Waving Goodbye to the Dinosaurs? Women, Electoral Politics, and Peace in Northern Ireland

Sally J. Kenney
In 1998, Senator George Mitchell was leading Peace Talks with the top ten political parties from a 1996 election (minus those who refused to participate) in Northern Ireland. Jane Wilde and Bronagh Hinds led the team for the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, a non-sectarian party hastily assembled seven weeks before the election out of frustration that women, once again, would be left out as men negotiated the future of Northern Ireland. As the deadline for agreement neared, Wilde and Hinds feared that the civil servants negotiating for the British Government and the other parties had sidelined the issues that brought their party into existence: a desire for an election system that ensured women's representation, a Civic Forum (made up of members of non-governmental organizations [NGOs], community groups, business, and trade unions as a parallel body to an elected assembly), and a commitment to inclusion, equality and human rights. At the eleventh hour, the women won concessions on the Civic Forum and for wording on domestic violence but appeared to have lost the issue of electoral reform. The case asks participants to explore the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition's bottom line and core identity. If the ethos of their party was inclusion, supporting the peace process, respectfully listening, and compromising, could they refuse to sign? But if they failed to secure electoral reform, their raison d'être, could they legitimate an agreement by signing it? Were they not in effect signing their own death warrant as a party?
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