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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .


Battling for Peace
Richard Needham

(Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1999)
(344pp. Index ISBN 0-85640-637-6. Pb.: 12.99; ISBN 0-85640-654-6.



Richard Needham was a British government junior minister in Northern Ireland between 1985 and 1992. This well written book covers that period and provides an interesting, if partial, account of trying to run an economy in a situation of low-intensity warfare. As such it is a useful addition to earlier books on Northern Ireland written by the British politicians Merlyn Reese and James Callaghan.

This book can be read in a number of different ways. As a political autobiography, by a minor British politician out of sympathy with his party leader, Margaret Thatcher, it is entertaining but is of only minor historical interest. However, as an account of the difficulties which are faced by a government minister trying to run a region that is facing violent opposition in an ethnic conflict it is compelling.

Needham initially establishes his own Anglo-Irish background and also makes clear both his unionist sympathies and the moderate conservative beliefs which led to his political exile in Northern Ireland. He also outlines the difficulties of governing a region in which the majority communities political representatives, the unionists, were trying to overturn a key policy (the Anglo-Irish Agreement) while at the same stage there was on going paramilitary violence.

His primary thesis is that along side security policy in Northern Ireland there was also an economic war directed against the paramilitaries. Therefore he gives an account of the interventionist economic policy that he was able to pursue in Northern Ireland using large subsidies to try and both encourage outside investment and promote local entrepreneurship. This was intended to try and increase the levels of employment in the deprived areas where the paramilitaries thrived and thus deal with the problems of social marginalisation which he blamed for the conflict. He also charts the attacks made by the paramilitaries against economic targets that he felt were designed to thwart this strategy. Further, through redevelopment initiatives disused industrial land, such as the bank of Belfast's river Lagan, was regenerated and improved to make the region more attractive.

This book is of interest primarily to those scholars who want to get an inside view of British strategy in Northern Ireland during the 1980s. It provides interesting and detailed accounts of the difficulties of government in the region as well as many of the personalities in Northern Irish politics. Ultimately, however, it is of only limited relevance to people primarily interested in ethnic conflict although his account of attempting to regenerate Northern Ireland's economy does deserve wider consideration.


Dr Michael von Tangen Page
Department of War Studies, King's College, London University




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