11 - Intergroup Forgiveness and Guilt in Northern Ireland: Social Psychological Dimensions of “The Troubles”  pp. 193-215

Intergroup Forgiveness and Guilt in Northern Ireland: Social Psychological Dimensions of “The Troubles”

By Miles Hewstone et al.

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In a society such as Northern Ireland, which is struggling to overcome the effects of prolonged violence, the concepts of forgiveness and collective guilt, although difficult, must be considered. After the euphoria that followed the “Good Friday Agreement,” the realities to be faced in the acquisition of peace have become apparent. The Good Friday Agreement, which received the support of 71 percent of the Northern Irish electorate, led to the setting up of a local assembly and a power-sharing government embracing all the major political parties. This assembly has, however, since collapsed.

The primary focus of our research has been intergroup forgiveness, but we have found it both useful and necessary to consider collective guilt as it relates to forgiveness in Northern Ireland. We first review the historical and social background to the political violence in Northern Ireland and explore psychological approaches to forgiveness. We consider the nature of intergroup forgiveness in Northern Ireland and review our own research on this issue.

Sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland

Although the conflict in Ireland can be traced back to before the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation in Western Europe (see McLernon et al., 2003), we refer primarily to the modern history. The Treaty of 1921 partitioned the island of Ireland into two sections: the predominantly Protestant six counties of the north, which remained an integral part of the United Kingdom, and the mainly Catholic twenty-six counties of the south, which separated from the United Kingdom and became known as “The Free State” (later the Republic of Ireland).

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