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How to resolve Brexit!

Colin Irwin   Sat 06 Apr 2019   updated: Thu 19 Sep 2019

Watch the talk on how to resolve Brexit on the Worldwide Wednesday YouTube Channel here:

Did Brexit need a Peace Poll?

‘Did Brexit need a Peace Poll?’ compares two deeply divided societies. Northern Ireland where peace was achieved between Protestants and Catholics in the 1990s, and Brexit Britain where ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’ continue to be ‘at war’ over the UK’s relationship with the EU. Dr Colin Irwin explains how the politicians used conflict resolution best practice in Northern Ireland to test all their options for peace against public opinion and achieve the Good Friday Agreement. But in Brexit Britain these lessons from Northern Ireland were ignored by Prime Minister May who insisted on ‘her deal or no deal’ with disastrous results.

Download the WAPOR Paper:

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Did Brexit need a Peace Poll WAPOR

Yes – Brexit did need a peace poll

Colin Irwin   Wed 20 Mar 2019   updated: Tue 23 Apr 2019

Prime Ministers are always concerned about their legacy and how history will regard them after they have left office. For Prime Minister Tony Blair his most significant policy failure was the Iraq War and for David Cameron it was losing the EU referendum. For Prime Minister May, above every thing else, she did not want to be remembered as the Prime Minister that split the Conservative Party condemning them to years in opposition or split the Union with the loss of Scotland or Northern Ireland. So she wanted a EU Withdrawal Agreement that would satisfy Conservative MP ERG Leavers while also avoiding a second EU referendum that might be a prelude to a second Scottish referendum in which the Scots would vote for independence and continued EU membership. So both a national consensus Norway style deal and/or a People’s Vote were never going to be her preferred policy options. It was her deal or no deal. The Prime Minister’s interests and the interests of the Conservative Party were placed above the national interest and in this context research and research funding was dominated by the NGOs that supported the Remain and Leave camps and by the agenda of Prime Minister May’s Government. Support for a national consensus would only come when and if the Prime Minister’s option totally failed. On Tuesday the 12th of March, the Government’s proposals for leaving the EU were voted down for a second time by a margin of 149 votes and the Prime Minister in her statement to the House of Commons said the other options of no deal, a second referendum or some form of soft Brexit were now “choices that must be faced.” Clearly public opinion research and public diplomacy was now needed in support of this new agenda and on March 20th May’s Government asked the EU for an extension to Article 50 which would give time for such research.

The five short articles and three Brexit pilot peace polls published on The UK in a Changing Europe website were restricted to the format for Google Surveys. On the plus side they were very inexpensive and easy to run but were limited in style and word length as they were run on an Android app platform. Significantly the questions were also limited to blocks of ten short questions. However, the questionnaire, In Search of a Settlement, used to detail all the elements of the Northern Ireland Belfast Agreement contained 252 questions and was run as a small booklet in face-to-face interviews (Irwin, 2002). None of the polling done in an effort to resolve Brexit was undertaken to this level of sophistication to detail all the possibilities for the future arrangements for the UK and EU because that was not part of the Withdrawal Agreement. But this bridge now has to be crossed with all the possibilities for trading and other social and security arrangements being tested against public opinion ranging from World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements, to Canada-style deals, to a Customs Union and/or Single Market arrangements, similar to a Norway-style deal with perhaps elements taken from existing European Economic Area (EEA) and European Free Trade Area (EFTA) treaties to produce some kind of European Community 2.0 type deal, or more, or less? (For recent reviews on these options see Wallace, 2019 and Trefgarne 2019). The A New Framework Agreement (1995) was used to set an agenda for both the In Search of a Settlement Northern Ireland peace poll and subsequent Belfast Agreement. Similarly the Political Declaration (2018) can do the same for a UK/EU agreement with each element unpacked and tested against public opinion for all the possible options available.

This was not done to resolve Brexit because the Government only wanted their deal and no other deal. But that is ‘water under the bridge now’ and in an effort to mitigate the inevitable Parliamentary party political dysfunction over the future UK/EU relationship a programme of research that addresses all these issues should be undertaken proactively with willing Parliamentarians, as was done in Northern Ireland. Perhaps the hundreds of polls on Brexit that are in the public domain are, to some extent, just the tip of the iceberg of the polling completed with significant amounts of polling undertaken privately by the major political parties and UK Government. But the degree of sophistication achieved in Northern Ireland by engaging with the politicians from all the parties elected to the negotiations has never been duplicated elsewhere and, most importantly, all the results of all those peace polls were made public to both inform the public and bring the public with the politicians to an agreed consensus on the way forward. The same now needs to be done for Brexit. Critically, such public diplomacy peace polling will not only inform the British public and their elected representatives what they want but also those in Brussels and across the EU with whom the future arrangements have to be negotiated. To date the Brexit negotiations have been a resounding failure consuming and paralysing Parliamentary politics to the exclusion of other domestic and foreign policy issues that should have rightfully been addressed since the referendum of 2016. This paradigm needs to change with the future research serving the needs of the nation, not the government alone and not the narrow interests of Leave or Remain lobbyists.

