ezequiel mercau on the sunningdale agreement and ulster britishness


Ezequiel Mercau, ‘Abandoned Britons? The Sunningdale Agreement and Ulster Britishness’. MA Thesis, University College, Dublin, 2010.

The Sunningdale agreement was a very important effort to establish power-sharing in Northern Ireland, the first one since the creation of the State. This dissertation charts unionist reactions from its emergence at the end of 1973 to its demise in May 1974 through the lens of Stuart Ward’s ‘abandoned Britons’ model. More specifically, it analyses to what extent they can be viewed as the impact of the processes that led to the end of empire and the break-up of Greater Britain on the United Kingdom. There is, therefore, a twofold purpose to this thesis. On the one hand, it seeks to place the Northern Ireland conflict in the wider context of the post-war transformation of Great Britain, while, on the other, it explores to what extent the events in the Province followed a similar pattern to that of the White Dominions.

Two major research areas are blended together here, namely the Northern Ireland conflict – especially from the unionist perspective – and the end of the British Empire. Certainly, much has been written on both topics; nonetheless, this study seeks to introduce a new approach to them by combining both topics in the light of the ‘abandoned Britons’ model. A number of previous studies on these matters need to be mentioned here in order to locate this dissertation in the literature. Due to space constraints, however, a selection of them, grouped around the major lines of debate surrounding the topic of this dissertation will be considered here. A very important field of debate in this context concerns the impact of colonialism in Ulster. Two schools can be identified in this area. One of them, represented by Clayton, Miller, MacDonald, Lustick, Weitzer, Cleary and Howe, argues that it is very important to consider the legacy of settler-colonialism in Northern Ireland in order to understand the beginnings of the conflict as well as its persistence. The other one, supported by scholars such as Walker and Ellis, disagrees with this view, arguing that the colonial model seems too contrived for Ireland, as the differences between it and other cases around the world far outweigh the similarities.

A second field involves the impact of British policy on Northern Ireland. At one extreme, authors such as Farrell and de Paor maintain that the conflict in Ulster was one of British imperialism. In sharp contrast with this view, another school, whose leading advocates include Cunningham, Coulter, Dixon and Peatling, suggests that Britain’s Ulster strategy during the conflict was characterised by consistency and continuity, treating Northern Ireland as a ‘place apart’ and prioritising the attainment of peace and harmony above all other objectives. This analysis, nonetheless, is opposed by O’Malley, who argues that Westminster, in lacking continuity in its policy, had an adverse effect on the conflict.

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