On Good Friday of 1998, the British and Irish governments and eight political parties in Northern Ireland from across the political spectrum signed up to the Belfast Agreement (BA). The BA proved challenging to implement and the main political institutions set up by the Agreement have been suspended on several occasions. However, devolved government in Northern Ireland was restored in May 2007.
This thesis addresses a debate not mainly concerned with implementation of the BA. I confront a critique forwarded by Rupert Taylor (2006). He claims that the Agreement rests on and promotes an ethno-national group-based understanding of politics that is inherently illiberal. This thesis evaluates this claim and asks whether the BA is illiberal. Through a normative political approach deeply rooted in modern liberalism, I argue that the Agreement is an honorable compromise which is liberal and appropriate to the Northern Ireland context.
My conclusion of the BA as a liberal settlement for Northern Ireland is reached through drawing on modern liberalism. The works of John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin and Will Kymlicka are central to my approach. I also make an extensive analysis of the Northern Ireland conflict and confront the institutions of the Agreement with a range of alternative settlements to the conflict.