Failure and success in settlement initiatives

ABSTRACT: Settlement of protracted conflict involves actors changing their strategies and their aims. Why they change, and why seemingly subtle shifts in opportunities or a slight adaptation of a settlement package that failed in the past allows such change, is often difficult to understand and explain. This article situates the series of settlement initiatives in Northern Ireland between 1972-1998 in a longer time frame which shows historically entrenched state- institutional biases, deep-set communal power imbalances, and conflict-generating repertoires of response that  are  only now being undone. It argues that what changed minds in Northern Ireland was not, primarily, leadership, or techniques of mediation, or even good institutional design, but real-world change in the major power source in the region. That shift in British state structures and practices was what made the difference between settlement failure and settlement success.

Keywords: Northern Ireland, conflict, settlement, historical patterns, institutions, actors and structures, state change