Public relations and the Northern Ireland peace process: Dissemination, reconciliation and the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ referendum campaign

Ian Somerville, Shane Kirby

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    This study analyses the public relations strategies employed by the mainstream politicalparties during the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ referendum campaign in Northern Irelandin April/May 1998. Using data from elite interviews, triangulated with content analysisfrom campaign literature, we assess the communication strategies of the pro- and anti-Agreement parties who were attempting to persuade the people of Northern Irelandto vote Yes or No to the Agreement. Key findings of the research include: first, incomparison to the ‘normal’ political culture in Northern Ireland, there was a significantincrease in the deployment of public relations expertise in the referendum campaign;indeed, for many of the political parties it represented their first major investment inpolitical public relations. A second key finding pertains to the communicative modeladopted by the key actors. All parties, in different ways, adopted a ‘dissemination’model rather than a ‘dialogic’ one to communicate with allies, rivals and the generalpublic. In our view this is an entirely appropriate approach to political public relationsand we suggest that the communication model of the Social Democratic and LabourParty is particularly noteworthy because it was an approach underpinned, we argue, bydissemination and reconciliation. Moreover, we also suggest that public relations basedon dissemination and reconciliation to difference offers a more realistic and appropriateapproach, than the currently fashionable dialogic model, for the kinds of communicationand information exchange required in contemporary democratic societies.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)231-255
    JournalPublic Relations Inquiry
    Volume1
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 14 Sep 2012

    Keywords

    • dialogic communication
    • dissemination
    • Good Friday Agreement
    • Northern Ireland
    • peace process
    • public relations
    • reconciliation

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