Indicative Votes

On Monday March 25th amendment (a) moved by Sir Oliver Letwin in the House of Commons was passed by 329 votes in favour to 302 votes against and the main Motion (as thereby amended) was then passed with 327 votes in favour to 300 against. It provided for a procedure to allow ‘the House to debate and vote on alternative ways forward, with a view to the Government putting forward a plan for the House to debate and vote on…’ This was done to allow MPs to complete a series of ‘Indicative Votes’ on options chosen by the Speaker of the House that reflected the kinds of options for resolving Brexit tested here. However, the methods used here are designed to ‘square the circle’ between the wishes and opinions of Parliamentarians and the wishes and opinions of the people they represent. It has not been used to provide Parliamentarians with a method of voting for various options although it would be most interesting to try it and see how it worked out. Accordingly, in the first instance, Parliament should use voting methods they are familiar with and trust.

To this end, Sir Oliver Letwin suggested in the debate leading up to the vote on his amendment that the first vote should be for Members’ first choice only, to discover and reveal the political topography of the House on all the options available. This seemed to be most sensible but then, as several members pointed out and as the research reviewed here indicates, this might not bring the House to a resolution of the issues at hand and certainly would not identify the best possible compromise. With this point in mind the voting system used in the House of Commons to select Members of Select Committees was proposed but there was then some discussion as to how many options should be rank ordered to do this. Again experience from Northern Ireland might help here where those Members are familiar with the single transferable vote system (STV) that allows any number of candidate options to be rank ordered as illustrated in Table 1.

In the Northern Ireland Assembly Members there can also designate their political identity as Unionist, Nationalist or Other. Similarly Members of the House of Commons could designate themselves as Leavers or Remainers having voted Leave or Remain in the 2016 referendum. A conflict resolution analysis from this perspective, as well as political party analysis, would also be most revealing and as an academic exercise would have been tried if research funding for such an exercise had been made available in 2018. It would also be interesting to see how such a method, analysis and outcome would compare with Members noting the value of each option on the five point ‘essential’, ‘desirable’, ‘acceptable’, ‘tolerable’ and ‘unacceptable’ scale used in Northern Ireland and around the world. Even if this is not done to help resolve these issues in Parliament it still can be done for all the issues that remain unresolved and are yet to be negotiated and settled between the UK and EU as was done in Northern Ireland between Unionists, Nationalists and Others. Finally, it should be remembered, to take one more lesson from Northern Ireland, that the Belfast Agreement was tested in a referendum to give it political legitimacy. Likewise the Brexit peace process may still have some way to go.

In the first Indicative Vote held on Wednesday March 27th 16 motions were proposed and 8 selected by the Speaker of the House of Commons. These are listed in Table 12 along with the results for the three attempts by the Government to pass their Withdrawal Bill. The motions rejected by the Speaker tended to be duplicates of those selected, or ‘aspirational’ motions such as ‘(A) Constitutional and accountable government’ which in public opinion terms would be characterised as ‘motherhood and apple pie’ and therefore meaningless, or items that could not be realised as they had already been rejected in negotiations. Parliamentarians were characterising these motions as ‘unicorns’.

The two motions that came closest to passing were a ‘customs union’ having lost by only 8 votes, and a ‘confirmatory public vote’, which lost by 27 votes. Both of these motions failed by fewer votes than the Government’s Withdrawal Bill, which, even on its third attempt lost by 58 votes. In Northern Ireland this outcome would have been seen as a clear victory for potential compromise and a way forward. But the UK public had not been properly prepared for Indicative Votes with a programme of public opinion research and public diplomacy so even The Guardian (2019), a liberal newspaper, reported this outcome as a failure with the headline “Parliament finally has its say: No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No” and “Commons rejects all eight alternatives in indicative votes” when in fact it was a success to be built on from a conflict resolution perspective.

This supposed political ‘failure’ was further reinforced by Sir John Curtice (2019) in his review of public opinion polling on the Common Market 2.0 or Norway-style Brexit option published on March 29th. Critically he selectively cited data that supported his conclusion that “a Norway-style Brexit could find itself in much the same position as Mrs May’s deal proved to be – with few friends who are willing to take it to heart” while ignoring research that came to the conclusion that it was potentially the most preferred Brexit outcome (Grant et al 2018). But the Government failed to support this compromise when it was brought to the House for a second time on April 1st. However with Labour Party support it now lost by only 21 votes while the Customs Union proposal narrowly lost by only 3 votes (Table 13). Accordingly the proposer of the Common Market 2.0 compromise, Nick Boles MP, resigned from his party and joined the opposition benches.


On April 2nd, following an eight hour cabinet meeting Prime Minister May announced that she would now seek to negotiate a compromise to her Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, with the Opposition, in an effort to draft legislation that would pass in the House and facilitate the UK leaving the EU. But the polarised politics of the past two years had not prepared the British public for that compromise and the research and polling community had similarly failed in this regard. In this context the ‘Father of the House’ (its longest standing Member) Ken Clarke MP (2019) recommended that the country now needed a long extension so as not to rush the negotiations for new arrangements between the UK and EU and also to start to mend relations between Leavers and Remainers in both Parliament and the wider UK public.

When Theresa May lost her majority in the House of Commons in the General Election of 2017 she was advised by her Conservative Party Chief Whip, Julian Smith MP (2019) that she should seek a compromise on her Brexit deal if it was to pass in the House of Commons. But she did not, believing that by will of personality she could overcome the facts of Parliamentary arithmetic. Such misplaced self-confidence and hubris is characteristic of many political leaders that ‘soldier on’ against the realities of their circumstances, unwilling to compromise with opposition forces in numerous unresolved conflicts around the world. In the end all such politicians and their societies have to come to terms with the necessities of managed conflict resolution or remain destined to become frozen conflicts. Arguably the divisions over Europe in the British Conservative Party are a frozen conflict and until that fact is recognised and addressed history may continue to repeat itself with ethnic entrepreneurs in the body politic all too willing to play the populist, narrow nationalist, ‘identity card’ for short term electoral advantage.

