This article explores the reasons for the slow progress being made in the Northern Ireland peace process. It examines complications that exist in dealing with the past, present, and future of the conflict between the two main communities whilst also arguing that it is hard to separate these time frames in practice. In terms of the present, some well known difficulties with the consociational approach are identified. Recent studies have also demonstrated a failure to address sectarianism at the grass-roots level and there has been a resurgence in activity by spoilers and rejectionists. When thinking about the future the two communities still have competing views about the final constitutional destiny of Northern Ireland and this inhibits the development of a sense of a shared future. Although there have been a plethora of initiatives for dealing with the past and for truth recovery, there does not appear to have been a satisfactory approach to this important dimension of peacebuilding. The article concludes by advocating two key strategies. The first is the development of initiatives based on the pursuit of superordinate goals. The second endorses Rorty’s idea of sentimental education as a way of building greater solidarity.

Author Bio(s)

Stephen Ryan is a Senior Lecturer in Peace Studies at the University of Ulster where he is the Course Director of the Postgraduate Diploma/M.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies. His most recent book is the Transformation of Violent Intercommunal Conflict (2007). From 2006–2010 he was the Co-Chair of the International Peace Research Association’s Commission on Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding. He is the University of Ulster local coordinator for a new Marie Curie International Training Site for Sustainable Peacebuilding. Email: s.ryan@ulster.ac.uk


conflict settlement, Northern Ireland peace process, peacebuilding, sectarianism, sentimental education, working peace system

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