chapter  17
22 Pages

The injustice of a consociational solution to the Northern Ireland problem


The scholarly work of John McGarry and Brendan O’Leary, grounded in consociational theory, “has become the most orthodox modern explanation of the Northern Ireland problem” and has undoubtedly influenced the search for a political “solution.”1 McGarry and O’Leary powerfully assert – in this volume – that their explanation is intellectually rigorous and that their proposed solution is just in terms of “stability, fairness, and democracy.”2 As will be argued in this chapter, there are, though, serious grounds on which to doubt such claims; not least when it comes to recognizing and addressing the enduring injustice of systemic sectarianism. For, in this regard, it can be shown that consociational theory fails to accurately understand and explain the underlying nature of Northern Irish society; and, as such, cannot then legitimately proceed to provide the means of resolving the “problem.” Moreover, to the extent that this is true, any consociationally informed solution that is imposed – such as the Belfast Agreement – is itself likely to be far from “what justice mandates,”3 and would – on top of pre-existing injustice – represent a kind of double injustice. Such is the case, or so it is argued. Consequently, it is suggested that consociationalism be supplanted by a social transformation perspective.