University College Dublin | An Coláiste Ollscoile, Baile Átha Cliath

UCD, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland | Director: Professor Liam Kennedy

Global Irish Civic Forum
June 2015

Prospective Students

    President Clinton addresses the Institute Sept 2010

The United States and Northern Ireland: A Transatlantic Perspective on Problems and Solutions, 1968-2000

Maurice J. Bric, PhD (Project Director)
School of History and Archives
University College Dublin


For over four hundred years, relationships between the United States and Ireland have evolved within a context which, at least in general terms, have been relatively clear:

However, these generic descriptions cannot be completely and solely contained within the periods described. Thus,

Since 1968, the involvement of Americans and at official level, the United States, in Northern Ireland has drawn on each of these motivations, seeing "the troubles" largely as either

Each of these viewpoints has carried with them their own "burdens of history" and as such, have themselves been frozen in time. Moreover, they have often been articulated in a language that has been socially unrealistic and politically irrelevant. As a consequence, American influence on Northern Ireland has often been marginal and often said more about the changing nature of the Irish-American community itself than it did about American willingness to address, much less to solve, the complicated human as well as political questions which the conflict encapsulated.

To this extent, the deep divisions between the Irish government and many Irish-American organisations during the later 1970s and espeicially, after the hunger strikes of 1982, were as much about differences within the broader Irish ethnic diaspora as they were about differences about policy. The fact that many Irish-Americans wanted to see the "troubles" in their own terms, even through symbols which no longer meant very much to their cousins in contemporary Ireland, split the diaspora in no uncertain terms. Within the world of United States politics, these differences also emerged in the differing approaches which the Ad-Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs on the one hand, and the Friends of Ireland on the other, took on the issue.

These differences were as between seeing the "troubles" of Northern Ireland in terms of the unfinished march on the Old World nation, or as a political issue which had to be addressed in the objective terms, and within the broader sphere, of international affairs.

Placing the issue in the latter sphere demanded a different language. Jimmy Carter had tried this strategy when he sought to see it in terms of human rights. However, Ronald Reagan returned to a more traditional mind-set, seeing it as a problem which should not be allowed to de-stabilise his "special relationship" with Margaret Thatcher. Thus, although the Irish government had tried to highlight Northern Ireland as an urgent "trouble spot" in the international arena, it was not until Bill Clinton became president that the issue became one which had to be objectively addressed as a test case for American influence and ingenuity. He realised that now, more than ever, when there was only one superpower left, the benign influence of American hegemony had to be seen to work.

Paradoxically, this also meant challenging the sometimes canonical ways in which the problem had been articulated in Ireland. It meant promoting a type of power-sharing which would encompass all the interested parties of nationalism and unionism and most crucially, the extremes within each. This is not to suggest that this new spirit of political toleration was invented by the president of the United States. After all, the principles of non-majoritarian democracy and the sharing of sovereignty are alien to the American constitutional tradition. Nonetheless, the mid to late 1990s managed to present the most powerful political officer in the world as a bona fide power broker in Northern Ireland and as one who was less interested in the "backward look" of his predecessors than in the political realities and pragmatism of the present.


Against this background, the aims of this workshop are to understand how, since 1968.

Project Director

Dr. Maurice J. Brick, MRIA, School of History & Archives, UCD

Dr. Bric is a Senior Lecturer in the School of History and Archives at University College Dublin. He was educated at University College Cork, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Johns Hopkins University, from where he took his PhD in 1990. He has published extensively on the history and culture of eighteenth and early nineteenth century America and Ireland. In addition to lecturing on these areas, he also conducts a research seminar on EU/US relations from Kennedy to Clinton. He is currently Chairperson on the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS), Vice-President of the Royal Irish Academy, Vice-President of NORACE (the EARA_NET in the Social Sciences) and a founding and current member of the Board of Three of the European Research Councils in the Humanities (ERCH) and the HERA (the recently agreed ERA_NET in the Humanities). ESFRI has also asked him to chair its Expert Group on Cultural Heritage in Europe.

Members of the Network

Professor Paul Brew, MRIA, Professor of Politics, Queen's University, Belfast

Professor Brew is one of Ireland's best-known commentators on contemporary Northern Ireland on which he has published several books and articles. He has also given expert evidence on Capital Hill and the State Department and is President of the British-Irish Association.

Professor John Coakley, Director, Institute of British-Irish Studies, School of Politics, UCD

Professor Coakley has published extensively on contemporary Irish politics and especially, on the evolution of Northern Ireland

Professor John Dumbrell, Professor of Politics, University of Leicester

Professor Dumbrell, is a specialist in contemporary American foreign relations and in particular, on the Anglo-American connections. He has published extensively and his books include The Making of US Foreign Policy (Manchester, 1997), American Foreign Policy: From Carter to Clinton (London, 1997), and A Special Relationship: Anglo-American Relations in the Cold War and After (London 2001) which was co-winner of the Cambridge University Donner Book Prize. He is currently writing a major evaluation of President Clinton's foreign policy.

Dr. Brian Hanley, Lecturer, School of History, Trinity College Dublin

Between 2002 and 2005, Dr. Hanley was Government of Ireland Post-Doctoral Fellow at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. From September 2005, he is a member of the School of History in Trinity College Dublin. His current research interests in Irish-American relationships focus on "republican" networks such as NORAID

Dr. Timothy Lynch, Institute for the Study of Americas, University of London

Dr. Lynch is a younger scholar who has written and lectured in conflict studies, most notably on the Middle East. His most recent research focuses on Northern Ireland and on US influences there, especially during the presidency of Bill Clinton. His book, Turf War: The Clinton Administration and Northern Ireland was published in 2004

Mr. Conor O'Clery, former North American Correspondent, The Irish Times

Mr. O'Clery has served as correspondent of The Irish Times in Northern Ireland and thereafter, as foreign correspondent in Moscow, Beijing, and Washington, D.C before being appointed to his position in New York. In addition to his newspaper and periodical articles, he has published several works on international affairs. Of most direct relevance to this network is his Daring Diplomacy: Clinton's Secret Search for Peace in Ireland.

An Empty Chair

In addition to the stated members, this 'empty chair' will allow the network to invite, on an occasional basis, persons who might be classed as "participants" in the issues of the network rather than analysts in the more conventional sense. Such persons might include politicians and diplomats.