Belfast revisited: Everyday policymaking in a contested environment

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A year before the much celebrated 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the Belfast electorate returned a hung Council to govern their city. The following years facilitated a transition from hegemonic or domination mechanisms of conflict management towards the traditionally more acceptable approach of power-sharing. Such a change provides an opportunity to understand the nature of public policy within an emerging power-sharing environment. Drawing on evidence from interviews with Belfast's bureaucratic elite, this article investigates how power-sharing changes the nature of elite-level bureaucrat responsibilities within a contested society. If consociational power-sharing is to be the conflict management model of choice, it is necessary that the role of the supporting institutions in driving its success is understood. Existing public administration research would lead to the expectation of greater bureaucrat involvement in the traditionally more mundane aspects of policy formulation, while in areas of greater public and political interest greater political involvement in the decision-making process would be expected. Converse to these expectations, however, evidence from Belfast suggests that the bureaucratic elite are found to play a pivotal role in the day-to-day management of power-sharing. For this reason, developing administrative capacity is a necessary condition not only for good governance but also for conflict management. Conflict management research must therefore pay closer attention to the role of the bureaucrat in the conflict management process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-77
Number of pages20
JournalIrish Political Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Feb 2013


  • Belfast
  • bureaucrat
  • conflict management
  • governance
  • public administration


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