Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace by Feargal Cochrane

Cheryl Lawther on a history of the conflict and peace process and how the past continues to affect current attitudes

May 30, 2013

Before settling down to write this review I found myself browsing through Northern Irish newspapers. Their headlines spoke of increasing political tensions, socio-economic deprivation and segregation, the threat posed by dissident Republican terrorists and the fallout from the Loyalist flag protests of December 2012. Fifteen years on from the signing of the Belfast Agreement, this book’s subtitle, The Reluctant Peace, is particularly apt.

Feargal Cochrane has set himself a not inconsiderable task - to trace the history of the Northern Irish conflict and peace process and to demonstrate how contested understandings of the past continue to shape the social and political landscape. A further unspoken objective is to add something fresh to the well-trodden terrain of research on the history and politics of Northern Ireland and its transition. He achieves these aims in a thoughtful, engaging style.

Taking a chronological approach, this book weaves its way from the earliest iterations of the conflict to the present day. This is not an aridly scholarly text or one overburdened by policy details. Rather, it carefully draws the reader into the complexities of the conflict and the peace process in a readable and accessible manner. While Cochrane is careful to balance and contextualise, he also offers praise and criticism where they are due. In doing so, he carefully navigates the sensitivities that surround the conflict but also does not spare the reader from the reality of violent conflict and its causes and effects; his discussions of Bloody Friday in 1972 and the 1975 Miami Showband massacre are cases in point. His personal reflections bring humanism and an insider’s view that adds to the richness of this work.

As Cochrane moves into the twists and turns of the peace process, he focuses on the main political actors rather than the finer technical details of the Belfast Agreement or the St Andrews Agreement. The tensions between hope and expectation on the one hand, and the reality of “doing” peace and politics in a divided society on the other, are brought to light. A frequent undercurrent to these discussions is the fragile nature of the process and how the presence of lingering suspicions and hostilities have an effect on the ongoing peace process. One criticism that could be made of Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace is that in covering a lot of ground, the final chapter nearly tries to do too much, touching on everything from public attitudes to change, commemoration and dealing with the past and community relations. These are all substantive issues that warrant being explored more fully.

As he emphasises, it is important not to undersell the changes that have taken place in Northern Ireland or to understate the time required to embed peace after generations of violence. Yet his work highlights the many challenges still to be overcome: enduring sectarianism, a lack of progress on developing the “cohesion, sharing and integration” strategy, the politicisation of victimhood and the distance between the “peace dividend” at the level of political elites and the reality of everyday life in those communities most affected by the conflict. Most problematic, as Cochrane notes in the introduction, is the continuing presence of the past in the present. As debate rages over the transformation of the site of the former Maze prison into a centre for conflict transformation, the sobering reality is that conflict has not entirely ceased. Cochrane’s assertion that Northern Ireland needs to “deal with its past in a manner that defuses the incendiary history of conflict” is compelling. The expert, the interested or the simply curious will find much of value in this timely book.

Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace

By Feargal Cochrane
Yale University Press, 320pp, £25.00
ISBN 9780300178708
Published 25 April 2013

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Head of Visual Arts UNIVERSITY OF HERTFORDSHIRE
Research Officer - Big Data for Better Outcomes LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS & POLITICAL SCIENCE LSE
Lecturer in Oral Microbiology UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest