The Dynamics of Conflict in Northern Ireland: Power, Conflict, and Emancipation

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The Dynamics of Conflict in Northern Ireland: Power, Conflict, and Emancipation

By Joseph Ruane and Jennifer Todd
Cambridge University Press, 1996
365 pp. $59.95

The authors -- a sociologist and a political scientist who teach in the Republic of Ireland -- show that communal polarization in Northern Ireland began in the nineteenth century. They note the importance of the ideological aspects of the conflict and the erosion of Protestant power both culturally and economically, but they stress the fundamental economic inequality that still favors the Protestants, and Northern Ireland's integration into (and dependence on) the economy of the United Kingdom. They also explain how Britain's intervention has, in the past 30 years, led to Protestant decline. But they doubt that either Britain or the European Union (EU) can do much to provide a solution. The authors distinguish five overlapping "dimensions of difference": religion, ethnicity, colonialism, the distinction between civility and barbarism, and the distinction between nationalism and unionism. "Emancipation" would "involve a multistranded approach to moderate and differentiate the dimensions of difference, to undo the structure of dominance, dependence, and inequality and to weaken the forces producing communal polarization." One can only admire the seriousness and dispassionate analytic powers of the authors, but the 10 pages of prescription that follow more than 300 pages of lucid and scrupulous diagnosis are too vague to provide much guidance.

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