|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 Dr. William Ramsey of Huntington, WV: I have heard and read that a major obstacle to peace in Ireland is the institutional nature of both sides; too many families have earned their livings working for generations as fighters, "fund-raisers," informants, etc. One Irish journalist, a year or so ago, opined that the threat of economic dislocation would demand sabotage of any real peace. Is this a genuine issue? Is it being addressed?
Dr. John Darby, of the University of Ulster, responds:
The problem with any long-lasting violent conflict is that it becomes institutionalised. It has been estimated that more than 40,000 people were employed in security-related jobs in Northern Ireland - army, police, security officers and others. In addition, the violence in Northern Ireland has spun off a number of criminal activities. At different points during the Troubles paramilitary organisations have engaged in bank robberies, intimidation, extortion, drugs trading and other crimes. This is clearly a potential threat to future stability, and it is important to ensure that there is a ‘peace dividend' to compensate for the other losses. There is some reason to hope that this peace dividend will in fact emerge in Northern Ireland more strongly than it has in South Africa and Israel-Palestine. There have already been substantial grants from the European Union. The governments of both the United Kingdon and the Irish Republic are likely to be supportive. The Irish-American connection offers the possibility of increased industrial and commercial investment. In the six months following the 1994 IRA ceasefire, tourism rose by 30%, and has the potential to rise further. Whether all this is sufficient to balance the negative factors remains to be seen.
Dr. Joseph Thompson, former State Department Scholar-Diplomat for Irish Affairs, responds:
Who can say if the institutional nature of Northern Ireland's criminal element will demand sabotage of any real peace? Certainly some in society will not feel involved or patriotic for the new structures. Others will feel threatened by any changes. But these genuine issues are being addressed by Northern Ireland politicians.
The end of violence will change many lives and livelihoods in Northern Ireland. One major threat to these disrupted lives, both during and after the April 1998 Agreement, is the high level of unemployment in the province. Unfortunately, nationalist continue to be twice as likely to be unemployed as unionists. To address this economic problem, the answer is not to depress one group so as to raise another group. Rather. attempts must be made to raise one group to the level of the other group. Thus, Europe and America are offering to infuse economic assistance into the province if the agreement is ratified by the electorate.
The latest estimate of the impact of peace in Northern Ireland will be the increase of tourism. Such a tourist increase should produce a demand for 20,000 new jobs in Northern Ireland. This would go a long way to improving economic conditions on the island.