On April 10th the European Union granted Britain an extension until October 31st 2019. But in the context of contested EU elections on May 23rd the prospect of using that extension to mend the divisions between Leavers and Remainers would be more than problematic. A longer extension was probably needed to undo the damage done over the past several years (Renwick, 2019). But even so the prospect of using Citizens Assemblies (Jayanetti, 2019) and peace polls to mend those divisions would be very challenging in the absence of a proactive approach to conflict resolution. In Northern Ireland the British and Irish Governments opposed the use of independent peace polling there, but the ten political parties elected to negotiate the Good Friday Agreement overruled the two governments in their negotiations business committee and went ahead with the peace polls against the two governments wishes. Similarly the Parliamentarians in Westminster should form an all-party business committee (Lucas, 2019) in the House of Commons to manage and implement a programme of Brexit reconciliation, and by taking ownership of it ensure its success in the National interest. Finally the EU should complement these efforts with a programme of their own to deal with the negative effects of identity politics at the core of Brexit politics in the UK and elsewhere. Like Britain the EU had experimented with Citizens Assemblies (Butcher and Stratulat, 2018), but like the UK they had also prevented those researchers from running and publishing effective peace polls (EUSurvey, 2019) . Objective independent polling and transparency is needed on both sides of the Channel.

For tables, data, references and a full analysis download the attached WAPOR paper.

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Did Brexit need a Peace Poll WAPOR

Brexit: Finding the best possible compromise

Colin Irwin   Fri 22 Feb 2019

When politicians fail to bring peace to their society ravaged by the forces of bloody conflict they always blame ‘the people’ saying they wanted a deal that would bring peace but that ‘their people’ could not accept it. Most of the time such claims are lies, people generally do want peace and all the benefits that flow from peace and the problem really is that the peace deal ‘on the table’ is not in the interests of the political elites and their allies charged with negotiating a peace agreement. And so goes the world (1), is Brexit any different?

This is an empirical question. What compromise on Brexit could the people of the United Kingdom accept given the political will of their leaderships to take them down that road? In my first Brexit pilot peace poll I tested the views of Leavers against Remainers using the conflict resolution techniques that worked so well in Northern Ireland (2). But in the UK it is not the Protestant/Unionists and Catholic/Republicans that have to make peace it is the Conservative and Labour Party supporters. So in my second Brexit pilot peace poll I asked what political party the informant generally supported in addition to their preference to leave or remain in the European Union. Table I (in attached pdf below) lists the results for Leavers and Remainers and Table 2 lists the results for Conservative and Labour Party supporters for eight different options: the PMs Withdrawal Agreement, No-Deal, a Permanent Customs Union, a Norway-Style Deal, a Canada-Style Deal, Remaining in the EU, a Compromise Agreement, and a ‘People’s Vote’ Referendum.

As with the first pilot the individual results can not be taken too seriously as the sample contains only one hundred interviews using Google Surveys and the level of ‘No Answer’ is rather high. But this problem can be mitigated by not looking at the raw per cent results but rather at the rank order of the results. In my experience when working on conflicts these rank orders do not change very much between small difficult to get samples and larger samples providing the samples are representative of the groups being compared. This is done in Table 3 (see attached pdf file) for Conservative and Leave voters and for Labour and Remain voters and the results are very revealing.

For the Labour party supporters the top three priorities are ‘Remain in EU’, a ‘’Customs Union’ and a ‘People’s Vote’ with a ‘Norway-Style Deal’ and some sort of ‘Compromise Deal’ fourth and fifth. The pattern of the rank order for Remainers is almost identical with a ‘People’s Vote’ and ‘Remain in EU’ first and second but with a ‘Customs Union’ now down to fourth perhaps because, for Labour voters, a ‘Customs Union’ is party policy and that is why it is second on their list. Significantly ‘No Deal’ and the ‘PMs Deal’ is at the bottom of both the Labour party and Remainers lists with a ‘Canada-Style Deal’ just above them at sixth position.

However, a ‘Canada-Style Deal’ is first on both the Conservative and Leave lists this being the preferred option for so-called hard line Brexiters. So not much chance of a compromise there. But the second choice for Conservatives is a ‘Compromise Deal’ and for them this would be the ‘PMs Deal’ third or a ‘Norway-Style Deal’ fourth. Interestingly the ‘PMs Deal’ drops to fifth place in the Leavers list as they are not always loyal Conservatives and hard line Leavers are content with ‘No Deal’ which is second on their list behind a ‘Canada-Style Deal’. Significantly a ‘Norway-Style Deal’ is fourth on both the Leavers and Conservative lists and also fourth on the Labour list so, if this were a conflict resolution exercise to stop a violent conflict, then I would conclude that a ‘Norway-Style Deal’ could form the basis for a compromise peace agreement. Interestingly Grant, Rohr, Howarth, Lu and Pollitt (3) come to essentially the same conclusion in their study of these issues using a cost benefit analysis approach. Given that these rather different methodologies come to the same conclusion perhaps the results of these analysis should be taken more seriously as a solution to the Brexit problem now.

