Blarney obscures peace process

February 23, 1996

Your editorial "Study The Question" (THES, February 16) encouraging a role for academia in the resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland was at once both admirable and depressing. You were correct to point out the valuable contribution made by people like Paul Bew of Queen's University Belfast to recent discussion about the state of the peace process. However, the increasing influence of academics in the peace process, as it is euphemistically known, has not been a good one.

First the entry of the plethora of academic experts on to the stage has followed the increasing marginalisation of ordinary working-class people from the debate about the future of their country. As someone who has spent 25 of the past 30 years living in Belfast, I have always been struck by the straightforward and clearly expressed views of people, even when I have disagreed with them.

With the entry of the academics, what is clearly a conflict over national rights (united Ireland verses United Kingdom) has been complicated and distorted with the introduction of the academic language of ambiguity and the parallel psychologising of the conflict. Writing recently in the Observer, Oxford professor of Irish history Roy Foster endorsed this "linguistic subtlety" as a way of building "bridges between the two communities".

Terms like diversity, plurality, parity of esteem and empowerment may go down well at the centre for conflict resolution at the University of Ulster. However, used to describe the political situation in Northern Ireland, they serve only to confuse and muddy the waters. Any Belfast punter will tell you the conflict in Ireland is over national rights - depending who you speak to they wish to either see a united Ireland or a United Kingdom; no amount of psychobabble will alter that fact.

So then finally, when your editorial calls for a greater involvement of academics "to make the incomprehensible clear", we should be wary. If all they are going to do is to give academic credibility to the psychologising of the conflict, they should keep out. If we really want to understand the problem, why not ask the people who live there?

Kevin Rooney

Lecturer in politics and history

West Herts College of Further Education

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