Transforming the Northern Ireland conflict : Exposing the patterns of its destructive nature

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In 1998, with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, there came an official end to the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. But now, one and a half decade later, traces of conflict can still be recognized in Northern Ireland. Violence between the two communities is still the rule rather than the exception, which was again illustrated when demonstrations by the Protestant community in January 2013 led to riots when the Protestants were directed through an area that is known for being predominantly Catholic. In the field of conflict studies we would say that Northern Ireland is the stage of what we call a ‘negative peace’ rather than a ‘positive peace’. Basically there is a peace on paper, but not in the minds of people belonging to the communities. This idea of a positive peace has developed greatly in the minds of conflict researchers in the last decades: they argue that the conflicting parties in the long term should be able to live, work and play together. One method to work to such a peace is the concept of Conflict Transformation (Lederach, 2003). The general conception of conflict is that it is destructive and negative. This concept rather sees conflict as part of everyday life, as normal and as not inherently negative. According to the idea conflict can be, if harnessed constructively, a force used to change a conflicting situation. It can transform a conflict in such a way that the outcome will be peaceful. This idea has been taken up by the Berghof Foundation for Peace Research, who have developed an analytical model called ‘the Transformation of Protracted Social Conflicts’ in order to find patterns in identity conflicts that lead to the destructive nature of those conflicts (Miall, 2006). The model focusses on the history of the conflict, the needs of the people living in the conflict, the actors that play an important role in dealing with these needs and the capacity of these actors to do so. These elements together form patterns that either makes a conflict destructive or constructive. The analysis in this research will go through these four elements in order to find the patterns of destructive conflict in Northern Ireland. So the goal of this research is exposing the patterns that lead to the destructive nature of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland by applying the model of ‘the Transformation of Protracted Social Conflicts’ in order to give recommendations on how to begin transforming the conflict considering the concept of Conflict Transformation. The central question in this research therefore is: “What patterns of conflict formation can be recognized that lead to the persistent destructive nature of the conflict in Northern Ireland and how should these patterns of conflict begin to be transformed, considering the concept of Conflict Transformation, in order to harness the conflict in a more constructive nature?”
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