Another approach to resolving this problem proposed by a number of Labour and Conservative party MPs is to combine the top preference for Labour party supporters with one of the top preferences for the Conservative party supporters namely a ‘People’s Vote’ to remain in the EU against the ‘PMs Deal’ approved in the House of Commons (4). From a conflict resolution perspective, in a ‘fighting killing war’ this strategy probably would not work as we could not expect the parties to that war to respect the result. But it might work for Brexit. Certainly it is worth a try and if it doesn’t work and if everyone is still dissatisfied with the result then they can always fall back on the ‘Norway-Style Deal’ compromise.

Google Survey Data Files:

This Brexit Pilot Peace Poll was collected between 17 February and 19 February, 2019. The full data files for all three of these polls are available here:


(1) Irwin, C. J., (2012) The People’s Peace, CreateSpace, CA. Available at:

(2) Irwin, C. J., (2019) A way through the Brexit impasse? a Brexit pilot peace poll, The UK in a Changing Europe, 7 February. Available at:

(3) Grant J., Rohr C., Howarth D., Lu H and Pollitt A., (2018) What sort of Brexit do the British people want? The Policy Institute at King’s and RAND Europe. Available at:

(4) Helm, T., (2019) Back May’s deal, then hold people’s vote: plan to end Brexit deadlock, The Guardian, Saturday 9 February. Available at:

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Brexit Compromise

A Brexit Pilot Peace Poll

Colin Irwin   Mon 04 Feb 2019   updated: Mon 11 Feb 2019

In my series of blogs on Brexit I have suggested that Brexit needed a peace poll (1), that much of the polling done on Brexit was partisan and misleading (2), and that as Brexit was creating deep divisions in UK society pollsters should use conflict resolution best practice to analyse their data (3). With this point in mind I have completed a Brexit peace poll pilot to illustrate how this can be done.

Firstly the questions in a peace poll should be agreed and drafted with the cooperation of the parties to the conflict. In this case that should be the Parliamentarians elected to the House of Commons. But for the purposes of this pilot I have simply taken the relevant items from the House of Commons Order Paper No. 239 Part 1 that lists the Governments European Union (Withdrawal) Act, and all the amendments proposed by Parliamentarians (page 26-38) for selection by the Speaker on Tuesday the 29th of January.

From a conflict resolution/negotiations perspective this Act and amendments can be loosely characterised as being ‘substantive’ elements of an agreement or ‘procedural’ elements for getting to an agreement. Using Google Surveys I was able to test nine solutions for resolving Brexit against each other, with a tenth question asking the informant if they would vote ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ if a referendum was held today (Table 1 in pdf below). I would then be able to compare the opinions of Leavers and Remainers on these issues, and see if a compromise could be found anywhere, that they might be able to agree to. The same was done for nine procedural issues (Table 2 in pdf below).

From Table 1 we can see Leavers do not want to stay in the European Union at 79.9 per cent ‘unacceptable’, while Remainers do not want to leave the EU without an agreement at 71.8 per cent ‘unacceptable’, and Leavers do not want a referendum to leave or remain in the European Union at 81.8 per cent ‘unacceptable’. So nothing to agree to there at this time. But if we take a look at the other end of this five point scale, at what Remainers and Leavers consider to be ‘essential’ (Table 3 in pdf below) then we get a slightly different picture. The number one priority for Remainers is ‘a permanent customs union for trade with the EU, strong relationship with the single market, shared institutions and alignment on rights and standards’ at 47.6 per cent ‘essential’. The same item is third on the Leavers list at 17.5 per cent ‘essential’ but significantly it is only 20.2 per cent ‘unacceptable’ so perhaps something can be done with this.

Other options include a Canada-style deal and a Norway-style deal and they are possibly ‘doable’ but they presently require a Northern Ireland backstop which Leavers want removed at 45.4 per cent ‘essential’ while Remainers consider it ‘unacceptable’ at 26.8 per cent. On the other hand the ‘permanent customs union’ approach does not need a backstop so perhaps this is ‘the lesser of the evils’ in this case given its otherwise more general ‘acceptance’ by Leavers’ at 30.8 per cent.

With regards to the procedural issues (Table 4 in pdf below) it is interesting to note that Remainers do want them ranging from a high of 45.5 per cent ‘essential’ for a vote on any deal agreed to by MPs, to 42.7 per cent for MPs to vote on various deals (an Indicative Vote) to ‘ruling out a no-deal scenario and preparing for a People’s Vote with an option to remain in the European Union’ at 41.9 per cent ‘essential’. When phrased in this way Leavers consider this form of referendum to be 55.6 per cent ‘desirable’ so if the Brexit process has to go ‘down this road’ then perhaps this is the way to go. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Leavers are far less enthusiastic about the various procedural options on offer as they want Brexit and presently it is the law.

This Google survey of 100 interviews was collected between February 2 and February 4. It is only a pilot costing a very modest £160. Clearly a larger survey is needed with input from the Parliamentarians who wrote the draft law and amendments tested here. I am a little concerned that my “Remain’ or ‘Leave’ question got such a high ‘Remain’ response so I do not think that result or the general result for the UK population as a whole should be cited here. But comparing the opinions of Remainers and Leavers as ‘indicative’ of what is happening to opinion is valid and I doubt if a more thorough survey would come to conclusions very different to the ones I have drawn here.

