. Former SDLP leader and GFA negotiator Mark Durkan has described the Agreement as being like a hologram that you turn and look at in different ways to see different things. Constructive language helps pave the way forwards in what is deemed a zero-sum situation.


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[1] Dr Marisa McGlinchey is a native of Belfast in County Antrim in Northern Ireland. She is currently employed by Coventry University as an Assistant Professor in Political Science and is based at the Institute for Peace and Security. Marisa completed a PhD in Political Science at Queen’s University Belfast in 2010.  Her expertise is Irish politics; more specifically Irish republicanism and nationalism. She is author of Unfinished Business; the politics of ‘dissident’ Irish republicanism Manchester University Press, 2019; winner of the Brian Farrell Book Prize 2020 for best book in Political Science. Marisa was Vice-President of the Political Studies Association of Ireland 2019-2022 and she has been an expert commentator on multiple media outlets including BBC, RTE, ITV and Al Jazeera; and upon invitation she has written for The Guardian and The Irish Times, among other publications. Marisa has covered Irish republicanism and Irish nationalism in academic journals including Small Wars and Insurgencies and Swiss Political Science Review and she is a contributor to a forthcoming Routledge handbook on Political Science. She has also acted as a reviewer for academic journals and book publsihers including Yale University Press and Liverpool University Press.

[2] Present day violence continues from ‘dissident’ Irish republicans who are opposed to the political process; however it is at a low level, mainly targeting police.

[3] The Irish Free State (or 26 counties) became the Irish Republic in 1937.

[4] The Community Relations Council, based in Belfast, produced annual peace-monitoring reports (2010-2018). These have charted reconciliation efforts within Northern Irish society, including hate crimes.

[5] The conflict is not religious in nature. Rather, religion acts as a marker of national identity.

[6] The PIRA went on ceasefire in 1994, which broke in 1996, but was resumed in 1997. Decommissioning of weapons took place in 2005.

[7] On Irish republicanism see Robert W. White, 1993 & 2017; Richard English, 2012; John Bowyer Bell, 2000.

[8] Its name was taken from the UVF in 1912 formed to fight against Irish Home Rule.

[9] The PIRA’s campaign increasingly included ‘economic targets’ in Britain. In fact the PIRA ceasefire broke-down in 1996 with the organisation detonating a 3,000-pound bomb in London causing £150 million worth of damage.

[10] In 1998, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) did not support the Agreement. At the time of the Agreement, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) was the largest representative of the nationalist community and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) was the largest representative of the unionist community. However, in 2001 the SDLP was electorally surpassed by the more ‘hard-line’ Sinn Féin; and in 2003 the UUP was surpassed by the more ‘hard-line’ DUP.  Sinn Féin and the DUP remain the two largest parties of government, followed by the non-aligned Alliance Party.

[11] Simultaneously, a referendum took place in the South of Ireland on the removal of articles 2 and 3 from the Irish constitution, which laid claim to the territory of Northern Ireland.

[12] Consociationalism is a model of government based on power-sharing. It was designed by political scientist Arend Lijphart for societies emerging from conflict, or societies with potential conflict. The model has also been applied in Switzerland, Belgium and Lebanon. Consociational democracy involves a grand coalition of parties, segmental autonomy, proportionality and minority veto. The aim of consociationalism is to promote co-operative governance in a divided society.

[13] The border campaign, also known as Operation Harvest, was a guerilla campaign fought by the IRA between 1956-1962 targeting police stations throughout Northern Ireland, in an attempt to end British rule and force a united Ireland.

[14] A fourteenth person later died.

[15] For information on the UVF, see Aaron Edwards, UVF: Behind the mask, 2017.

[16] Blair, T., A Journey, p. 166.

[17] By October 1998, approximately 167 prisoners were released; their organisations were on ceasefire. By 2000, over 400 prisoners had been released.

[18] Point developped further below.

[19] On dissident republicans see Marisa McGlinchey, Unfinished Business, 2019.

[20] Mitchell et al., ‘The Agreement’s impact on political co-operation’, p. 283.

[21] See Wilson, R., ‘From consociationalism to interculturalism’, pp. 226-227.


[23] The Agreement requires the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to call a referendum (also known as a border-poll) on Irish unity when it is believed that there is sufficient support for one.

