|AN IRISH PEACE?
Will the new peace deal hold?
April 17, 1998
in this forum:
So who won in the peace talks? Will this improve relations between Catholic and Protestants? Will the deal really stop the violence? Will the different structures in the peace deal really work together? How will the release of political prisoners impact the stability in the region? How institutionalized have the "Troubles" become? A question from David Adamec of Bowie, MD: So after all the negotiations, who won? Please not a simple answer like the people of Ulster won. Who got more out of this, the republicans or the loyalists? Who is happier with this deal, England or the Republic of Ireland? Is Gerry Adams or any of the other negotiating partners a winner in Ireland or are they losers with their constituencies?
Dr. Joseph Thompson, former State Department Scholar-Diplomat for Irish Affairs, responds:
Since Northern Ireland was created in 1921, its problems have always been framed by the question of who won and who lost. Every public statement, action or proposal was considered a win or lose situation for republicans, nationalists, Ireland, Britain, unionists or loyalists. But winning a battle does not imply that the war is won. Thus, this win/lose framework approach was changed for the recent negotiations. The negotiations were structured so as to ask if a group considered the proposed issue a plus (+) or minus (-). When the final document was offered to all participating negotiators, each group could point to plus and minus items. This document is a unique plus/minus balance between all parties.
A few brief examples are useful to demonstrate the plus/minus strategy. Gerry Adams and the republicans will be involved (+) in any power-sharing decision by the proposed representative Assembly in Northern Ireland but will have to accept (-) a divided Ireland for now. John Hume and the nationalists will be an integral part of the majority decision-makers (+) in the proposed Assembly executive body but will also have to accept a divided Ireland for now. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will have to seek a constitutional change (-) for the irredentist Article II and III of the Irish Constitution but will have (+) northern nationalists treated equitably. Prime Minister Tony Blair sees an end (+) to an expensive UK military operation but has to share (-) a degree of sovereignty with the Republic of Ireland. David Trimble and the unionists have a letter affirming (+) that the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 will cease with the creation of the new Assembly but will have to share (-) the decision-making process with nationalists.
Dr. John Darby, of the University of Ulster, responds:
Why does anyone have to be a winner? The essence of compromise is that both sides win and lose, in that they have made major concessions to each other. In the case of Northern Ireland, republicans have accepted the ‘principle of consent', that is, that a united Ireland (their dominant aim) will only come when a majority of people in Northern Ireland agree to it. A majority currently does not. Unionists have accepted a Council of Ireland, which gives the Irish Republic a voice in Northern Ireland's affairs - a position they have resisted since the formation of the state. Which of these was the major concession? There is no good answer this question, but present indications are that Unionists are having greater difficulty with the agreement than Nationalists.
The question now is: how will the constituencies react? They will be asked to approve the agreement, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, in separate referenda. The opposition to the agreement has already begun to organise. Ian Paisley and his Democratic Unionist party, which stayed out of the talks, is leading a campaign against the agreement, and a number of Unionists, including four members of parliament, have indicated their opposition. The spoilers on the republican side regard the agreement as a betrayal and are more likely to oppose it by force.