Although the pilot only has an N=100 sample I am used to working with small samples around the world as I am generally working on conflicts where such samples are often very hard to get. The thing then is to know what one can draw conclusions from and what one can not. With this point in mind although the overall sample may not be as good as we would like by taking out the most polarised groups (in Northern Ireland Protestants and Catholics for example and in Brexit Britain Remainers and Leavers) we can compare the differences between these two groups with some certainty.

I was thinking of running the pilot again for political party breakdown to compare Labour and Conservative supporters. But the results would not be so definitive in this case as some Conservatives are Remainers and some Labour Party supporters are Leavers. So to do this I think we really do need a much better sample.

Also there is a problem with the Google Programme. I had to include “I prefer not to answer’ in every question up front so the 'No Answers' are a bit high. It is possible that quite a lot of Leavers said they ‘Prefer not to answer’ in question one and that is why the Leave result is a bit low. This problem can be overcome by using ’stock’ questions on this issue that have been tested by various polling companies and that are know to work well.

So I think the poll should be run with a better sample and questions and that comparisons should be made between political parties as well as Remainers and Leavers. Inevitably the Conservatives and Labour Party supporters will be closer on all the issues tested here than the Remainers and Leavers.

Finally I should add that the level of ‘unacceptable’ for Protestants for the Power Sharing option that became the Belfast Agreement was 52 per cent (Table 5). But I suspect that Conservative ‘unacceptable’ for a permanent customs union would be less than 20 per cent so resolving Brexit is a ‘walk in the park’ compared to doing the Belfast Agreement! And the other options such as a Norway-style deal are almost as equally acceptable. But I did not want to say too much about this from the pilot as these similarities are all within the margins of error. So someone really should run these polls again to the best possible polling standards with a bigger sample!

The results for the Brexit Substance Pilot poll can be viewed here:

And the results for the Brexit Process Pilot poll here:

And the data files for both polls are available here:

Finally a free book on peace polling is available here:





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A Brexit Pilot Peace Poll Updated

Making peace in two deeply divided societies, Northern Ireland and Brexit UK

Colin Irwin   Thu 24 Jan 2019   updated: Wed 30 Jan 2019

In his keynote address at a conference on ‘Brexit and Public Opinion 2019’ organised by the UK in a Changing Europe Sir John Curtis quite rightly underlined the point that ‘remainers’ and ‘leavers’ are strongly polarised on issues concerning the future relationship of the United Kingdom and the European Union. In this context he also suggested that there was little or no support for any one solution to this problem as, like Parliament, there was not a clear majority of the British public in favour of one solution or another. Again the facts from the various public opinion surveys cited by Sir John suggest that he was right and in the following discussion he pointed out that even in Northern Ireland more than 50 per cent of Unionists voted ‘yes’ for the Belfast Agreement. True again but this fact misses the point that both Northern Ireland and Brexit UK are two ‘deeply divided societies’ and to get to a compromise in Northern Ireland in which both Unionists and Nationalists / Protestants and Catholics agreed a political way forward we had to get them there from a base where support for that compromise was not 50 per cent plus but closer to 10 per cent. Critically, if we had used Sir John’s methods for analysing public opinion in Northern Ireland we would never have got to peace! Clearly this assertion needs to be supported with some public opinion facts.

Sir John cited the results of a poll commissioned by the Change Britain campaign and completed by BMG. In this study eight options were tested ranging from leaving the EU on a Canada-style deal, to a Norway-style deal, the government’s withdrawal agreement and a second referendum with informants being asked to select their most preferred option. Firstly, with so many options on offer it is difficult to get above 50 per cent for any one option and, most importantly, we do not know what informants second and third choices might be and therefore do not know where a compromise might be found between leavers and remainers or between Conservative and Labour party supporters.

As a tool for conflict resolution analysis this methodology is worse than useless as it highlights differences without identifying common ground. Similarly when eight options for the resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict were tested against public opinion only 11 per cent of Protestants and 10 per cent of Catholics accepted the power sharing compromise that became the Belfast Agreement. For Protestants remaining in the United Kingdom without sharing power with Catholics was their number one choice at 49 per cent but it was also the last/eighth choice for Catholics at 33 per cent (see table in pdf attached). So power sharing was the way forward.

But in the real negotiations of the Belfast Agreement we had to deal with literally hundreds of issues and test them against public opinion to help the negotiators come to a compromise and it simply is not possible to rank order hundreds of options. So we came up with a qualitative scale that would achieve the same result for each and every item. The negotiators wanted to know what their publics considered to be ‘essential’ or ‘desirable’ or ‘acceptable’ or ‘tolerable’ or definitely ‘unacceptable’ and when we used this five point scale the politicians could see exactly what each side needed in an agreement and what they would never agree to. A settlement of the Northern Ireland problem was the result with more than 50 per cent of Protestants voting ‘Yes’ for power sharing and the Belfast Agreement. We can do exactly the same for Brexit to find out what remainers and leavers, as well as Conservative and Labour supporters, can compromise on to mend the divisions in the UK body politic and a draft question and questionnaire is provided in the attached pdf to do just that.

