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Case study The Northern Ireland experience Possibilities for cross-fertilization learning.

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Case Study: The Northern Ireland Experience
P O S S I B I L I T I E S FOR CROSS- F E R T I L I Z A T I O N L E A R N I N G
By Seamus Dunn
Conflicts and disputes are an integral part of all human
activities and are therefore to be found in most contexts where
people live or work together. Conflicts often have positive
effects, and in those circumstances can be interpreted as
necessary and productive elements in the generation of creative and proactive responses to new challenges. Often, however, they are extremely unproductive. At best they can disrupt or slow down the evolution and development of
organizations or societies; at worst they can lead to violence
and death.
The incidence and frequency of such interpersonal and
intergroup disagreements have increased around the world,
parallel with the increasing complexity of modern societies.
This has led to the emergence of a range of new practices,
theories and approaches related to dealing with conflict in its
many forms. The size of the accompanying literature also has
increased, but, as a result of the comparative newness of many
of the ideas involved, this literature is disparate, multifaceted
and hard to categorize. For the purposes of this article, the
vast spectrum of “conflicts” will be divided into rwo major
forms of conflict: social/business and political.
The first, “social/business conflict,” is found in all societies and at most levels within society. It ranges from disputes
between neighbors about barking dogs to much more complex clashes of view within the corporate world of business
and the workplace. Emerging procedures for dealing with
such conflicts, such as alternative dispute resolution, mediation and problem-solving techniques, often have close associations with legal institutions and are aimed both at finding
ways of ameliorating conflict and at reducing the increasingly
high costs of litigation.
The second, “political conflict,” refers to conflict either
between countries, or between ethnic and other groups within
countries. (It is becoming customary for “ethnic” to be used
as a general and inclusive word to describe a range of forms of
association such as religion, politics, race, ethnicity and culture.) The number of such conflicts has increased considerably in recent years. They have many causes but frequently are
(continued on following page)
A THEORY TO PRACTICE COLLABORATION
I n a collabora t iv e unde r t a k i n g b y t h e CPR I n s t i t u t e f o r Disp u t e Resolution, Fordham U n i v e r s i t y S c h o o l o f Law, Univers i t y o f Ulster i n N ort h e r n Ireland, a n d Alternatives, Prof.
Seamus Dunn o f t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f U l s t e r has prepared t h e
accompanying int e rn at io n a l monograph on t h e Northern Ireland
experience, s upport ed i n p a r t by a g r a n t p r o v i d e d by t h e
William and Flora H e w l e t t Foundation t o CPR t o f o s t e r t heory
t o practice init ia t iv e s . Using Northern I r e l a n d as a case study,
t h e monograph examines t h e p o s s i b i l i t y o f c r o s s - f e rt ilizat i o n lea rning f ro m t h e w o r l d o f p o l i t i c a l c o n f l i c t s t o social/
business c onf lic t s .
The case study and framework prepared by Prof. Dunn
i s i n t e n d e d t o pro mo t e discussion a b o u t c r o s s - f e r t i l i zat ion
learning f o r a part ic ula r category o f business d i s p u t e s t h a t
CPR corporate and law firms‘ members e n c o u n t e r i n some
instances. Specifically, t h e so c i a l/b u s i n ess c o n f l i c t s t h a t a re
posited as closest t o c e r t a i n aspects o f a p o l i t i c a l c o n f l i c t
are those ”where t h e urgencies a n d i m p e r a t i v e s ” are e vident
and comp elling and ”t h e c o n t i n u a t i o n o f c o n f l i c t i s so u n productive and disadvantageous t o b o t h sides t h a t , o f t e n
for pragmatic reasons, a r e s o l u t i o n needs t o b e achieved,”
even t h o u g h t h e “u n de r l y in g t e n s i o n s a n d d i ffi c u lties” w i 11
n o t be resolved or disappear, a t l e a s t n o t i n t h e near f ut ure.
Prof. Dunn o u t l i n e s several areas where concrete
lessons from t h e Northern I r e l a n d p o l i t i c a l c o n f l i c t may prove
i n s i g h t f u l t o resolving c o n f l i c t f or part icular business d i sputes. Lessons r e l a t i n g t o t h e post-agreement phase may be
part icularly i n s i g h t f u l and helpf ul. Business conf licts f i t t i n g w i t h i n t h i s category m i g h t include:
The s e t t l e m e n t o f a large e m p l o y m e n t class a c t i o n . The
cross-fertilization learning from p o l i t i c a l conflicts i s t h a t
under such circumst ances i t w o u l d b e p r u d e n t t o t h o u g h t f u l l y s e t u p p o s t - a g r e e m e n t st ruct ures t o address c o n t i n u i n g problems.
