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Deniable Contact: Back-Channel Negotiation in Northern Ireland, Niall O’Dochartaigh, National University of Ireland, Galway

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COSMOS TALK

4 MAy 2022 | h 12:30-14:00 (CET)

Niall O’Dochartaigh, National University of Ireland, Galway

Deniable Contact: Back-Channel Negotiation in Northern Ireland

Abstract

Niall Ó Dochartaigh’s new book, Deniable Contact: Back-channel Negotiation in Northern Ireland (Oxford University Press 2021) analyses the secret back-channels between the British government and the IRA that were used intermittently over a span of 25 years in efforts to resolve the Northern Ireland conflict. It examines the key features of this covert diplomacy, focusing on the role of intra-party struggle, the agency of leadership and rank and file alike, and the strategic dilemmas involved. It offers an explanation for why the conflict lasted for so long and how it was ultimately brought to an end in a negotiated compromise.

The analysis is founded on a rich store of evidence, including the private papers of key Irish republican leaders and British politicians, papers from national archives in Dublin and London, and the papers of the key intermediary. This documentary evidence, combined with original interviews with politicians, mediators, civil servants, and republicans, allows a vivid picture to emerge of the complex manoeuvring at this intersection.

Deniable Contact offers a textured account that extends our understanding of the distinctive dynamics of negotiations conducted in secret and the conditions conducive to the negotiated settlement of conflict. It disrupts and challenges some conventional notions about the conflict in Northern Ireland, offering a fresh analysis of the political dynamics and the intra-party struggles that sustained violent conflict and prevented settlement for so long. The book draws on theories of negotiation and mediation to understand why efforts to end the conflict through back-channel negotiations repeatedly failed before finally succeeding in the 1990s. It challenges the view that the conflict persisted because of irreconcilable political ideologies and argues that the parties to conflict were much more open to compromise than the often-intransigent public rhetoric suggested.

Niall Ó Dochartaigh is Personal Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the National University of Ireland Galway and Director of the MA Public Policy.

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