From Violence to Power-Sharing
USIP Press Books
May 2011
374 pp., 6" x 9"
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An excellent study of a crucial period of British policy towards Northern Ireland. The author has done a very good job in searching the archives and producing a clear and coherent narrative in a detail that has not been matched before. This book is a useful addition to the literature on the Northern Ireland conflict because it is informed by a close understanding of the historical evidence and an acute knowledge of how the British and Irish political system work."

Paul Dixon, Kingston University
Focusing on four case studies, author William Beattie Smith traces the evolution of British policy from 1969-73 and depicts how easily a conflict over national identity can turn into bloodshed, grief, and horror; and how difficult it is once a serious fight has started to restore peace.

In each of the case studies, Smith highlights a discrete policy followed by the British government in tackling political disorder in Northern Ireland, and examines why the policy was chosen or pursued. He outlines three broad strategic options—reform, coercion, and powersharing—and identifies factors influencing which of the three will be selected in practice. Focusing on policy outcomes rather than the details of the negotiating process, the author evaluates the relative importance of rational calculation, patterns of understanding, party politics, diplomatic pressures, organizational structure, and official doctrine in shaping policies and initiating radical changes.

While rooted in policy analysis, the book ventures into the territory of political history and conflict studies. The author addresses issues such as the legitimacy of state authority, the vulnerability of democratic institutions to the opposition of disaffected minorities, and the tensions that exist between public order and individual rights. His conclusion derives strategic lessons from the British experience in Northern Ireland and provides guidance for policymakers confronting challenges arising from comparable cases.

William Beattie Smith is a senior research fellow with Queen’s University Belfast School of Politics. An independent policy analyst, he specializes in the prevention, management, and resolution of political violence in divided societies. Smith has worked extensively for government and community organizations in Northern Ireland and for the European Commission.


  • Introduction
  • Managing Political Violence—Explaining Policy Choices
  • The Preconditions for the Conflict
  • The Reforms of 1969
  • Coercion and Internment, 1971
  • Imposing Direct Rule, 1972
  • Negotiating Power-Sharing, 1973
  • Comparing the Four Cases
  • Evaluation
  • Lessons

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