The s e t t l e m e n t o f p r o d u c t i n j u r y class act ions where t h e
issue o f causat ion c a n n o t be d e f i n i t i v e l y det ermin e d because o f t h e lack o f scient if ic inf ormat ion, such as t h e recent
set t lement s o f breast i m p l a n t l i t i g a t i o n matters. Lessons
f rom c e r t a i n aspects o f p o l i t i c a l c o n f l i c t s may be helpful.
This case study is t he beginning of a dialogue prompted
b y t h e q u e s t i o n o f w h a t issues a n d lessons, p o s i t i v e a n d
negat ive, f r o m t h e w o r l d o f p o l i t i c a l c o n f l i c t s are a p p l i cable t o r e s o l v i n g business c o n f l i c t s . The hope i s t h a t t h e
case s t u d y w i l l p r o m o t e f u r t h e r discussion o n cross-fert i l i z a t i o n learning. Your c o m m e n t s and react ions o n t h e
m o n o g r a p h o r o n t h e CPR Theory t o Practice e f f o r t s gene r a l l y are encouraged. They can be s e n t t o Kat hle e n M.
S c a n l o n , D i r e c t o r o f CPR P u b l i c P o l i c y P r o j e c t s , a t
ksca n l o n @ c pradr. o rg
.
C P R T H E O R Y TO P R A C T I C E P R O J E C T
This article attempts to examine the insights and lessons
(continued from previous page)
closely related to fundamental matters such as nationalism,
religion and language. The growth of such conflicts contrasts
with other modern notions such as the new single world, or
global village, a post-ethnic world in which economic homogeneity, electronic communication, and information systems
were expected to make national and state differences seem
anachronistic.
Those involved in ethnic quarrels are usually stimulated
by aspirations and feelings that contrast vividly with the
rhetoric of globality. Their intentions arise out of the existence of, and the wish to defend, an awareness of common
identity often involving group membership and identification. These ideas also usually are related to a sense of ownership of shared and sometimes disputed territory.
The difficulty for the international world has been to find
new imaginative systems of governance that defuse the anxieties and fears held within such opposing groups, and that
brings them in from the economic-or political, or cultural, or
social-cold.
This dual characterization of conflict, into social/business and political, is only one of a range ofways of categorizing and arranging conflicts. This particular grouping, however, has two benefits: one, these two experiences of conflict
include a large proportion of all the actual examples currently available; and, two, they are almost always sharply
different in their origins, form of activity and approaches to
settlement.
T h e worst consequences of political conflict are violence and death. Such consequences are comparatively rare
in social/business conflict. Moreover, other aspects of political conflict resolution exist that, at first glance, are likely
to be rare or uncommon in sociaUbusiness conflicts-for
example, the situation where those politicians who are
unable to accept the compromises of a political agreement,
set out in a sense as saboteurs, to do it harm or undermine
in whatever way they can. Such apparent contrasts between
sociaUbusiness and political conflict raise a number of
interesting questions, including the degree to which one
can learn from or inform the other.
that the world of social/business conflict can obtain from
particular conflict resolution approaches currently used in the
world of political conflict. It specifically examines the Northern Ireland experience and Good Friday Agreement, and uses
them to analyze the procedures and approaches that have been
found useful in trying to resolve that political conflict. The
examination emphasizes the contingent, pragmatic and interdependent nature of the procedures and approaches used, the
use of strategies designed to keep the various parties and
interests engaged and represented at some level, and the critical importance of attending to the post-agreement phase.
O V E R V I E W O F THE
NORTHERN I R E L A N D EXPERIENCE
Over the past few years there has been a spate of comparative
research and related documents on the three peace processes of
Northern Ireland, South Africa and between Israel and the
Palestinian Authority. All three examples have been referred to
as having achieved a degree of movement, or transition, in
regions of the world where there are deeply divided societies. As
a consequence they become, for a time, the focus of much hope
and expectation about such intragroup conflicts, and about how
they might be resolved. In all three cases, something like agreement was reached, about how to go forward in ways that would
at worst have the potential for growth and development, and at
best have actually achieved firm agreement about controversial
and disputed matters.
It also was seen as significant that, in all three cases, the
talks, negotiations and agreements were assisted by, and accommodated at, the highest level of world government and
influence, and that the input from these areas often involved
the application of state-of-the-art dispute resolution and mediation techniques learned in the world of social/business
conflict.