The UK is taking on many of the characteristics of deeply divided societies found around the world. This fact needs to be recognised and acted on by the political leadership. Such leadership is not easy, indeed it is very difficult, but the research community can help by providing that leadership and the public with facts and analysis from conflict resolution best practice. In this regard the polling methods used in Northern Ireland are best practice and should be used to analyse and resolve Brexit

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Making peace in two deeply divided societies

In the heated discussion leading up to the Meaningful Vote scheduled for Tuesday the 11th of December the Express reported, from an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, that the ‘Brexiteer Gisela Stuart masterfully shut down Remain campaigner Gina Miller after she suggested there is now increased support for a second Brexit referendum’ (Bosotti 2018). Gina Miller cited a poll published in the Independent that said ‘People were... for a new referendum by 46 per cent to 30 per cent’ (Watts 2018), while Gisela Stuart cited research undertaken for Change Britain noting that “The public want their MPs to vote against a second referendum” by 51 per cent to 45 per cent (BMG Research 2018). Additionally the Change Britain research also claimed a ‘Canada Plus’ agreement was the most ‘strongly preferred’ outcome while the Independent said a ‘Majority of country now think Britain should remain in the EU’. Remarkably BOTH the Independent poll and the poll for Change Britain were carried out by the same company BMG Research. How can this be and how are Parliamentarians supposed to make sense of these diametrically opposed conclusions, and in so doing make what may be the most important decision of their political careers to guide the country forward for generations to come?

The Northern Ireland peace process was far too important to leave the public opinion research in the hands of partisan organisations and pollsters who would bias the questions, methodologies and analysis to fit their client’s agenda. In Northern Ireland a programme of independently funded academic polling research (Irwin 2012) was undertaken as a partnership between the Queen’s University of Belfast and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Critically this research was also undertaken with input from all the parties to the negotiations to ensure objectivity so that the results would be taken seriously and acted on. Clearly Brexit now needs the same approach. So what has gone wrong with the polling undertaken by BMG Research and others, and how can it be corrected?

Firstly, with regards to support for a second referendum the result depends not only on when the poll was run but also on the question asked. For example Lord Ashcroft (2018) in his November poll asked ‘Should there be a second referendum, to decide between leaving the EU on terms agreed in the draft Brexit agreement, or remaining in the EU?’ resulting in 38 per cent ‘yes’ and 47 per cent ‘no’ because this question disenfranchises ‘leave’ voters. Conversely when asked ‘Should there be a second referendum, to decide between leaving the EU on terms agreed in the draft Brexit agreement, or leaving without a deal?’ the result is only 31 per cent ‘yes’ and 50 per cent ‘no’ because this question disenfranchises remain voters. However, in a Survation poll (Walters 2018) also run in November the result was 48 per cent in support of a ‘People’s vote – a referendum – asking the public their view?’ and only 34 per cent opposed. In Northern Ireland and around the world people generally like to exercise their franchise and critically the Survation question does not disenfranchise anyone. Implicitly both remainers and leavers are invited to express ‘their view’. Interestingly the BMG Research question gets a result somewhere in-between the Lord Ashcroft and Survation questions as they ask ‘If there is a vote, should your MP vote FOR or AGAINST another referendum on whether to leave or remain in the EU? with an additional option for their MP to abstain.

These very different results now make sense and the correct approach to dealing with this issue is to either have the stakeholders, the Parliamentarians collectively agree what is the correct question to ask or, alternatively, run the various alternate questions and then have a discussion as to why they produce different results. That is the discussion that should have taken place between Gisela Stuart and Gina Miller on the Andrew Marr show, but didn’t, and an opportunity to enlighten the public was lost. Statistics do not have to be lies they simply have to be understood. But what about the BMG Research result in the Independent that suggests the British public want to remain in the EU and their poll for Change Britain that suggests, given a choice, the British public would choose a Canada plus deal. What is happening here?

Regrettably, the polling organisations that have tried to differentiate the British public’s preferences for different Brexit outcomes have not used best practice in both the design and analysis of their questions, pioneered in Northern Ireland and tested in a dozen other countries around the world. Firstly the options used in Northern Ireland and elsewhere were drafted by constitutional lawyers who could write both accurate and clear proposals that could be tested against public opinion, while, at the same time not leaving any important options out (Irwin 2012, page 9). The eight options tested by BMG Research do not meet these standards, e.g. No Brexit and No Brexit Plus (Clarke and Johnson 2018). Secondly BMG Research used a method that does not allow the informant to separately evaluate every option on offer against all other options by, for example, asking for only a first and last preference. Similarly although YouGov (Curtis and Smith 2018) use a simple question that asked the informant to rank order just three options, which works well with the Alternative Vote (AV) system, they then go on to analyse the same data using the Condorcet method that is far from transparent to the average reader. They would have done better to use the tried and tested methods that worked in Northern Ireland and published in the Belfast Telegraph for public diplomacy purposes (Irwin 1996/2000).

The bottom line to all of this is that the British public and MPs are not enlightened by all this public opinion research but rather find themselves frustrated by a lack of clarity, objectivity and transparency that only leads to the further confusion of Brexit in the minds of the British public. Arguably, the British Parliament has not served the British people well in resolving Brexit. Regrettably the British public opinion industry has not helped in this regard as much as they could. They could and should have done very much better. Independent research of a higher standard is required.


