Interests and Identity in the Construction of the Belfast Agreement

Journal article

McSweeney, Bill (1998) Interests and Identity in the Construction of the Belfast Agreement, Security Dialogue 29 (3): 303–314.

The Agreement contains major constitutional changes for Ireland, particularly in the North. It was largely well received by referendum. It represented a victory for peoples over structure and an expression of the democratic will to redefine centuries-old collective identities, based on religion, political allegiances, culture and myth. These elements had fomented violence. The agreement was the product of the dynamics of identities and interest. It does not constitute the peace process, but it rests on firmer ground than the goodwill of politicians and public sentiment. It depends more solidly on the interests of the principal participants, primarily Britain. Concessions by all parties -- the IRA, the Unionists, Britain and the Irish Republic -- are enshrined in the agreement. Accompanying measures announced by the British, Irish and US governments, including investment in economic development, enticed the people into acceptance. The peace process has been based on seduction not coercion, the changing perception of Ireland's strategic importance and its place for the British public in the national identity. This process might provide a model for conflict resolution where the need to reconstruct conflicting identities is accepted as part of a compromise to pursue common interests.

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