It is important also to be clear that in all cases, those
closest to the action were well aware of the fragility of what
had been achieved, and of the strong probability that these
Seamus Dunn i s Professor of Conflict Studies and former Director of the Center for the Study of Conflict, at the University of Ulster, Coleraine,
Northern Ireland. He i s joint editor of a series of books on ethnic and intercommunity conflict, published by Hampshire, England's Palgrave
Publishers Ltd., a division of the Macmillan Group, and which includes six titles t o date. He and his colleagues have been involved for more than
20 years i n research on the conflict i n Northern Ireland, and i n particular on the Good Friday Agreement. Recent work has included a sequence
of focus-group studies relating to the agreement itself, the referendum that followed, and the election of a new assembly: a study of "Attitudes
t o the Criminal Justice System" arising from the agreement: a series of studies of parades and marches; and a study on "Establishing the Demand
for Services and Activities i n the Irish Language i n Northern Ireland." He adds special thanks to Prof. Jacqueline Nolan-Haley of the Fordham
University School of Law i n New York and CPR Vice President Kathleen M. Scanlon, who is CPRs Director of Public Policy Projects, for their
contributions to this article.
I
THE NORTHERN I R E L A N D EXPERIENCE
I
new agreements and structures might not survive. All of them
were based on compromise, on the acceptance that all sides
and groups must give up something, and on the need to find
an intricate and often precarious balance of give and take.
Despite this, the three situations have even been referred
to as exemplars that many other conflicts might profitably
examine and take into account. The Northern Ireland Good
Friday Agreement in particular has been referred to as providing inspiration for other attempts at political settlement in such
disparate places as Angola, Mozambique, Kashmir, Sri Lanka,
Cyprus, Corsica, and the Basque Country. Such optimism now
seems somewhat misplaced.
The really hard part
comes when what has
been gained has to be
sustained and embedded
and given solid
foundations.
Certainly-and
depressingly-the
Northern Ireland
agreement appears to be in some danger of unravelling, and
what exactly the outcomes and consequences will be if it does
unravel are far from clear. The experience of living through a
peace process, and watching it through all its stages, suggests
that, while the activity of generating a peace process and
bringing it to some kind of climax or ending is indeed difficult, the really hard part comes after this, when what has been
gained has to be sustained and embedded and given solid
foundations.
In particular, the game of politics means that those
politicians who either are not in power, or who are adamantly
opposed to compromise, now have something tangible to
shoot at, and very often are determined to undermine the
agreement. And, since compromise means loss, and the giving
of some ground to the other side in the form of concessions,
the opposing politicians have little difficulty in producing a
list of grievances. But they rarely have anything convincing to
put in the place of the agreement, except to return to a version
of the previous political arrangements that does not involve
giving anything up. In Northern Ireland such an outcome is
extremely unlikely.
I
I
C P R T H E O R Y TO P R A C T I C E P R O J E C T
It is not the intention here to provide a detailed examination of the Peace Agreement that was crafted in Northern
Ireland and agreed to on Good Friday 1998. The structures
and details of that document are well known and documented. See, e.g., Michael Cox, Adrian Guelke and Fiona
Stephen, eds., “A Farewell to Arms: From ‘Long War’ to
Long Peace in Northern Ireland,” (Manchester and New
York: Manchester University Press, August 2000).
The general background is, in a way, fairly simple. Northern Ireland is a physical part of the island of Ireland, yet is
constitutionally part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Northern Ireland. Its neighbors are Great Britain and the
Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland contains two large and
distinct communities, which are nowadays almost numerically
equal. It also, increasingly, contains a number of smaller ethnic
communities.
For the sake of simplicity, the members of these two
communities will be referred to here as “unionists” and “nationalists,” but they (or significant parts of them) are often
confusingly referred to by many other names. For example
nationalists are also sometimes called Catholics, or Republicans, while unionists are sometimes called Protestants or
loyalists, even though the terms do not correspond exactly.
In fact, the two main groups can be divided in a large
number of ways, all of which demand to be qualified and
commented upon. Briefly, the raw unqualified list of separators might include, religion, political affiliation, nationality,
culture, and sense of history.
Although the two groups have lived side-by-side-albeit
uneasily and unhappily and with occasional recourse to violence-since the 17th century, there is little evidence to be found
of any real or fundamental assimilation or enculturation between the two.
At the core of the continuing conflict is how Northern
Ireland is to be governed. The slightly larger majority unionist group has always wished to be ruled from Westminster,
while the minority nationalists group has always wished to be
part of the independent Irish state based in Dublin.
T H E RECENT PEACE PROCESS
The most recent outbreak of violence began in the late 1960s,
and has continued for more than 30 years. During that time
there have been a large number of attempts to find some forms
of political accommodation and agreement that would produce
peace. All of these failed in one way or another. The important
objective was to find a way whereby the two groups could be
governed without feeling anxious or insecure about their own
THE NORTHERN I R E L A N D EXPERIENCE
(continued on following page)
CPR T H E O R Y TO P R A C T I C E P R O J E C T
(continued from previous page)
welfare and future. And, since both aspired to fundamentally
different constitutional arrangements, this was clearly going to
be difficult.