Ashcroft, Lord, (2018) My new Brexit poll: good for Theresa May, bad for her deal, Lord Ashcroft Polls. Friday, 23 November. Available at:

BMG Research (2018) Change Britain/BMG Poll: Deal or No Deal Understanding the Public’s Preferred Brexit Outcomes, BMG Research, Posted 10/12/18 available at:

Bosotti, A., (2018) ‘UK still wants Brexit!’ Leave activist has Gina Miller FACE FACTS challenging Remain poll, EXPRESS, Monday 10 December. Available at:

Clarke, C., and Johnson, A., (2018) We don’t need to leave the EU to control immigration, Mrs May, The UK in a Changing Europe, 20 November. Available at:

Curtis, C., and Smith, M., (2018) May’s Brexit deal leads in just two constituencies as it suffers from being everyone’s second choice, YouGov, 6 December. Available at:

Irwin, C., (1996/2000) Northern Ireland – Polls and Public Diplomacy, PeacePolls. Available at:

Irwin, C., (2012) The People’s Peace, CreateSpace, CA. Available at:

Walters, S., (2018) British people back May’s Brexit deal: Exclusive poll shows most voters back PM’s plan as the best offer for the UK, Mail Online, 27 November. Available at:

Watts, J., (2018) Majority of country now think Britain should remain in the EU, poll reveals, Independent, Sunday 9 December. Available at:

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Lies, damned lies, and [Brexit] statistics

Did Brexit need a Peace Poll?

Colin Irwin   Sat 17 Nov 2018

With the British Social Attitudes polls tracking a consistent preference to remain in the EU with only 22% choosing leave in 2015 Cameron went for a referendum in 2016 expecting to win a ‘remain’ vote (NatCen 2018 p119). But these polls failed to measure the impact of identity politics on the referendum campaign in the hands of skilful ethnic entrepreneurs. With all the benefits of hindsight this error was corrected in their 2018 report (NatCen 2018 p137).

Inevitably, the negotiations to leave set up a dynamic that polarised public opinion around the UK/EU negotiating positions and in this context ‘remain’ and ‘leave’ supporters commissioned partisan polls in support of their separate agendas in addition to more objective tracking polls run by the major polling companies. Academic studies also tracked changes in voter preferences for a negotiated agreement (Grant et al 2018) and ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ voter priorities suggesting 40% were potential swing voters (Pagel and Cooper 2018).

However, these studies fail to take account of the political identity/emotive aspect of the choice the electorate would make in a contested referendum. Significantly, in this context if the UK and EU fail to reach an agreement in Parliament then ‘leavers’ will play the ‘blame game’ and persuade much of the 40% swing vote that the EU is not the kind of institution that the UK should be a part of. Perhaps what is needed now is a conflict resolution approach to problem solving?

As part of the Northern Ireland peace process and negotiations all the major procedural and substantive issues and decisions that had to be made were tested against public opinion with questions designed and agreed by party negotiators. With all the benefits of hindsight the same could have been done to help develop a consensus for the terms of Brexit but that is now done with the 585-page draft Brexit withdrawal agreement endorsed by Cabinet and published on 14 November 2018.

Visiting the substantive elements of this agreement with a view to amending it would not be helpful at this time. Additionally if the agreement between the UK and EU passes through Parliament then again polling on this would serve no useful purpose. However, if the agreement does not get Parliamentary backing then the Government will find themselves having to resolve a procedural problem about which there is presently no consensus.

For example should the UK leave with no deal? Or should the government ask for more time with an Article 50 extension? Should the agreement be renegotiated? Or should the government call a general election? Or should there be a second referendum (People’s Vote) and most critically of all what should the choices be for such a referendum and with what wording? In the Brexit context such a scenario is particularly problematic given the ambiguous meaning of ‘no deal’.

With all these points in mind a ‘Peace Poll’ that engages with all the principal Parliamentary Brexit stakeholders to develop and test all the unresolved procedural issues, including those associated with a second referendum (franchise, timing, questions, meaning and understanding of options etc.) could help Parliamentarians reach an informed decision on procedural issues.

Additionally, it should be remembered that in Northern Ireland the parties to their peace agreement, the Good Friday Agreement, signed up to it because they had a stake in it, they took ownership of it through multiparty negotiations. So if no agreement is now reached the Government may want to take this lesson to heart and try a multiparty national consensus approach in the UK.

However, even if this withdrawal agreement is accepted in both the UK and EU Parliaments then the UK still has to negotiate their future relationship with the EU over the coming years. In this context it will also be important to mend bridges so painfully damaged by polarised negotiations between ‘leavers’ and ‘remainers’, and between the UK and their Continental partners in Europe, whatever that future relationship may be. To this end all best practice in conflict resolution needs to be employed to achieve the desired outcome, including the ‘Peace Polling’ methods developed in Northern Ireland and around the world (Irwin 2002, 2012, PSR 2017).


Grant J., Rohr C., Howarth D., Lu H and Pollitt A., (2018) What sort of Brexit do the British people want? The Policy Institute at King’s and RAND Europe. Available at:

Irwin, C. J. (2002) The People’s Peace Process in Northern Ireland, Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke and New York and

Irwin, C. J. (2012) The People’s Peace: ‘Pax Populi, Pax Dei’ - How Peace Polls are Democratizing the Peace Making Process, CreateSpace, Scotts Valley, CA. Available at:

NatCen (2018) British Social Attitudes 35, The National Centre for Social Research, London. Available at:

Pagel C. and Cooper C. (2018) People’s Vote analysis: 40% of the public up for grabs by either side, Available at:

PSR (2017) Palestinian-Israeli Pulse, August 1, 2017. Available at:

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Did Brexit need a Peace Poll?

