The Limits to Coercive Consociationalism in Northern Ireland


  • Brendan O'Leary

    1. London School of Economics and Political Science
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      This essay is a radically revised version of a paper presented in April 1988 at the IALS Conference on Anglo-Irish Legal Relations. I thank the following for helpful criticism: P. Arthur, B. Barry, A. Beattie, P. Dunleavy, S. Greer, G. W. Jones, D. King, T. Lyne, C. McCrudden, J. McGarry, P. Mitchell, J. Peterson, G. Smith, C. Symmons, the anonymous referees, and the editor of Political Studies. I also acknowledge the benefits of a Nuffield Foundation travel grant.


The merits of consociation as a means of solving the Northern Ireland conflict are presented through contrasting it with other ways of stabilizing highly divided political systems. Why voluntary consociation has been unsuccessful in Northern Ireland and unfortunately is likely to remain so is explained. The signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement (AIA) must be understood against the background of the failure of previous consociational experiments. The AIA partly represented a shift in British strategy from voluntary to coercive consociationalism. The prospects for this coercive consociational strategy and variants on it are evaluated.