T o understand this most recent peace process. a brief
review of its origins is required. There are four reasons why
the peace process can be seen in retrospect as an almost
inevitable conclusion.
The first reason arose as a result of the strategy during the
early years of the conflict-especially from Republicans-that
used violence, including bombs and assassinations, hoping or
presuming that this would provide a victory for its perpetrators.
This strategy ensured a comparable response from other inter-
The simple act o f agreeing
to talk to members o f the
I R A and other paramilitary
organizations, and their political
representatives, was perceived
by many as completely
unacceptable, and
indeed immoral.
ests. The consequence of this approach was to lead, eventually,
into a sad, repetitive, and unproductive stalemate with many
dead and injured, but little progress or positive movement. It was
a “lose-lose’’situation.
And so, over the years, it began to become clear to all
concerned that the military approach was not working, and
indeed was obviously making things worse. No one was winning.
This realization was not without its cynical side, as
illustrated when one leader announced that they would now
use both the Armalite rifle and the ballot box simultaneously. But it also has been argued that, in order to persuade those committed to the Armalite to move toward
politics, it was necessary to postulate the need to retain both
strategies
The second reason was that, what has become known
as the security forces-broadly the Royal Ulster Constabu-
I
lary and the British Army-also
began to realize that they
increasingly were unlikely to defeat the guerrilla strategies
being used by the Republican paramilitary organizations such
as the Irish Republic Army, or those of their loyalist opposite
numbers such as the UVF. It is sometimes forgotten that
is
there were three groups involved in the conflict-that
nationalists, unionists and the security forces. Within all
three, the confusing range of organizations and sets of initials
that have emerged over the years have been amazingly large.
Much of the war was fought in public in a sense, although
it has become increasingly clear that there was a great deal of
secret activity in the form of blackmail, paid informers, black
propaganda, the use of secret agents and agents provocateur. But
to the extent that government security activity was in public, it
was available for scrutiny from the constant presence of the
worlds’ television cameras and journalists. This openness meant
that the likelihood of the military adopting more draconian and
uncivilised approaches to the struggle was considerably reduced.
The modern world of human rights, justice and political awareness effectively tied their hands, at least in public. In the end,
senior military people were beginning to say that they could not
win the war, and outright victory began to seem impossible for
them also. Some recent views hold that this decision was reached
by the security forces quite early in the conflict.
The third reason is related to the first. As time went on
the IRA, and its more politically minded leaders, began to be
convinced that political, as opposed to military, approaches
to the problem might lead to a stronger, and historically
more fruitful, situation. A political approach would allow the
IRA to get out of what was now an obviously unproductive
cycle of violence, with many of its followers in jail, its communities deprived and alienated and its families broken up
and depressed. The evolution of this view was helped and
prodded along by many individuals and groups, who had
themselves long since concluded that the political way forward was, in the long run, the only way forward.
It is also important to be aware that the simple act of
agreeing to talk to members of the IRA and other paramilitary organizations, and their political representatives, was
perceived by many as completely unacceptable, and indeed
immoral. It required considerable courage to do so, and the
result was that many citizens were outraged and disturbed by
it. This sense of betrayal continues to exist, especially in some
sections of the unionist community, and contributes to some
extent to the current unease and instability. Others, although
initially upset, have had to face the fact that talking to
gunmen or their representatives seems to be the only way to
keep the guns quiet and therefore have the potential to
THE NORTHERN I R E L A N D EXPERIENCE
I
I
CPR T H E O R Y TO P R A C T I C E P R O J E C T
produce a stable society.
The fourth reason was the growing acceptance that,
although only those actually living in Northern Ireland could
in the end solve the problem, it also was important and
necessary to take account of the interests and commitments of
other groups from outside Northern Ireland, especially those
on whom the fallout from the conflict had economic and
social impacts. Although there was some support at various
times for the so-called “Internal Settlement,” this approach
seemed to leave out the legitimate concerns of the region’s
closest neighbors, that is, Great Britain and the Republic of
Ireland. It was the view that their interests were important
that contributed greatly to the realization of the final constitutional arrangements that are at the heart of the Good Friday
Agreement. In addition, the growing interest of the United
States and its Irish-American lobby was of considerable importance, as was the existence of the European Community
and its willingness to help to bankroll the promotion of peace.
Although several reasons exist, at least in hindsight, to
explain why the most recent peace process was an almost
inevitable conclusion, the awareness of the inevitability of
turning to a political process (as opposed to a military one)
to search for a resolution took a long time to grow and be
accepted. At all times there were a great many involved
groups and constituencies, all with their own views, and
often with a range of diverse views within groups. For example, the notion that the Provisional IRA is a singular
organization with one accepted set of views is far from the
truth, and so there are always competing interests and views,
with different subgroups in a majority at different times.
