The Constitution Unit

The Future of Power-Sharing in Northern Ireland

Episode Summary

First released on UCL's Uncovering Politics podcast, this episode looks at the politics of power-sharing in Northern Ireland. What is it? Why is it not currently working? And what is its future?

Episode Notes

Peace in Northern Ireland is widely recognised as one of the leading achievements of politics in recent decades.  The Good Friday, or Belfast Agreement, reached in 1998 by the British and Irish governments and most of the main Northern Ireland political parties brought an end to thirty years of violent conflict in which over three and a half thousand people were killed.

It did so in part by establishing a system of power-sharing government.  A new Northern Ireland Assembly would be elected by proportional representation, so no one group could dominate. Within the new Northern Ireland Executive, representatives of Northern Ireland’s two political traditions would have to work together.

Over the years since the Agreement was reached, the power-sharing institutions have worked well some of the time. But for others they have worked badly or not at all. Since February 2022 their functioning has once again been suspended. Public anger at this situation is intense. Negotiations for restoring the institutions are ongoing. But, as yet, there has been no breakthrough.

Indeed, the situation has become so grave that many think the future viability of power-sharing government is now in doubt. And there are suggestions that the settlement reached in 1998 may need to be revisited.

In this episode we’re joined by two experts:

Alan Whysall is an Honorary Senior Research Associate at the Constitution Unit here within the UCL Department of Political Science. He was previously a senior civil servant in the Northern Ireland Office, where he worked for many years on the Northern Ireland peace process – including the talks that led to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

Conor Kelly is a Research Assistant at the Constitution where he has worked on multiple projects relating to Northern Ireland, most recently examining perceptions of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement among politicians and the public in Northern Ireland. 

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