The Politics of Antagonism Revisited: Assessing Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement (1998-2018)

Project: Research project

Project Details


The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) was signed in Belfast in April 1998 by the British and Irish governments as well as eight political parties in Northern Ireland. This historic event marks the end of the three-decade-long conflict known as “The Troubles” (1968- 1998) fought chiefly among loyalist paramilitaries, nationalist paramilitaries and security forces, resulting in thousands of causalities including Catholic and Protestant civilians. The GFA also brought new institutions (most notably a new version of the power- sharing, “consociational” executive) and political commitments. With qualified and punctuated “success” (McGarry and O’Leary 2017), the GFA has heralded in a new era of relative peace and optimism quite unknown in the region torn by centuries of violence beginning with English colonialism and outliving successive waves of decolonization worldwide.

Yet despite the GFA’s historic significance and initial achievements, politics in Northern Ireland has yet to enter the stage of what political theorists call “stable peace” (Kacowicz et al. 2000) or “deep reconciliation” (He 2009). The challenges of imminent Brexit, the recent breakdown of the devolved Executive since early 2017 and the persistent post- GFA “low-intensity” sectarian violence (Balcells et al. 2015) are but some of the reminders of how precarious the peace in Northern Ireland still is, which remains standing in sharp contrast to a post-Reformation, postcolonial and – to a lesser extent – postnational Europe.

Beginning in 2018, that is, twenty years on since the signing of the GFA and twenty-five years since the publication of Brendan O’Leary and John McGarry’s celebrated book, The Politics of Antagonism: Understanding Northern Ireland (1993), the proposed three- year research project aims to critically assess the implementation of GFA as a constitutional framework within which various social and political actors employ different resources at their disposal to overcome past and present obstacles to political reconciliation. Adopting Colleen Murphy’s framework for evaluating processes of political reconciliation (2010), the research seeks to determine the level (or lack) of achievement in areas such as political trust and rule of law in the twenty-year period, and to answer whether the predominant political concepts of “antagonism” and “accommodation” (Lijphart 1968) suffice as conceptual opposites to measure the overall accomplishment of the Northern Ireland peace process thus far. In terms of significance and output, aside from producing a number of peer-reviewed articles for high-impact journals, the project also aims to connect and contrast experiences in Northern Ireland and Hong Kong, where some fear a politics of antagonism is fast emerging
Effective start/end date1/01/1931/12/22


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