All of this serves to illustrate the contingent nature of
many of the elements in the overall picture. At its essence,
the peace process was a pragmatic exercise rather than one in
which it was believed that the sides would solve their differences, that they would see the other side’s point of view, or
would begin to agree with it-or
would even agree that
peace was preferable to conflict.
THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT:
A PRAGMATIC FORMULA
The Good Friday Agreement is a subtle blend of agreed strategies designed to allow gains and losses on all sides to be
balanced. To achieve such a document it was necessary that
every step during its construction be tested and retested over
and over again. A wide range of political views was represented,
both within and between parties, and therefore the discussions
and drafts involved a process of continuous competition with
I
regard to every phrase and sentence. All groups were determined to gain as much as possible from the negotiations, and
so, even when ground was given, there was always the sense that
such ground could be regained in the future.
Because many of the issues-such as decommissioning
of weapons-were so fundamental that agreement was almost
impossible, it was necessary to express the results in terms that
were either vague or ambiguous. For example, the section on
decommissioning provides as follows:
All participants accordingly reaffirm their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary
organisations. They also confirm their intention to
continue to work constructively and in good faith
with the Independent Commission, and to use any
influence they may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years
following endorsement in referendums North and
South of the agreement and in the context of the
implementation of the overall settlement.
The wording itself does not actually commit groups to
decommission weapons, but is phrased in such a way that it
allows unionists to argue that this was the spirit in which it was
written.
T h e period of negotiation leading up to the Good
Friday Agreement lasted for months, if not years. The result
was that all the issues were well known and had been the
subject of much debate, argument and disagreement, and
the production of a great many papers and documents. But
the crucial endgame during which the final document that
was the Good Friday Agreement emerged was a short, concentrated and sustained period of frantic, sleepless days and
nights. The last deadline push toward a document that all
concerned could agree to involved hard decisions, concentrated bargaining, constant multiple referencing, deep
thought about draft sections and the constant parsing and
analysis of each paragraph for any hidden meaning or unnoticed ambiguity.
At least one group of politicians walked out near the end
of what one participant called “a long, nerve-wracking and
sleepless night.” The most recent book on the subject contains the line, “Eyewitnesses said a forest of papers had been
consumed making drafts and counter-drafts, amendments
and counter-amendments.” Deaglin De Brkadhn, “The Far
Side of Revenge: Making Peace in Northern Ireland” (Cork:
Collins Press, 2001).
This may not be the ideal way to generate such a crucial
and important document. But the contexts within which
THE NORTHERN I R E L A N D EXPERIENCE
(continued on following page)
I
C P R T H E O R Y TO P R A C T I C E P R O J E C T
(continued from previous page)
such agreements are reached make it almost inevitable that
this will happen. The result, however, can be that, in the cold
light of retrospection, there will be significant ambiguities
and even contradictions.
POST-AG RE EM E N T PHASE:
A P E R I O D OF I N S T A B I L I T Y A N D
THE NEED FOR C H E C K P O I N T S
The Good Friday Agreement generated sufficient support to be
signed by the political parties and other necessary groups,
making it possible to continue down a peace path. A period
marked by significant instability, however, has followed.
First, even after its signing, all of the original aspects of
the Northern Ireland problem remain: Ireland is still partitioned, there is still a nationalist minority that does not wish
to be governed by Britain, and most unionists are deeply
suspicious of Republicans and of their medium or long-term
objectives. Many commentators, and especially some of those
on the sceptical wing of unionism, do not accept at all the
good intentions of the IRA, and believe that the peace process
has been a Tactical Use of an Unarmed Strategy, sometimes
called TUAS, and that the armed strategy has not been abandoned-merely postponed.
Second, there exists deep disagreement over the Good
Friday Agreement within Northern Ireland. At one end of the
spectrum, it is argued that a perfect agreement that satisfies
everyone would be impossible to achieve. The only available
route is a pragmatic one with limited goals: go for what can be
achieved at the time and ignore the difficulties, problems, and
the profound-if
theoretical- moral questions. That is, in
order to stop the violence and disorder, you take the chance
and then work determinedly to overcome the undoubted
difficulties that the real world will present you with.
At the other end, it is argued that there are certain moral
imperatives that cannot be sidelined, including in particular the
immorality of dealing with terrorists. Terrorists, this line of
thinking argues, cannot be allowed to benefit from their violence, and victims in particular deserve that no agreements are
made with terrorists. The only acceptable path is to continue to
fight until the terrorists are destroyed or they surrender.
Third, during the post-agreement phase, the communities within which the paramilitary groups have lived and acted
face problems of change and adaptation. This can be difficult,
especially since the political developments and supposed gains
are not always immediately obvious on the ground, either in
the form of material advantages and improvements, or in the
I
form of new social and political structures. The separations,
fears and suspicions, both physical and psychological, continue
to exist and so confrontations continue, but now without the
protection and security previously available because military
discipline is gone. The result is a reappearance of street violence in the form of stone throwing, petrol bombs and riots,
sometimes escalating into gunfire.
