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An Outline of the Main Political 'Solutions'
[Key_Events] [Key_Issues] [CONFLICT_BACKGROUND]
Material is added to this site on a regular basis - information on this page may change
This DRAFT (v1) OUTLINE
will be completed during the coming months. When completed this
section will provide brief explanations of the main political
'solutions' that have been advocated at various times during 'the
Troubles'. The various options are only briefly considered in
the following page. This section draws heavily on material written
by, among others: Whyte (1990), Rose (1976), Boyle and Hadden
(1985), McGarry and O'Leary (1995), O'Malley (1983). The reader
should also consult the CAIN Bibliography.
A range of 'solutions' to the political
problems of Northern Ireland have been advanced since the constitutional
question reemerged at the beginning of 'the Troubles'. Some of
the 'solutions' have been proposed for the full period of the
conflict, some of them only found favour for a relatively short
period of time, whereas others have been advocated with varying
degrees of vigour at different times.
Integration with BritainDefinition: The government of Northern Ireland by the British Parliament at Westminster.
Those in favour of integration with
Britain use the central argument that Northern Ireland should
not be treated any differently from any other part of the United
Kingdom (UK). There are a number of slightly different options
of integration proposed by various groupings within unionism.
Full (Institution) Integration
Direct Rule (De facto Integration)
Devolved GovernmentDefinition: The government of the Northern Ireland state by a local administration with its own legislative powers.
For much of the period of 'the Troubles'
the British Government has favoured a system of local government
with legislative powers which are devolved from Westminster.
However the British Government has more recently explicitly said
that it would not stand in the way of any political settlement
which has wide cross-community agreement. Devolution is also
favoured by a significant section of Unionist opinion. They would
view a devolved government as a safeguard against any future Westminster
government trying to impose a solution which might lead to a United
Ireland. There are a number of different versions of devolved
Return to Simple Majority Rule
Majority Rule with 'safeguards'
Power-sharing with an Irish Dimension
Independent Northern IrelandDefinition: The political independence of Northern Ireland from both Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
Those who advocate independence for
Northern Ireland argue that both British and Irish sovereignty
are unacceptable to one or other of the two communities and therefore
it makes sense to consider independence. This approach is advocated
by the New Ulster Political Research Group (NUPRG). One of the
main question marks over this proposal is whether or not Northern
Ireland would be a economically viable unit. Opponents also question
the degree of support for such an outcome.
RepartitionDefinition: The division of the current Northern Ireland state into two areas one which would contain a majority of unionists and the other which would contain a majority of nationalists.
Those who argue for repartition begin
with the assumption that it is impossible to reach compromise
between the conflicting aspirations of unionism and nationalism.
In this case one practical solution would be to redraw the border
to divide the two communities. This solution has been advocated
at different times during the past 25 years. Various schemes
have been advanced for the division of the current Northern Ireland
state. A comprehensive defence of this approach and details of
the various options involved can be found in Kennedy (1986).
One of the main criticisms of this solution has to do with deciding
where the new boundary should be drawn. While it is true that
a large proportion of the Catholic population is to be found in
the west and south of the region there are a number of notable
exceptions including Catholic west Belfast. The existence of
pockets of population which find themselves in areas dominated
by the other community means that drawing a line between the two
communities is very difficult. The straightest line, for example
along the River Bann, would have the advantage of simplicity in
terms of administration but would mean that significant sections
of both communities would be on the 'wrong' side of the new border.
Any division which tried to be as inclusive as possible would
cause many administrative problems.
Joint AuthorityDefinition: The sharing of the sovereignty of Northern Ireland by Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
A one end of the spectrum this solution
might involve the British and Irish Government signing an agreement,
which would be enshrined in international law, to govern Northern
Ireland on an equal basis. At the other end of the spectrum joint
authority may only entail a sharing of responsibility with the
British Government as the major partner. Some Unionists would
argue that this type of outcome is the de facto situation under
the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Joint Authority was considered by
the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in 1972 and was
discussed as part of the New Ireland Forum in 1984. It was also
the subject of a recent book (O'leary, et al., 1993). While the
approach has the advantage of addressing the central problem of
a clash of national and political identities, it is viewed by
unionists as a 'stepping-stone' on the path to a United Ireland
and is thus opposed by them.
United IrelandDefinition: The reunification of the 32 counties of the island of Ireland (Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) into a single state.
The majority of nationalists in Northern
Ireland hold a, long-term, aspiration to see the island of Ireland
reunified. There are two ways in which this aspiration has been
pursued, by consent and by coercion. The final outcome of these
two approaches could involve either a unitary state or a federal
/ confederal state. A United Ireland, in any form, is fiercely
opposed by unionists.
United Ireland by Consent
A majority of those nationalists who
wish to see a United Ireland are only prepared to support this
option if it can be achieved by agreement. The level of expressed
support among the Protestant population for a United Ireland has
declined since the beginning of the present 'Troubles'. Although
the British Government has said that it would bring forward the
enabling legislation if a majority voted for this solution, the
prospects are very slim. Even if the Catholic and nationalist
population increased continually at the present rate, it would
take many decades to achieve a simple majority of the electorate
in favour of a United Ireland.
United Ireland by coercion
Republican paramilitaries, in particular
the Irish Republican Army (IRA), have spent over 25 years trying
to achieve a United Ireland by force of arms. The central strategy
has been to force an end to British rule in Northern Ireland and
then find an accommodation with the unionist population. The
central part played by Sinn Féin (SF) in the current Peace
Process is a recognition that a United Ireland through coercion
is unlikely to be achieved.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
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