[24] Unionists demanded that the PIRA decommission its weapons. At one point, the DUP demanded photographic evidence which was unacceptable to republicans. In the end, Church leaders oversaw the decommissioning process.

[25] Members of Sinn Féin’s Assembly group were arrested for alleged intelligence gatherting at Stormont. It was claimed that there was an IRA spy-ring at Stormont gathering intelligence. Charges were subsequently dropped.

[26] The RHI Scandal centres on a renewable heat scheme which involved wood pellet burning. Applicants were paid for using renewable energy but costs spiralled and many were making money simply by heating their properties. Then DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster oversaw the scheme. Sinn Féin deputy-First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned over the issue thus collapsing the Executive.

[27] Morrow, D., ‘From enemies to partners? Reconciliation in Northern Ireland’.

[28] Mitchell, G. J., Making peace, p. 184-5.

[29] Recruitment on a 50:50 basis ended when then Secretary of State Owen Patterson argued that this change was appropriate due to the fact that a significant proportion of PSNI officers were now from a Catholic community background; as well as the fact that the previous year policing and justice powers had been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly from Westminster.  See:

[30] The battle took place in 1690 and resulted in the Protestant King William defeating the Catholic King James.

[31] MI5 continue to have a presence.

[32] To access the Northern Ireland Life and Times surveys, see:

[33] Cochrane, F., Northern Ireland, 2021, p. 212.

[34] Some members were appointed from the political parties, whilst others were independent.

[35] Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition report, 1 December 2021.

[36] EU, Fact sheets, Northern Ireland Peace Programme.

[37] ‘A Shared Future: Policy and Strategic Framework for Good Relations in Northern Ireland’, March 2005:

[38] A commitment to extend this Peace programme until 2023 was included in the Brexit withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU. The UK’s departure from the EU means that Northern Ireland is leaving the biggest benefactor it has ever had, the consequences of which have still to be felt.


[40] The survey was carried out by Professors Jon Tonge and Peter Shirlow at Liverpool University.

[41] Nolan, P., Peace Monitoring Report, Number 2, p. 7. 2013.

[42] Dixon et al. ‘When the walls come tumbling down’, p. 925.

[43] See the ‘Peace Monitoring Reports’ produced by the Community Relations Council: ; also ‘Interface Barriers, Peacelines and Defensive Architecture’, Belfast Interface Project, 2017:

[44] Ibid.

[45] There have been projects since the 1990s, such as the Belfast Interface project, which has attempted to improve the quality of life for those living at interfaces. Often working with the police, community organisations and leaders have played an active role in reducing tensions when contentious cultural issues have erupted into violence. Community leaders have also assumed a central role in youth cross-community programmes.

[46] Early et al. ‘Assessing Demand for Integrated Education in Northern Ireland’. The figure of 7% has not changed from the Peace Monitoring Report a decade ago, which also found that 7% of children attend integrated schools in Northern Ireland:

[47] See the Peace Monitoring Reports as well as the annual Northern Ireland Life and Times surveys. Also, for a breakdown of support for integrated education by communal background, see the Liverpool General Election Survey 2019, pp. 17 & 21:

[48] The Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA).

[49] Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Shared Housing:

[50] Nolan, P., Peace Monitoring Report, Number 1, p. 177. 2012.

[51] Hewitt, R., ‘Confrontation: Loyalists target police with missiles during anti-protocol protest’,  Belfast Telegraph, 4 November 2021. Also see Hayward, ‘Brexit and the NI Protocol: changing constitutional relations?’,

[52] For details of those killed during ‘The Troubles’, see McKittrick et al. Lost Lives, 1999.

[53] There are Irish republicans and nationalists who continue to remain suspicious of the police. There are also ‘dissident’ Irish republicans, who continue to vehemently reject the PSNI. The police in Northern Ireland remain the main target of ‘dissident’ armed groups, namely the Continuity IRA and the New IRA.

[54] The command paper titled Safeguarding the Union comprises two main elements: 1) Changes to the Internal Market Act/Windsor Framework; 2) Measures relating to Northern Ireland’s constitutional status-

[55] Broken down by religion, 51% of Catholic respondents either ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ and 49% of Protestant respondents either ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’.

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