They can do it now
using politics and talk, or
they can start again later,
after the present peace
process has been destroyed
and probably after
more bloodshed.
Fourth, during the post-agreement phase, old substantive
issues remain and new ones have emerged. These include the old
issues of marches and parades as a form of self-identification and the
questions of flags, symbols and emblems. The new issues include
how to decommission all paramilitary illegal weapons without
suggesting that one side or the other has surrendered; how to
provide the necessary support, both physical and moral for victims;
and how to dismantle the complex military structures generated by
the conflict, in the form of armies, special police, prison personnel,
emergency legislation, and information-gathering systems. Moreover, new difficult problems of non-political crime have arisen,
some of it a consequence of a transfer of paramilitary involvement
to drugs, racketeering and protection rackets.
The interplay of all these forces and factions inevitably
means that the post-agreement phase has been littered with
trips and hazards. Some of the difficult matters were well
known before the peace agreement was signed, and so institutions or procedures designed to resolve them (or try to resolve
them) either were in place or were established as part of the
Good Friday Agreement. These included the formation of a
set of parliamentary committees with cross-party membership,
one for each of the 10 government departments, to scrutinize,
develop policy and consult on all matters relevant to the main
executive functions of the government departments.
THE NORTHERN I R E L A N D EXPERIENCE
I
Anticipated continuing difficulties with a range of contentious matters also were planned for specifically by establishing in each case either a commission or a review of
current procedures and practices. These included an international commission on decommissioning; a commission
under a former Westminster minister, Chris Patten, to examine and report on the future of policing; a commission to
examine and make judgments about the validity of particularly difficult parades; a Northern Ireland Victims Commission to acknowledge and address the suffering of the victims
of violence; a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
to keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of laws
and practices in this area; an Equality Commission to advise
on, validate and monitor statutory obligations in relation to
fair employment, equal opportunities, racial equality and
disability, among others; and, finally, a review of the criminal justice system.
The success of all these post-agreement structures is a
matter of continuing debate and controversy. But among
their functions, the structures certainly have acted as lightning rods through which disputes can be debated and differences illuminated. Moreover, they provide forums where acceptable progress with continuing difficulties, such as
decommissioning of weapons, can be discussed and addressed.
If the agreement in Ireland fails, what follows? It is
certain that, at some time in the future it will have to be
resurrected in some form, as it will in the Middle East, and
the two sides will have to deal with each other. So they can do
it now using politics and talk, or they can start again later,
after the present peace process has been destroyed and probably after more bloodshed.
The simple truth is that in such circumstances the two
sides are stuck with each other. So in the end they have to live
or die with each other.
FOR D I S C U S S I O N :
CROSS-FERTILIZATION 0 BSERVATIONS
In the case of political conflict, resolution is normally very
difficult, and the best that can usually be hoped for is something less ambitious. Consequently a set of alternative strategies, and a corresponding, often confusing, terminology has
developed. This includes phrases such as “conflict settlement,” “conflict management,” “conflict transformation” and
“conflict regulation.” And, even after some form of an agreement is reached, it is most likely that both sides will continue
to niggle at its edges and to find previously hidden faults with
the new arrangements. Also, because the agreement is usually
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CPR T H E O R Y TO P R A C T I C E PROJECT
constructed with the assistance of parties outside the controversy, like a mediator or facilitator, the parties may find
themselves agreeing to accept a level of ambiguity and compromise that will seem unfair to them later.
The Good Friday Agreement cannot be characterized as
a win-win agreement. The phrase used at some stages in the
Northern Ireland process was “the least worst option.” Certainly at the beginning, neither side perceives itself as having
won, but is prepared to accept a balance of gains and losses
resulting from an understanding and sharing of interests and
positions. The result may evolve into a win-win outcome, and
in a sense this represents the best possible outcome. [See
Discussion Box on page 153 for social/business examples.]
There are many questions that follow from this discussion
of the Northern Ireland experience. In this section, crossfertilization learning will be explored with a focus on what
social/business conflicts can learn from political conflict. Often, the focus has run the other way for obvious reasons. As
discussed above, because of the apparent contrasts between
social/business conflict and political conflict, arguably crossfertilization from political to social/business is minimal. But it
is proposed for discussion and Lrther examination that for a
particular subcategory of social/business conflicts generally defined below, the contrast may be more apparent than real.
One, or other, or both
sides, will be convinced
of the absolute rightness
and integrity of their
position, and will believe
that to enter discussions
i s a form of betrayal
or surrender.
