In October 2011, a number of experts from Britain, Northern Ireland and Ireland gathered to debate the Northern Ireland Peace Process in an Age of Austerity at a roundtable at Birkbeck College, University of London. Contributors to the roundtable provided articles for a Political Quarterly special issue in early 2012. Articles concentrated on how tougher economic times would affect dissident Republicanism and Protestant paramilitarism, as well as on the broader question of how the Peace Process would be affected by government cutbacks. This was followed by a successful discussion of the papers by leading Northern Ireland politicians, journalists and academics at the Political Studies Association conference in Belfast in April. The general view, with some dissent, was that many of the dynamics that were driving both the Peace Process and sectarian violence had a long trajectory, and would not be greatly affected - for good or ill - by economic austerity.
As we enter 2013, the themes discussed in the special issue continue to resonate. The tempo of dissident Republican activity remained high throughout 2012, with numerous successful and foiled attacks. In November, David Black, a 52-year-old father of two, was shot on the M1, becoming the first prison officer to be murdered in Northern Ireland in almost 20 years. Dissident republicans joined forces to form a reconstituted IRA, promising further attacks in the New Year. Meanwhile, Belfast City Council's decision in December 2012 to cease flying the Union flag apart from on designated days led to weeks of rioting by loyalist protesters. Though Unionist politicians condemned the violence, many supported the aims of the protesters. The violence reflected a theme of continuing Unionist angst over their demographic, economic and political decline which began in the dying days of the Stormont period. As with much else in the province, the vagaries of peace and conflict appear to be rooted in long-term dynamics.
Details of the special issue can be seen here and you can read four of the articles that came out of the conference here free:
Martyn Frampton: Dissident Irish Republican Violence: A Resurgent Threat?
Henry Patterson: Unionism after Good Friday and St Andrews