Lessons from Northern Ireland: Rise above the fatalism generated by your own “sui generis” conflict…

H/T Mary FitzGerald on Twitter… This is a fairly impressive array of academic, political and government voices which looks at what lessons might be drawn from our much feted Peace Process, recorded in May last year…

Most worthy of note are Jonathan Powell (keep hard power on so the insurgents cannot get comfortable, but offer a political process towards a solution); Bairbre de Brun who notes that peace relies on addressing the causes of the conflict, not just the absence of war; and Roger McGinty who feels the main narratives of the peace process were laid down with indecent haste.

And near the end, Paul Arthur (from whom we hear far too little these days) notes that despite the general disavowal of the idea that there are lessons to be learned from Northern Ireland, we took from the South African process the need for sufficient consensus.

He also highlights the use of technical committees to process sticking ponits that politicians would have otherwise baulked at and the third is that parties may realise it is more dangerous to be outside the process than inside.

Finally notes that the determination to view any given conflict as purely sui generis  arises largely from a fatalism generated by the fact of the conflict itself. He goes as far to say you will never get out of your conflict if you cannot rise above that fatalism.

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  • TwilightoftheProds

    What I love is the fact that Profs always get shot in front of a backdrop of copious amounts of learned books cluttering shelves…..its like a rapper getting filmed in front of humvees, sportscars and booty shaking girls in bikinis.

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s an LSE trope. You’ll find in other videos in this LSE Ideas series.

  • cynic2

    “Profs always get shot in front of a backdrop of copious amounts of learned books ”

    ….because they get paid to write them so other Profs can specify them as essential texts and their research grants depend on publications and citations

  • Mick Fealty

    Boys, I know it’s fun to play the man and completely ignore the ball, but you know, it’s pretty boring too.

    Just try to rise above your own fatalism lads. If there’s nothing in the post worth remarking on, just leave it blank… Not everything on Slugger has to be pass remarkable.

  • socaire

    Bairbre de Brún, a chara nó Barbara Brown más fearr leat!

  • TwilightoftheProds

    No man playing meant Mick. Its just a lazy lazy visual cliche, which is meant to suggest gravitas.

    Clearly the LSE needs the services of a good new media consultant. 😉

  • Mick Fealty

    Fair enough. It’s just that I thought Paul Arthur’s insight was worth something more. I know it’s not news, strikes me there’s a lot in that fatalism of conflict to unpack…

  • TwilightoftheProds


    His points are well made- how about a bit of Slugger outreach to get some guest bloggers from hotspots, divided regions, places of communal or sectarian conflict— when some of the regulars refer to these places sadly there aint much feedback. Maybe a native eye view will pick up more.

  • cynic2

    Interesting but I did feel that some of this was tinged with a bit of post facto rationalisation.

    If you read Powell’s book for example – and I do not recommend it, its as turgid as the process was – the one thing that really hits home is how the process ran within a complete bubble. There is no mention at all of the context politically or on the streets where at terms there was murder and mayhem.

    Perhaps that too is a necessary prerequisite. the ability to divorce oneself from practical realities.

  • Mick Fealty


    Well you could avoid that by hemming yourself in with multiple caveats as to why no one can take anything tangible from the experience. Arthur’s not so much rationalising as saying some things borrowed from elsewhere did work, and these were they.

    I think the invitation is to sample, listen, vary, apply and only amplify those things that seem to work for you in your situation.

  • Mick Fealty

    Twilight… Yep, that could be very useful…

  • wild turkey


    thanks for this post. it is an exemplar of what, on a good day, slugger can be.

    Paul Arthur was in a measured low key way thoughtful and insightful. “every group believes their conflict is sui generes”
    regardless of the particular topic, this probably underlies and informs about 95% of the comments on slugger

    i particularly liked the concluding contribution from prof Anatol. how many american and british politicians, and their associated military chiefs of staff, had ever heard of the battle of Maiwand?

    probably a number similar to the current point spread on the NY Giants NE Partiots superbowl next weekend. but at least the bookies do their research when setting the odds.

  • cynic2


    I am sorry but that was what I was doing!

  • aquifer

    The Brits established their bone fides by increasing opportunities for Catholics and nationalists, making very clear that there was to be no second class citizenship in NI.
    The inference was always that they were open to a political settlement along the same lines, especially as they tried to initiate one at least twice. This prevented armed separatists getting more political leverage.

    Brits maintained the rule of law in the main, so citizens understood that if they complied they would be fine and could keep their property and freedom. The security forces behaved better than the paramilitaries in human rights terms. No death squads in the extravagant and cruel South American sense.

    Having critical friends like ROI and USA engaged helped to keep pressure on the UK state to facilitate any viable solution despite its conservatism, and their engagement made a return to violence less viable. The UK were also out of excuses when they let Scotland and Wales devolve.

    And yes hard power. The securocrats closed off the option of a long war by knowing their enemy inside out and by ensuring the loyalist paramilitaries were targetting and hitting separatists rather than catholic civilians. Too lazy to get the votes out? Rather have a Bedouin dictator help you engage in armed blackmail and atrocity exhibitions? Want to set up a colder wetter Cuba? Tough luck.

    And did Sinn Fein ever have an idea to do with the Prods? False consciousness does not quite cover an attachment to a relatively successful powerful and resilient state with good standards of ethical behaviour. I mean half the Irish are in Britain already. Provos were never going to get to load the Prods onto railway trucks or ferries without some serious scuffles or UN objections so had to try something else.

    But democracy is rare recent and fragile in history and terrorism is cheap in a world flush with cash, Heroin money cocaine money oil money protection money silly sentimental old man money trying to put life into the ideas of dead men and dead ideas. And putting real human life into bin bags.

    What if the Provos had just not bothered?

  • If the Provos hadn’t bothered and/or Paisley and the “loyalists” hadn’t destroyed the Sunningdale arrangements, we would be much further along towards what is considered “normal” by peaceful parts of the world.

  • @Twilight re guest bloggers — @Mick talk to me about this — I can tap a vein via our Forum for Cities in Transition network