Thinking Aloud: Some Tidbits on Northern Ireland

Mar. 14, 2014 by Darius 

I’ve been working on a project about the Northern Ireland peace process today and don’t have much time for a blog post, but I thought I would share a few of the things I’ve learned, in advance of St. Patrick’s Day.

  • For the most part, the US Department of State played an obstructionist role through the early part of the process, siding with the British and refusing to consider any change in US policy towards Northern Ireland without the prior consent of the British.  However, the State Department lost out in a turf spat with the National Security Council, and George Mitchell was appointed to lead the effort, bypassing the State Department. 
  • It was estimated at the time that up to a third of men in Northern Ireland were born, lived their lives, and died without ever holding a job, in large part because the political climate in Northern Ireland was not very conducive to business investment.  (Paramilitary groups offered a salary.)  The US broached the issue of Northern Ireland by dangling the prospect of jobs and investment in front of the parties should a peace deal be signed.  The first major meeting involving all the parties, including the IRA’s political arm, was actually sponsored by the US Department of Commerce. 
  • The British and Irish governments, along with the Unionist (pro-British) and Republican (pro-Irish) parties in Northern Ireland, knew that a negotiated settlement was the only way to achieve their ends – they just differed on the details.  The fact that all the parties wanted a deal helps explain why former US Senator George Mitchell was so successful brokering peace talks in Northern Ireland but was defeated by the Israel-Palestine conflict.
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