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This essay will attempt to outline the history of the Northern Ireland peace process and what kind of role the news media had to play in it. As Archick (2015) writes “Between 1969 and 1999, almost 3,500 people died as a result of political violence in Northern Ireland. The conflict, which has its origins in the 1921 division of Ireland and is often referred to as “the Troubles,” has reflected a struggle between different national, cultural, and religious identities”.
The media and more specifically, the news media, can be seen to have both positive and negative impacts on the stories they cover. On one side it can be said that since its formation the news media has been used effectively as a platform for messages of peace to be shared to the masses. However, it could also be evidenced that that on the other hand the news media can be used as a tool to evoke conflict and cause major devastation. Media can play an important role in the prevention of conflict by offering a different type of content to the people, which can consequently result in a domino effect where animosity levels between groups with differing beliefs can be seen to decrease, a mutual understanding between people can be formed and the causes of tension can be addressed in order to build towards a more equal and united society for everyone in the future. As Kuusik (2010) writes “Information is power and insight can impact on public discourse. This way, perceptions can be changed by access to media. Different types of media are utilised globally to distribute knowledge and idealistically, free mass media is a tool of and signpost for democracy. Freedom of expression is not only the core of a healthy media but also a fundamental human right and vital for a democratic structure”.
“Northern Ireland is widely highlighted as one of the more successful recent examples of global peacebuilding. In twenty years it has transformed from being a site of persistent conflict to a stable democracy, albeit one which still occasionally still appears in the global media as a result of crisis or an act of violence. More frequently Northern Ireland is presented as a model of how local participants, with the support and assistance of international actors and institutions, can transform a long standing armed conflict into a viable and sustainable peace” (Jarman, 2016).
In 1921 the country of Northern Ireland formed after Ireland was forced to split into two by the British Government as a result of a forceful campaign from the people that called for their independence from the United Kingdom. A large percentage of Ireland proceeded to become independent, however this was not the case for the north-eastern region who chose to stay as part of the UK. Northern Ireland’s society has always been considered, a divided one, because of the multitude of different religious groups that make up the country. The vast majority of Northern Ireland’s population is protestant and at the time of “the troubles” they were in support of the union with Great Britain. On the other hand, the countries’ Catholic population as a collective lent their full support to a United Irish Republic. As a result of this many Catholic’s in Northern Ireland found themselves on the receiving end of unequal treatment and abuse, something which in 1960, triggered the formation of a civil rights campaign which demanded an end to this mistreatment. However, this civil rights campaign did not go down well with the Protestant community and it even saw the local police side with the Protestants in an attempt to bring peace to the country. In the late 60’s a sharp increase in tensions between the communities steered the country towards huge riots and in 1969 the decision was made by the British government to deploy their armed forces to help bring the situation under control. This however, only made things worse as the beliefs held by the opposing communities grew more dissimilar and the demand for parity soon escalated into a call for a united Ireland, something which saw the first introduction of armed conflict during protests on the streets. During this conflict many people suffered life-changing injuries and many even lost their lives.
It was then in the late 1990’s that after years of discussion between British & Irish governments and Northern Ireland political parties in the hope they could put in place a political agreement which would bring peace to the nation a breakthrough was made, and an agreement was announced on the 10th April 1998. As Spencer (2001) writes “Central to the development of the peace process has been a series of negotiated agreements between the parties which provide details for building institutions which encourage co-operation and cross-community relationships”. Archick (2015) adds to this by stating that “the resulting Good Friday Agreement (also known as the Belfast Agreement) called for devolved government—the transfer of power from London to Belfast—with a Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive Committee in which unionist and nationalist parties would share power. The Agreement also “set out the key constitutional and institutional proposals for Northern Ireland and its relations with both the rest of the United Kingdom and with the Republic of Ireland. It provided for changes to the constitution of the Irish Republic to remove the existing claim to authority over the entire island of Ireland, and acknowledged that Northern Ireland would remain a part of the United Kingdom, as long as the majority of the population so wished it” (Jarman, 2016). One more thing worth noting is that the agreement recognised that most of the Catholic community from Northern Ireland considered themselves to be of Irish descent rather than of British descent. Therefore it was agreed that all of those who wanted to claim Irish nationality had the right to do so.
- Archick, K. (2015). Northern Ireland: The Peace Process (p. 1). Congressional Research Service.
- Chibli, H. The role of the media in developing Culture of Peace. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/36222810/The_role_of_the_media_in_developing_Culture_of_Peace
- Cottle, S. (1997). Reporting the troubles in Northern Ireland: Paradigms and media propaganda. Critical Studies in Media Communication
- Jarman, N. (2016). The Challenge of Peace Building and Conflict Transformation: A Case Study of Northern Ireland. Kyiv-Mohyla Law and Politics Journal., (2), 117-128.
- Kuusik, N. (2010). The Role of the Media in Peace Building, Conflict Management, and Prevention. [online] Available at: https://www.e-ir.info/2010/08/28/the-role-of-media-in-peace-building-conflict-management-and-prevention/ [Accessed 14 May 2019].
- Spencer, G. (2001). Keeping the Peace? Politics, Television News and the Northern Ireland Peace Process. Irish Journal Of Sociology, 10(2), 60. doi: 10.1177/079160350101000204
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