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Alternative Ulster? Political Parties and the Non-constitutional Policy Space in Northern Ireland



This article uses data from a survey of the candidates in the 2003 Northern Ireland Assembly election to measure the policy positions of the Northern Irish political parties on scales that are the usual measurements of party policy in Western Europe, such as on economic and social issues, the European Union, morality issues, environmental issues and minority groups. These data were then used to test whether the Northern Ireland party system was conducive to integration or consociationalism, which is the current debate on conflict resolution in Northern Ireland. It argues that this debate has been under-theorised and that empirical data can be used to test the likelihood of either scenario. It concludes that, in most aspects, the Northern Ireland party system tends towards the consociational scenario but there are, nevertheless, aspects which suggest that an integrationist scenario could be produced in the long term.