T o refine the discussion for cross-fertilization purposes,
social/business conflicts will be further divided into three
subcategories. First, there are those social/business conflicts
that get resolved successfully, often because the underlying
source or cause of the conflict disappears due to a change in
THE NORTHERN I R E L A N D EXPERIENCE
(continued on following page)
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CPR T H E O R Y TO P R A C T I C E P R O J E C T
I
(continued from previous page)
is unacceptable or a waste of time. A mediation-like process is
circumstances, an acceptance of the other party’s position or a
consensual resolution that creates a “win-win” for each side.
This has probably few exact equivalences in political conflict.
Second, and at the other end of the spectrum, are those
sociaUbusiness conflicts where the divisions and disagreement
are so structural and embedded that the possibility of a compromise in the near future seems remote. There are many
such conflicts in the political sphere.
Third, in between these two, are those social/business
conflicts that can arise in the corporate world, where the
urgencies and imperatives are such that the continuation of
the conflict is so unproductive and disadvantageous to both
sides that, often for pragmatic reasons, a resolution needs to
be achieved. In such cases it is possible that a deal will be
reached, even though the underlying tensions and difficulties
have not disappeared. This subcategory may possess some
close parallels with the Northern Ireland experience. But an
agreement that will resolve all the difficulties, or ensure that
all concerned are content with the outcome, will be extremely
difficult, if not impossible. [See Discussion Box on page 153
for examples].
This section explores three phases drawn from the
Northern Ireland experience-getting the process started,
the process itself and the post-agreement period-for lessons that may be enlightening to this third subcategory of
social/business conflicts. This is not meant to imply that
these may be generalized or are exhaustive. The intent is
that the observations that follow will continue to promote
discussion, and that other experiences in other related contexts can add value and further analysis to these, and that
correspondingly new more developed insights can become
available.
needed to even begin the proximity talks because of the tension
between the sides. Moreover, the inevitability of the need for such
a mediation process takes a long time to grow and be accepted,
and, even when it is accepted, it often will begin with proximity
talks with the sides in separate locations.
Getting Started -A Slow Process
Needing Outside Assistance
Getting to the beginning of a process of discussion and
negotiation can take a long time and often includes a number
of false starts. One, or other, or both sides, will be convinced
of the absolute rightness and integrity of their position, and
will believe that to enter discussions is a form of betrayal or
surrender. Even when an agreement has been achieved, there
will continue to be intransigents on both sides who see the
very establishment of the process-never mind the outcomeas immoral and unacceptable.
In political conflicts, negotiations also often are confounded
by painful historical memories of past wrongs, and this adds to
the conviction that even to begin to search for common ground
I
To address the inevitable
instability built into the
post-agreement phase i n
No rthern Ireland, institutions
or procedures designed to
resolve the difficult issues
during that phase either
were i n place or were
established as part
of the agreement.
The Process -Realistic Expectations of
What Can and Cannot Be Accomplished,
Inclusion of as Many Groups and Views as
Possible, and Use of Deadlines and
Ambiguous Language t o Reach Closure
Throughout the Northern Ireland political conflict negotiations,
it was important to remain aware that the process was not about
converting one side to the other‘s view, or about resolving their
differences. These differences are likely to remain, and a perfect
agreement that satisfies everyone is impossible. The process is
therefore a practical exercise in establishing agreed fundamentals
(such as that peace is preferable to war), and then agreed strategies
designed to allow gains and losses on all sides to be balanced.
Producing an agreement is a contingent and pragmatic process
involving an accumulation of small compromises, the determination to go for what can be achieved at the time, ignoring the
difficulties, problems, and the profound-if theoretical-moral
T H E N O R T H E R N I R E L A N D EXPERIENCE
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CPR T H E O R Y TO P R A C T I C E P R O J E C T
questions, and allowing differences to remain while placing em-
phasis on the mutual benefits to be had from agreement.
During the discussions leading up to the Good Friday
Agreement, it became clear that not only were there important and complex differences between the groups, but that
there also was a wide range of differences within the groups.
Each side contained a number of individuals or subgroups, all
with their own views, and often in disagreement with each
other. These differences are of central importance in that they
are an indication of the fault-lines along which any agreement
may later fail. They should therefore be taken seriously, and
great efforts should be made to keep as many groups as
possible on board as long as possible. They should never be
dismissed or ignored, for example, on the grounds that they
are extreme or peripheral minorities.
During this phase, the impact of nonarbitrary deadlines
cannot be overstated. The final negotiation sessions often are
short, concentrated and sustained, involving hard decisions
and exchange bargaining. Although the period of negotiation
leading up to the Good Friday Agreement lasted for years, the
final document emerged as a result of short and intensive
sessions imposed by the necessity of meeting deadlines. The
use of deadlines was effective because they were credible and
not viewed as arbitrary.
