This is a valuable book on an important topic. In 1991, Michael Cunningham published a calmly judicious study of British Government Policy in Northern Ireland 1969-89 . Here, in a thoroughly reworked version, he brings the story up to date. British Government Policy in Northern Ireland 1969-2000 will be of great use on university courses about Northern Irish politics, as a complement to work on Irish nationalism/republicanism and Ulster unionism/loyalism.
As in the first edition, Cunningham systematically examines successive periods of government in terms of constitutional, security, economic and social issues. He demonstrates that the basic ingredients of the current troubled settlement (power sharing; an Irish dimension) have long been on the agenda; but, in tracing the detailed evolution of British policy, he shows why direct rule (intended in 1972 as a short-term measure) in fact lasted for nearly three decades.
Balanced and lucid, Cunningham's book coolly approaches highly charged issues. For all of the differences between successive British governments, he identifies continuity and purpose during the era of direct rule. He states: "For virtually all of this period successive governments have been committed to the establishment of some form of devolved assembly, informed by the belief that Northern Ireland is 'different' and thus needs different political structures."
He questions the anti-imperialist and crisis management interpretations of British policy in Northern Ireland, and does so convincingly. His view is, instead, that "a consistency and continuity in British policy is discernible constructed around the notion of Northern Ireland's 'difference' and a sensitivity to international opinion."
Richard English is professor of politics, Queen's University, Belfast.
British Government Policy in Northern Ireland 1969-2000. Second edition
Author - Michael Cunningham
ISBN - 0 7190 5766 3 and 5767 1
Publisher - Manchester University Press
Price - £40.00 and £13.99
Pages - 184