Key Findings: Northern Ireland

 

Gender

The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement signed in 1998 has long been used as an example of successful inclusion of commitment to women’s rights, human rights and equality more broadly (O’Rourke and Swaine, 2020).

The presence of the Women’s Coalition at the Northern Irish peace negotiations (a consequence of their successful obtainment of electoral mandates for two candidates) was fundamental to the inclusion of ‘social service justice’ (care for victim, education health and well-being), a more comprehensive understanding of security and specific provisions for women’s equal participation in politics in the peace talks (McWilliams, 2017).

Whilst the presence of women does not automatically reshape peace processes, the process and substance of negotiations are interdependent and the presence of women is a necessary first step for the consideration of gendered dimensions of peace and security (McWilliams, 2017).

Despite successes in the negotiating process, enforcing proposals on issues particularly concerning women has proven difficult, the issues largely being side-lined in in the implementation stage of the peace process (McWilliams, 2017).   This finding resonates with other more recent quantitative data, see for example: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/348109003_War_Termination_and_Women’s_Political_Rights 

O’Rourke and Swaine (2020) argue that beyond the praises of success, the Northern Irish peace process is a complex story of gender-exclusion, from which global approaches to peace building should draw a set of key lessons:
– Violence against women is slowly gaining more recognition as an aspect of women’s experience of the Troubles. In particular, it is key to recognise that the end of conflict does not mean the end of violence for many women who experience violence related to the conflict in their homes as well as at the hands of state and non-state actors.
– There is a lack of recognition of the specific impact on women bereaved by the conflict in initiatives aimed at delivering accountability for conflict killings. See point below for O’Rourke’s expansion on this issue.
– The experience of LGBTQ+ community of peacebuilding has been largely invisible in public debate, LGBTQ+ communities facing continued feelings of insecurity and ongoing violence in public spaces. See below section for further details on this issue.
– There is a lack of reflection around the role of men and masculinities in sustaining violence (men and masculinities being closely tied to challenges of ongoing paramilitarism) in the discussions around women and peacebuilding.

Drawing on the Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Transitional Justice in Northern Ireland, O’Rourke (2017) shows how the failure to address gender in the implementation of the peace agreement is intrinsically linked to limitations on the efforts to address issues of transitional justice and deal with the past.

O’Rourke (2017) argues that by meaningfully committing to and lending expertise in international gender equality norms, international interventions can challenge local civil society to address their own silence and exclusions and create the potential for more inclusive civil society alliances and a more inclusive peace process. 

Overall, the Northern Irish peace process shows that long-term commitment is required for an inclusive peacebuilding, as threats of exclusion, marginalisation and violence persist long into the future (O’Rourke and Swaine, 2020).

LTBQ+ perspectives  

The level of insecurity experienced by LGBTQ+ communities is directly impacted by political conflicts. Ethno-nationalist conflict can strengthen historical prejudice and other inequalities surrounding gender identity creating insecurity and other forms of harm (Ashe, 2018).

Despite how LGBTQ+ inequalities and insecurities are shaped by conflict and conflict transformation processes, PSRP research finds that few peace processes address inclusion of gender and sexual minorities (for references in peace agreements see www.peaceagreements.org).

In deeply divided societies such as Northern Ireland, grievances relating to identities beyond ethno-nationalist, political, social and cultural inequalities are seldom addressed in negotiations and accords addressing the violent conflict (Ashe, 2018).

PSRP research finds that members of the LGBTQ+ communities in Northern Ireland experienced that social institutions and social organisation had failed to address prejudice against them after 1998. In certain instances, this prejudice continued to be reinforced by institutions as a part of the persistence of social conservatism, including by institutions which continue to be associated with different forms of peace building (Ashe, 2018).

For peace processes to deliver security for LGBTQ+ communities, and with that deliver a more inclusive peace more generally, analysts should challenge the statist interpretation of security as the end of political violence and instead reimagine security as including different modes of power and different forms of human security (Ashe, 2018).

Policing and legal reform which address LGBTQ+ insecurity are crucial steps towards increases the security of these communities in post-conflict societies (Ashe, 2018).

Additionally, civil society organisation can play a central role in reducing forms of LGBTQ+ insecurity, and the media can play a key role in exposing the effects of the persistence of historical inequalities on the security of LGBTQ+ people in conflict affected states (Ashe, 2018).

Transitional Justice, Commemoration & Consociationalism

Consociationalism is an institutional approach to governance that takes seriously segmental cleavages as authentic, deep-seated facets of social organisation. In Northern Ireland these cleavages are organised around ethnonational communities (Brown and Ní Aoláin, 2016).

