Monday, April 10, 2017

Northern Ireland: Current Issues and Ongoing Challenges in the Peace Process

Although many analysts view implementation of the most important aspects of the Good Friday Agreement as having been completed, tensions remain in Northern Ireland and within the devolved government. Several events over the last few years—including a crisis over implementing welfare reform and the 2015 arrest of a Sinn Fein leader in connection with the murder of a former IRA member—have highlighted the fragility of relations between the unionist and nationalist communities and have periodically threatened the stability of the devolved government. In January 2017, the devolved government led by the DUP and Sinn Fein collapsed, prompting snap Assembly elections on March 2. Amid a renewable energy scandal involving DUP leader Arlene Foster and unease in much of Northern Ireland about “Brexit”—the UK’s expected exit from the European Union (EU)—Sinn Fein made significant electoral gains. Negotiations to form a new power-sharing government are ongoing but contentious.

Northern Ireland continues to face a number of broader challenges in its search for peace and reconciliation. These challenges include reducing sectarian strife, fully grappling with Northern Ireland’s legacy of violence (often termed “dealing with the past”); addressing lingering concerns about paramilitary and dissident activity; and promoting further economic development. Brexit also may have significant political and economic repercussions for Northern Ireland and has renewed questions about Northern Ireland’s status within the UK in the longer term.

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