Today, 95 per cent of wars are civil wars, and 70 per cent of those are ethnic conflicts. As the leading source of global insecurity, internal conflicts and their terrorist outriders cry out for solutions. Does Northern Ireland shine as a beacon of hope for strife-torn regions from Congo and Palestine to Iraq and Afghanistan? Those in Northern Ireland, Britain and the Republic of Ireland would answer in the affirmative: indeed, Gerry Adams travels far and wide as an emissary for the Northern Ireland model of conflict resolution.
Yet not all is perfect in the model province. Growing dissident republican attacks and ongoing loyalist paramilitary violence have taken place just as fresh cuts in public spending are beginning to bite in a province whose economy largely depends on the public sector. Economic turmoil in the South adds another potential source of uncertainty into the mix. Though media coverage of Northern Ireland tailed off after the guns fell silent in 1997, and especially since constitutional settlements in 1998 and 2007, progress cannot be taken for granted. With these developments in mind, The Political Quarterly decided that the time was opportune to revisit the Northern Ireland question. Contributors to this issue were asked to address the theme of ‘Northern Ireland: Fragile Peace in an Age of Austerity’. Some twenty other experts from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and mainland Britain joined them at our day-long roundtable symposium in the Council Room at Birkbeck College on 14 October 2011. The event was wide-ranging, passionate and productive: as Jean Seaton remarked at the time, the tragic history of Northern Ireland tends to ensure that debate is rarely boring.