PSRP research finds that whilst transitional justice mechanisms (originating in human rights and focusing on the protection of individuals against infringing power, accountability and remedy) are often argued to be a constrain or a confection to consociationalism, it can complement it (Brown and Ní Aoláin, 2016).

Like consociationalism, transitional justice mechanisms have an interest in ethno-nationalism as it seeks to provide legitimacy to new dispensation through accounting for past harms (Brown and Ní Aoláin, 2016). 

Whilst consociationalism focus on how power-balances between groups in deeply divided societies play out on the national level, these ethnic cleavages are also embedded in the local.  By bringing transitional justice mechanisms to the micro level, transitional justice mechanisms can get at the local ways in which the past is understood, complementing consociationalism’s institutional focus with narrative sensitivity (Brown and Ní Aoláin, 2016). 

Brown and Ní Aoláin (2016) suggest that transitional justice mechanisms should allow spaces for agnostic debate, allowing different narratives at the local level to encounter each other. 

Northern Ireland has seen success with engaging grassroot activist in transitional justice mechanisms in the form of social justice conversations, placing local experience and participation at the heart of justice exchange. This mechanism provides for alternatives to the mainstream transitional justice mechanisms which tends to be elite-led, underscoring the importance of the local (Rooney, 2017). 

Commemoration is increasingly being used as a mechanism of transitional justice, serving as a sounding board to articulate claims in public spaces (Brown and Ní Aoláin, 2016). 

PSRP research reviewing commemoration and drawing on case notes from Northern Ireland’s ‘Decade of Centenaries’ finds that partisan commemoration can have benefits for peacebuilding. In particular, it is useful for keeping a political constituency together during testing times, it can re-shape narratives so that they are more congruent with a peace-keeping environment, and it provides peace builders with key intelligence (Brown, 2017). 

Brown (2017) finds that peace builders should encourage commemoration which engage with earlier histories of conflict between communities, contains strong contextualisation, and enable reflection in relation to historical understandings.  

Northern Irish Identity 

The Northern Irish identity is ostensibly inclusive in a deeply divided society. It has been suggested in previous literature that there is a greater tendency among young people to prefer the identity, potentially indicating the emergence of a new form of national identity that could both transcend previous conflict and form the basis of cross-community solidarity (McNicholl et al, 2018). 

Aiming to give a comprehensive picture of how young people understand the Northern Irish Identity, McNicholl et al (2018) find that the national identity and its ability to promote political agendas is multifaceted. 

McNicholl et al (2018) finds that the Northern Irish identity is used in four different ways:
– as an indicator of place, derived from where people live;
– as a people, representing an understanding of the nation as a social identity and therefore encompassing all people from Northern Ireland regardless of how they chose to self-identify;
– as an identity claim, viewing Northern Irish as a performance of identity rather than a subordinate common group;
– and, as a political project, resonating with political parties at the centre that designate as neither nationalist nor unionist.

The multidimensional ways in which the Northern Irish identity is used shows that it is not always simply a social category of people and opens for it to be articulated in ways that are less inclusive (McNicholl et al, 2018).

It is vital to have an understanding of the multidimensional and potentially less inclusive ways in which the Northern Irish identity is used when assessing the meaning of the increased preference among young people to identify as Northern Irish (McNicholl et al, 2018).

PSRP research also finds that these different forms of the identity are used in political rhetoric and can be employed strategically by political actors (McNicholl et al, 2018).

Trust Funds (lessons from Northern Ireland)

Trust fund management can contribute to peacebuilding. PSRP research draws out key lesson from Northern Ireland, as follows (Kilmurray, 2019).

Timescales are important. In particular, timescales must be realistic about what can be achieved in the short term as to not lead to unmet expectations, and they must take into account and be able to adapt to how needs can change over time (Kilmurray, 2019).

Effective trust funds require a disentanglement of various aspects of investments, and an overall peace and conflict analysis is necessary to draw out clusters of potential investors.

Infrastructural investment risks falling within the development aid syndrome. To avoid this, it is key to continue to be informed by the peace and conflict analysis in this apparently ‘technical’ sphere. Local voices should also be listened to, to help avoid unintended consequences (Kilmurray, 2019).

Investment in human capital should not be underestimated as it is often these networks that can ensure the sustainability for peace and the respect for the peace settlement. Investment in confidence in the peace process is often an ignored element (Kilmurray, 2019).

For trust fund management to contribute to peace building, it is necessary to be aware of who is consulted on the focus of the programme, what their ethnic/gender/regional/age etc are. It should be considered whether local representatives can be actively involved in a selection of priority areas (Kilmurray, 2019).