Complete agreement on many of the key issues was
almost impossible in the Northern Ireland case. As discussed
above, to address this tension and reality, the Good Friday
Agreement on certain key issues went no further than to
reduce agreement by using vague and ambiguous terms.
The Post-Agreement PhaseCritical Need for Measures to Address
Continuing Conflict and Ambiguous Language
The stability of agreements reached under the circumstances
similar to the Northern Ireland experience where the conflict
and factions actively remain despite a peace agreement can
never be taken for granted. There is always a good possibility
that the agreement will break down. In the political arena, the
most important, fundamental or central elements in agreements are, as suggested above, often phrased using language
that is either vague or ambiguous. This is usually caused by
urgency and the pressure to gain closure. The consequence is
that it allows both sides at a later date to understand it
differently.
As discussed above, to address the inevitable instability
built into the post-agreement phase in Northern Ireland,
institutions or procedures designed to resolve the difficult
issues during that phase either were in place or were estab-
lished as part of the Good Friday Agreement.
Moreover, during the post-agreement phase, “confidence
building measures” have been implemented to address disruptions caused by mavericks and splinter-like groups. These
The resulting agreement
arises out of the imaginative
use of mutually agreed
approaches and a balancing
of gains and losses
on all sides.
measures are calculated to shore up the nerves of those who
are uncertain about the advantages of the deal and who have
difficulty in convincing followers “on the street” that they are
not being sold out. Specifically, in Northern Ireland, groups
exist that wish to destroy the agreement by continuing or
restarting the behavior (such as violence) that originally caused
or contributed to the conflict. Also, it is likely that there will
be some political parties, as well as peripheral (or less central)
groups involved in a dispute, not all of whom will have been
involved in the negotiations.
In Northern Ireland, the absence of some political parties (such as Ian Paisley’s DUP) resulted from their decision
not to become involved in negotiations with parties with
paramilitary connections. For them, it simply would have
been dealing with terrorists.
Such parties and groups will not have had a direct voice
in the discussions, they will not know the details of the many
small compromises accepted, and so they will be faced with
difficult problems of change and adaptation. As time goes by
their scepticism will be aided by the perceived absence of
promised new developments and expected gains, in the form
of advantages and improvements for their side. The consequent fears and suspicions will help to undermine the agreement. Confidence-building measures are meant to address
this problem in part. Such measures include a range of responses from simple steps such as a reassuring letter from the
British Prime Minister, to more substantive events, such as
THE N O R T H E R N I R E L A N D E X P E R I E N C E
(continued on following page)
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C P R T H E O R Y TO P R A C T I C E P R O J E C T
(continued from previous page)
the easing of security arrangements, the early release of prisoners, transfer of prisoners from Britain to Northern Ireland,
or an ending of repressive legislation.
During the post-agreement phase, unplanned outcomes
inevitably will arise. Some of these can be defined as temporary,
and likely to disappear when certain other conditions are met.
Others will result from the conflict reasserting itself in new
forms of violence, or with new manifestations and disagreements. And, perhaps of most importance, new issues of real
substance will emerge and the agreement will not refer to them.
Such happenings underscore the critical importance of postagreement institutions and procedures which will at a minimum
provide a forum to begin to address the new issues and problems. Only as a last resort should demands for the agreement to
be renegotiated be entertained. Renegotiation would run the
risk of placing the overall agreement in danger, and for this
reason would demand very careful planning and management.
“lose-lose,’’ bur rather arises out of the imaginative use of
mutually agreed approaches and a balancing of gains and
losses on all sides.
Among the lessons to be drawn and insights to be gained
from the Northern Ireland experience that may be applicable
to certain social/business conflicts include the following: How
The resulting agreement
doesn‘t fit neatly within a
t raditio na 1 cate go ry, but
arises out of the
imaginative use of mutually
agreed approaches.
CONCLUSION
The case study presented here has introduced for further
examination and discussion the cross-fertilization of ideas and
procedures that have emerged from attempts ro deal with
various categories of conflict, defined here as political conflict
on the one hand, and a subcategory of social/business conflict
on the other.
The emphasis has been on those situations where the
parties trying ro find a resolution are compelled to seek a
pragmatic solution, even though the underlying tensions and
difficulties will actively remain. The resulting agreement does
not fit neatly within a category of “win-win,’’ “lose-win” or
to get discussion and negotiation processes started; assessing
the process itself and the need for realistic expectations and
acceptance of ambiguous language to gain closure; and the
critical importance of the post-agreement phase.
Particular emphasis is given to the continuing work needed
during the post-agreement phase. Certainly where conflicts are
resolved within such a pragmatic framework, post-agreement
problems should come as no surprise and should not discourage
those involved. But careful and thoughtful planning for dealing
with the post-agreement phase needs to occur.
6
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