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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .


Northern Ireland: The Context for Conflict and for Reconciliation
Craig Seaton

(Lanham: University Press of America, 1998)
287pp. Index. Bibl. Pb.: 23.50; ISBN 0-7618-1031-5.



The author, who directs an academic program in Canada, lamented the lack of a short introductory text on the conflict in Northern Ireland that would be suitable for his students. With some justification the author points out that the wealth of previously published material on 'the Troubles' can sometimes make the study of the conflict more difficult.

In writing the book the author set himself the goal of producing a 'primer' that covers the issues, the history, information on important people and organisations, and an overview of some theoretical aspects of the conflict. The resulting book achieves this particular goal. The primer style is immediately evident because almost half of the 287 pages are taken up by material arranged in appendices. These cover things such as: the Ulster Covenant, the Irish Constitution, the IRA Training Manual, and a Directory of Peace and Reconciliation Groups.

The body of the book, the first 150 pages, is divided into eight chapters. The first chapter provides a 'sociological perspective' on the conflict. The second covers a range of information including; a chronology, abbreviations, important organisations and events, terminology, and geographical areas. Chapter three is devoted to key historical events while chapter four contains brief abstracts on key individuals. The issues surrounding, and obstacles to, the search for peace are briefly discussed in chapter five. Chapter six outlines the most important groups that have been involved in attempts at reconciliation in the region. Chapter seven contains brief abstracts on some of the resources that are available including; books (12), documentaries (3) (on commercial video), web sites (6), and movies (4). The final chapter, chapter eight, is a short synopsis of what has happened in the region and what the author believes is likely to happen.

As with any book dealing with contemporary volatile events some parts of the text, for example the section on important individuals, will become out-of-date quite quickly. There is also the problem of trying to explain the complexities of the conflict in 150 pages. The author has had to make a selection of what he considers to be relevant information. Inevitably some of the choices, for example the list of 12 books in the resource chapter, would have been made differently by other authors. There are also a few small inaccuracies but these don't detract from the overall content. These minor criticisms aside the book will prove to be a useful resource for people with little prior knowledge of the conflict in Northern Ireland.


Martin Melaugh
University of Ulster




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