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Review: Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace by Feargal Cochrane

‘Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace’ critically assesses the background and evolution of the violence created by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and its followers. It examines the determinants of the Northern Ireland solution process from violence to a long-term peace between 1690 and the present day and the influential factors behind the conflict, including the religious, historical, political, economic and cultural factors.

The author clearly details the reasons for the conflict in the region through ten chronological chapters. The book has three distinct sections which refer to different terms and solution attempts. The first section, which covers 1690 to 1920, critically assesses the history of the problem by discussing the term ‘sectarianism’ and the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. Its explanation of the disputes between the unionist and nationalist communities of Ireland provides a strong background for understanding this tension. The second section, which covers 1921 to 1990, analyses the traditional efforts to bring terrorism to an end. However, the third part, covering 1993 to the present day, underlines the alternative methods to armed struggle for solving conflicts. These modern efforts include political attempts to bring disputing sides to the table. However, the author highlights the fact that the failure of political endeavours deepens military struggle (p. 96-97). As the scope suggests, this book provides a thorough overview of the history of the Northern Ireland conflict.

One particularly strong argument in the book regards violent and non-violent solution efforts. Cochrane analyses different reasons for armed and political struggles and looks at how the IRA finds a space to survive and expands its movement area by analysing unsuccessful political attempts. This explains the existence of a nationalist approach and on-going violence against the British army when political efforts collapse.

The author grew up in East Belfast and is Catholic. Although this situation might have created a problem in terms of objectivity, it actually helps the author to analyse the issue in detail. For example, the author clearly assesses the relationship between Catholic and Protestant societies, demonstrating the goals and attacks of the IRA and the response of the British government.

Certain themes arise throughout the book, for instance the psychological element of terrorism, such as political speeches, negotiations and hunger strikes. He also recounts hunger strikes as a psychological factor and argues that they are not only a determinant but also a supportive factor for the IRA to manufacture public opinion.

The author is wholly aware of the historical and political dimensions and frames the book around major breaking points of the conflict, such as Bloody Sunday, the Downing Street Declaration and the Good Friday Agreement. While the analysis of the conflicting sides and counter-insurgency acts of the British government, as well as other determinants, provides a strong background for understanding the conflict, it also draws a general perspective for future research.

Indeed, the author describes the nature of this issue as multifaceted and it has an international dimension which comprises the pressure of the international society on the IRA to end the violence. The international dimension does not consist solely of the force of powerful states or NGOs; it also covers the Irish-Americans’ lobby in the U.S. and peaceful solution efforts towards this tension.

Often, Cochrane’s thoughts on modern ways for resolving conflicts focus on ‘talking to the enemy’. As is expected, he describes this process as very sensitive towards armed conflict. He demonstrates a great degree of acquaintance with non-violent peace efforts and clearly explains them through diplomatic relations, the media’s role in the disarmament of the IRA and social networking sites. This focus on peaceful operations is very important; however, I would have expected more specific details in this area. Hence, the author addresses general mediation and negotiation terms for bringing the British government and the representatives of the IRA into discussions. However, he does not describe the nature of these conflict resolution terms. The study would be strengthened by analysing these terms in depth through the components of conflict resolution efforts and comparing them with negotiation efforts in other parts of the world.

Overall, this book is well-structured; the IRA violence and peace attempts are explained in detail. Indeed, the book analyses this issue from a broad perspective. Therefore, this book would appeal to different levels of readers, such as, scholars, students, peace-building actors and other practitioners.

I. Aytac Kadioglu is a second year doctoral researcher in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham. His research focuses on the theory of conflict resolution and terrorism. He also looks at other internal and international security conflicts of states.

This is not the final version, a definitive version will be available at Wiley Online Library.

Published inConflict & Security

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