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European Integration and the Northern Ireland Problem

Peter Mcloughlin
Queen's University Belfast
Peter Mcloughlin
Queen's University Belfast
Open Panel

Abstract

This paper will explore the various ways in which the project of European integration has impacted on the Northern Ireland problem. In doing so, it will consider the neo-functionalist theories which Irish nationalists drew upon in suggesting that increased co-operation between the two parts of Ireland would eventually lead to their reunification (FitzGerald, 1972; Hume, 1996). Similarly, it will examine Ulster unionist views on European integration, often opposed to the process for the same reasons that nationalists supported it, fearing that it would undermine Northern Ireland’s position within the UK (Kennedy, 1994). The paper will also look at less partisan perspectives, especially the ‘post-nationalist’ thinking which became popular in the literature on Northern Ireland in the 1990s (Delanty, 1996; Geoghegan, 1994; Kearney, 1997), and which suggested that the process of European integration might lead to the transcendence of competing nationalisms in the region. The paper will argue that all of these viewpoints proved unfounded, instead showing that Europe’s greatest impact on Northern Ireland has been indirect, through changing the nature of British-Irish relations. By establishing a greater equality between the British and Irish states, and providing a context for the regular interaction of their political elites, European integration helped to produce more co-operative relations between London and Dublin vis-à-vis Northern Ireland (Laffan, 2005; Meehan, 2006). Thus, whilst Europe did make an important contribution towards the region’s peace process, the paper will show that it did so in ways that were more subtle than either its supporters or its opponents imagined.