How might an exploration of the conflict in Northern Ireland contribute to the search for a resolution to other conflicts? Leo Tolstoy famously wrote that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. This observation can also be applied to ethno-political conflicts – each of which is unique. Moreover, it is important to remember that, by virtue of the differing historical contexts, there are fundamental differences between conflicts in the post-Soviet states and those in Western Europe.
The Northern Ireland conflict is one of the most prolonged ethno-territorial conflicts in Europe and has had a destabilising effect for decades on relations between Britain and Ireland.
In December 1922, on the basis of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Irish Free State was established within the boundaries of the 26 counties in the southern part of the island of Ireland. Northern Ireland – comprising the remaining six counties (Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry (Derry) and Tyrone) situated in the northeast of Ireland’s historical province of Ulster – remained within the United Kingdom.
It is an interesting exercise to explore the role of the diaspora during active phases of a conflict in its historical homeland and its contribution to peaceful resolution through the example of the Northern Ireland conflict. What role does the diaspora actually play? Is it a force that supports the peace process or is it a factor that impedes the peaceful resolution of the conflict?
Journalism and peacebuilding
I had an argument in Belfast with Brian Rowan, a journalist specialising in security issues, about the role of the media in long-running conflicts and, in particular, in the Northern Ireland conflict. During a conversation with the group of experts from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorny Karabakh, Rowan had lamented the fact that the media in Northern Ireland did not have a peacebuilding mission. I ventured to disagree with this interpretation or rather with the notion of endowing ‘the fourth estate’ with the additional function of peacebuilding.
Studying the conflict in Northern Ireland, and meeting the different sides and people involved in it, confirms that the occurrence of conflict is not restricted to underdeveloped countries or societies with underdeveloped social relations. It has usually been assumed that conflict occurs in countries where there are problems of a social nature and where there is serious antagonism between ethnic groups. In Northern Ireland, even after the devastation of the Second World War, the standard of living was not poor.
The Analyticon, №05 / May / 2012
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