Northern Ireland to Iraq: valuable lessons

08 Apr 2008 13:44:00.000


The experiences gained from the peace process in Northern Ireland could help solve conflicts elsewhere in the world, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo. That is the view of a University of Nottingham political expert, ahead of the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday agreement, on Thursday 10 April.

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On Good Friday 1998, political parties in Northern Ireland as well as the British and Irish governments concluded an historic agreement in Belfast, seen then as the culmination of a long peace process. But, with the benefit of hindsight, it was perhaps only a major milestone on the long road to peace and a functioning democratic process in Northern Ireland.

Professor Stefan Wolff, Director of the Centre for International Crisis Management and Conflict Resolution, said: "Ten years ago there was much enthusiasm in Northern Ireland and beyond. After many setbacks the hopes of the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland for a peaceful and prosperous future, were now finally becoming reality.

The different contributions made by all actors in Belfast, London, Dublin and beyond point to the success of the peace process in Northern Ireland and the important lessons it can teach us."

After ten years, it is now possible to take stock, examine how difficulties were overcome in the past and what challenges lie ahead for Northern Ireland and its relationship with London and Dublin. It is this, Professor Wolff says, that could be important and relevant to conflict resolution efforts elsewhere.

"Northern Ireland today is one of the few unambiguous successes of a sustainable political bargain, reached between former adversaries. This is the result of a long process, that involved a careful balance of political, diplomatic, and security efforts. It brought together those genuinely interested in peace, while marginalising those bent on using violence to impose their vision of the future on the people in Northern Ireland."

Professor Wolff paid tribute to the way British political parties approached the agreement: “The fact that the Conservatives and Labour were united in their efforts to bring about a democratic solution, to reflect the will of the people in Northern Ireland as a whole, has been crucial for the success of the peace process. It eliminated any possibility that politicians in Northern Ireland could play off politicians in Westminster."

Professor Wolff says there are four key lessons to learn from the success of conflict resolution in Northern Ireland. These have obvious relevance for current conflicts: from Kosovo to Iraq, and from Sudan to Tibet.

"The first is that persistence eventually pays off: from the 1972 White Paper to the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, the British government, as the major mediator (as well as one of the conflict parties, of course) has shown a commitment to resolving the conflict."

But Professor Wolff also believes that, at times, British government policy was, in hindsight, questionable in its intentions and outcomes. But there can be little doubt, that the overall objective always has been a democratic solution for the region's conflict.

“Northern Ireland also teaches important lessons about institutional flexibility and innovation: the use of particular electoral systems and procedures for the appointment of the executive, the establishment of the North-South Ministerial Council and of the British-Irish Council were solutions that catered for the precise needs of the parties in Northern Ireland and offered them opportunities to emphasise their gains to their own constituencies, ensuring their continuing support for a peaceful resolution of the conflict."

Thirdly is the commitment to inclusiveness on the basis of agreed principles. Crucially here in the early stages of the negotiations were the standard-setting Mitchell Principles on Non-violence, which make participation in any political/negotiation process conditional upon their commitment to exclusively peaceful means in pursuit of their political agenda.

Finally, the Northern Irish example emphasises the need for a comprehensive, consensual, and cooperative approach in conflict resolution: "All dimensions of the conflict were addressed with the agreement of all the main parties in Northern Ireland, in cooperation with the British and Irish governments. And this, with the support of key international actors, especially the US and EU. This is crucial and could provide a blueprint for similar situations all over the world."

— Ends —

Notes to Editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 70 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THES) World University Rankings.

It provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. 

Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy).

Its students are much in demand from 'blue-chip' employers. Winners of Students in Free Enterprise for three years in succession, and current holder of UK Graduate of the Year, they are accomplished artists, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators and fundraisers. Nottingham graduates consistently excel in business, the media, the arts and sport. Undergraduate and postgraduate degree completion rates are amongst the highest in the United Kingdom. 

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Published Date
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