Public trust is crumbling

October 25, 2002

Northern Ireland's peace process has been driven forward by politicians' lies and manipulation, and the discovery of this is undermining public trust in politics, according to Ulster University politics lecturer Paul Dixon, writes Olga Wojtas.

In an analysis of the peace process published in the Journal of Political Studies , Dr Dixon argues that the "real" war in Northern Ireland has been accompanied by a propaganda war that polarised opinion, creating problems for those seeking an accommodation between unionism and nationalism. "Competing parties and governments have sometimes cooperated backstage while front stage they have on occasion 'play-acted' conflict," Dr Dixon writes.

Politicians on both sides attempted to appease hardliners by using a smokescreen of hostile rhetoric to disguise a move towards moderation. This may have been useful in the short term, but did not help to wind down the propaganda war nor promote the need for compromise.

Documents are deliberately ambiguous, so that different factions can interpret them as victory for their side, Dr Dixon argues. But, he writes, while there are those who argue that deception is an inevitable part of politics, there is a danger of it leading to a collapse of public confidence in the peace process.

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