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Home Uncategorized Big and Little Lies

Big and Little Lies

Henry Patterson
Performing the Northern Ireland Peace Process: In Defence of Politics, by Paul Dixon, Palgrave Macmillan, 316 pp, €72.79, ISBN: 978-3319913421 Although Paul Dixon would not go as far as Bill Clinton, who in a celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, described it as “a work of surpassing genius”, he does laud it as a “triumph of politics and representative democracy”. He has little patience with those who would wish to rain on the parade of self-congratulation which was much in evidence in the various conferences and seminars marking the anniversary. He criticises those unionists and what he refers to as “neo-conservative” academics who attacked Tony Blair for concluding the conflict with a set of grubby deals and deceptions that sacrificed justice, in particular for victims, for peace. He also argues that those who criticise the agreement for not creating a framework for dealing with the past and victims or for not addressing the deep ethnic divide in the North, are missing the fundamental purpose of the accord which was to deliver peace – not a perfect peace, but one that ended the IRA’s violent campaign against the British state and unionism. Dixon, a self-confessed “left realist”, writes in support of the politicians who negotiated the Good Friday Agreement using their political skills, including deception and hypocrisy, to bring about a historic compromise between unionism and republicanism. His title reflects his central argument that, given the apparently irreconcilable objectives of unionists and republicans, only a large degree of ambiguity of terminology and the spinning of distinct messages to different constituencies could have ensured success. Thus the use of the theatrical metaphor: politics as a stage; politicians as actors and the public/electorate as the audience. Dixon points out that this metaphor was a common manner of describing the peace process at its height used by politicians, journalists and media commentators, with frequent references to “behind the scenes”, “back stage” and “smoke and mirrors”. At the time it could have a pejorative tone, but Dixon makes the case that without deception the success of the peace process would have been impossible. Thus Tony Blair’s pledges to unionists during the referendum campaign that without decommissioning there would be no early release of prisoners and no inclusion of Sinn Féin in government were justifiable deceptions, for without these the agreement would have been rejected by unionists. However, he does qualify this…

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