 

Ashe, F. Reimaging Inclusive Security in Peace Processes: LGB&T Perspectives (PSRP Report), 2018

This report considers the relationship between LGB&T equality and one of the core objectives of conflict transformation, the cessation or reduction of levels of societal violence. Placing LGB&T equality issues within a conflict transformational framework, the author conducted 14 focus groups with LGB&T friendship and support groups in Northern Ireland to explore the effects of conflict transformation on LGB&T equality in the region.


Brown, K., & Ní Aoláin, F. Good Fences Make Good Neighbours: Assessing the Role of Consociational Politics in Transitional Justice (PSRP Working Paper), 2016

This working paper reflects on the relationship of transitional justice theory and practice with consociational theory examining how both interact with respect to enabling or limiting conflict transformation in deeply divided ethnic polities. The paper explores the ways in which, despite substantive acknowledgement of the limits of consociationalism, it continues to be the preferred solution offered by internationally and bilaterally mediated peace negotiations as a means to address the governance crisis of deeply divided societies.


Brown, K. Political Commemoration: The Inclusion Dynamics of ‘Partisan Commemoration’ (PSRP Research Briefing), 2017

This research briefing examines the political commemoration of periods of conflict as an important aspect of political activity that impacts on peacebuilding and the stewardship of political settlements within deeply divided societies. Commemoration is particularly important where the lines of fracture correspond to ethnonational identity. The paper argues that commemoration serves as an internal communal means to manage and maintain ethnonational constituencies during periods of peacebuildingwhether in a peace process or political ‘unsettlement’.


Kilmurray, A. Trust Funds in Fragile and Conflict-affected States: Lessons from Northern Ireland (Spotlight Series), 2019

A ‘Trust Fund’ or ‘Multi Donor Trust Fund’ (MDTF) is a multi-agency funding mechanism, designed to receive contributions from more than one donor (and often also the recipient government), that is held in trust by an appointed administrative agent. This PSRP Spotlight draws a number of lessons from the experience of Trust Funds in Northern Ireland. Its goal is to help identify salient issues to inform the founding and functioning of funding mechanisms in other conflict-affected settings.


McNicholl, K., Stevenson, C., & Garry, J. How the “Northern Irish” National Identity Is Understood and Used by Young People and Politicians, 2018

The conventional understanding of the nation within social psychology is as a category of people or “imagined community.” However, work within the discursive tradition shows that citizens tend to discuss nationhood in a variety of modes, including the use of nonhuman categories such as references to the physical landscape of the country. This article aims to give a more comprehensive overview of how young people understand the Northern Irish identity, a new and potentially inclusive national category in a divided society, and how politicians articulate it in rhetoric.


McWilliams, M. Women at the Peace Table: The Gender Dynamics of Peace Negotiations, 2015

Where violence and conflict have become the norm, negotiating an agreement built on peace and justice can be a challenging prospect for those involved. Since 2000, with the introduction of Security Council Resolutions on women, peace, and security, the United Nations has asserted that the environment enabling peace agreements become more inclusive of women and that gender perspectives be taken into account throughout the peace building process. This chapter draws on examples from the Northern Ireland peace process to show the changes that took place when a group of women moved out of the political activism of civic society to become engaged in the more formal politics of peace negotiations.


O’Rourke, C. International Gender Equality Norms and the Local Peacemaking Political Settlement (PSRP Working Paper No. 6), 2017

This working paper considers the relationship of international gender equality norms to the treatment of gender in local peacemaking political settlements through the case study of the recent Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Transitional Justice on Northern Ireland. The paper contends that the Report has impacted the local peacemaking political settlement by establishing an intrinsic connection between the two ostensibly separate objectives of, firstly, devising a process to deal with the past that meets the needs of victims (an objective which does have some elite buy-in) and, secondly, addresses gender (an objective currently without significant elite buy-in).


O’Rourke, C. & Swaine, A. Learning from Northern Ireland? Making gains for gender equality at the UN Security Council, 2021

As Ireland prepares to begin its tenure of the UN Security Council in January 2021, Dr Catherine O’Rourke and Dr Aisling Swaine examine the lessons of inclusive peacebuilding from Northern Ireland and how these might inform the UN Security Council’s work on gender equality.


Rooney, E. Justice Learning in Transition, A Grassroots Toolkit (PSRP Working Paper), 2017

This Working Paper explains how a local conversation about transitional justice in North Belfast became the basis for designing a toolkit that is available for use by people in other settings. The Transitional Justice Grassroots Toolkit (Rooney, 2014) is a local justice response to the immediate and over time challenges of transition from violent conflict in disadvantaged communities. The article makes a contribution to a growing interest in grassroots activism within transitional justice and development studies and feminist praxis.


PA-X Peace Agreements Database

View all Northern Ireland peace agreements on our PA-X Database in list form and timeline form.