Malachi O’Doherty was asked to describe the local version of a peace process. He has some interesting explanations as to why it has all but disappeared:
He sets out the competitive imperative set up by the process:
So what’s the point of a peace process? Well, peace of course. It is a political contest in which fewer people get killed. The parties in Northern Ireland entered the process hesitatingly and determined to undermine each other. In close talks they have played not for completion but for a breakdown without blame.
The Ulster Unionist Party played to try and force the complete disarmament of the IRA. This proved to be a bad strategy. As the Ulster Unionists got angrier about the IRA refusing to disarm, more nationalists voted for Sinn Fein as the party that most annoyed unionists.
Sinn Fein played for the fragmentation of its enemies, the unionists, the erosion of its rivals, the SDLP, and the growth of its own vote.
The peace process grew to be about power rather than the completion of its stated objective, a political settlement. A settlement would have removed the very issues which generate support for the parties engaged in the process.
Rather pessimistically, he concludes there is no incentive for processing to end, and politics begin:
…if the long game means that you never settle your differences, well that’s because you have decided that peace processing is still better than the alternatives. Recognise that peace processing is a game and play hard. Resist all appeals to forgiveness and compassion. You really hate these people at the other side of the table. That’s OK. They hate you too.