It is no good ignoring facts however unpleasant they may be. The politician who thinks he can deal out abstract justice without reference to forces around him cannot govern.
(David Lloyd George, 14 October 1921)1
In its broadest sense this is a book about the limitations of government power. As Lloyd George was aware, when abstract solutions encounter the context and conditions of whatever problem they are intended to resolve they rarely emerge unscathed. Just as the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty failed to fully realise the ideals of Irish nationalists or British/Irish unionists, so the more recent peace process in Northern Ireland failed to do the same for their modern-day counterparts. This book demonstrates the naivety of claims that a solution to the Northern Ireland conflict could have been imposed by the British state two decades before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. It also argues that while there is a tremendous volume of material written on the Northern Ireland conflict, areas remain where there is a poverty of understanding. This is especially the case for the difficult years of the Labour administration of 1974 to 1979. The application of a distinctively historical methodology for this period offers insights into why the conflict lasted as long as it did. During these crucial years the power-sharing executive which emerged from the Sunningdale Agreement collapsed because of a general strike by loyalists. Afterwards the Labour government considered a variety of constitutional options before concluding that indefinite direct rule from Westminster would remain until a political settlement was agreed by the two communities in Northern Ireland. The British state was unable to impose a constitutional solution in the face of local opposition....
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