Colin Irwin and Seongwon Yoon

Two frozen conflicts

All peace processes are different, different peoples, histories, places, time lines and how they got in the mess they are in and how to get out of it. This is true of Cyprus and Korea but there are also some similarities and if we focus on those there may be some peace making lessons each side can learn from the other. Both Korea and Cyprus are ‘frozen conflicts’, Korea since the Armistice in 1953 and Cyprus since the Turkish invasion in 1974. Although not all conservatives are intransigent, in general, the conservative politicians in both Cyprus and Korea have made the process of peace negotiations far more difficult. Both Cyprus and Korea are separated North and South by the Green Line in Cyprus and DMZ in Korea. The South in both Cyprus and Korea is economically well developed while the North is less so and this results in the Southern populations in both Cyprus and Korea being very sceptical about the prospects of reunification as that process may create as many problems as it solves. Also, neither country can make peace all by themselves. Cyprus requires the agreement of their Guarantor States, the UK, Greece and Turkey while China and the US participated in the Armistice agreement for Korea and they, in turn, will have to play a crucial role in ending the Korean War. Finally, in this context, security is the most critical issue for both Cypriots and Koreans, both North and South, and this issue must be resolved to every parties’ satisfaction as part of a peace agreement and new political arrangements going forward.

A liberal Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades, who had supported the failed 2004 UN Annan Plan was elected in the South of Cyprus in 2013. In 2014 a UN Joint Declaration(1) for renewed peace negotiations was signed and a liberal Turkish Cypriot, Akinci, was elected President in the North in 2015. Similarly, liberal or progressive leaders took office in both Koreas: President Moon Jae-in in the South; and in the North, the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un looks to be heading in quite a different direction to his father, Kim Jong-il, resulting in the signing of the Panmunjom Declaration on the 27th of April this year. But the agreement signed in Cyprus in 2013 has not resulted in a settlement of the Cyprus Problem. The conflict there remains frozen. However, Korea’s future prospects for peace took another step forward with the joint signing of an agreement at the US-Trump/NK-Kim summit on the 12th of June in Singapore. Hopefully that process will be more successful than the failed UN, Cyprus, UK, Greece and Turkey summit at Crans-Montana in Switzerland last year.

Confidence Building Measures

Significantly, on this critical point of success and failure there are some very substantial differences between the two summits and the preparations made to help achieve a positive outcome. In Cyprus the leaders shunned a programme of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) while the Koreans have given their Cypriot counterparts a ‘Master Class’ in CBM, public diplomacy and personal statesmanship that has shifted South Korean public opinion in ways that Greek Cypriots can only dream of. Critically Clause 7 of the UN Joint Declaration signed by the Cypriots in 2014 only requires that: ‘The sides will seek to create a positive atmosphere to ensure the talks succeed. They commit to avoiding blame games or other negative public comments on the negotiations. They also commit to efforts to implement confidence building measures that will provide a dynamic impetus to the prospect for a united Cyprus.’ No CBMs are specified here and no penalties for non-compliance included. It was only an aspiration of negotiation not a condition.

However, the Panmunjom Declaration signed by the Korean’s listed a number of specific CBMs and publicly, at the signing, more CBMs were announced and have been, or are in the process of being implemented. Notably, Pyongyang’s participation in the Winter Olympics under a unified flag and promise to shut down its nuclear test site and to suspend nuclear/missile tests before the summit. Seoul removed propaganda loudspeakers across the DMZ right after the summit. Then, Pyongyang shifted its clocks to align with the time in the South and dismantled its nuclear test site on May 24th as agreed. Following the 12 June Singapore summit the scheduled CBMs included: establishing a liaison office at the boarder town of Kaesong, military talks (June 16), talks between sports officials (June 18), Red cross talks regarding the separated families (June 22), and a DMZ Peace Train Music Festival (June 23/24). Most importantly, and it was this that so dramatically shifted South Korean public opinion, the day of pageantry, symbolism and expressions of public friendship and good will between the two leaders resulted in a shift of 50 per cent, from 14.7 before their first summit to 64.7 after the summit, believing denuclearization and peace was possible.(2) Significantly, this positive attitude remained firm at 66.5 per cent the day after President Trump temporarily cancelled his summit on May 24(3) and possibly rose further following Kim and Moon’s impromptu second summit on May 26 to get the US/NK June 12 summit back on track.

The Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades may not be able to get quite such a dramatic result in the South of Cyprus but less than half the Korean shift in public opinion is all he needs to get a peace ‘package’ through a referendum. Both he and Akinci were given an opportunity to do this at the opening of the Greek Church, in the Turkish Cypriot occupied ancient city of Famagusta, on the Easter leading up to the failed summit in Crans-Montana. Again, this year the same opportunity was there but the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders did not take it to demonstrate that peace on their island was possible and their future would be better for it.

Peace processes are generally best known for the agreements, declarations and treaties signed and made. But this tale of two peace processes underlines the importance of CBMs both symbolic and substantial. With this point in mind, given the Cyprus experience, the authors developed a peace poll to test Korean CBMs in Korea(4) in the hope that some of them would be put into practice. Happily, events overtook these efforts with the Koreans implementing CBMs at a pace and with great effect that was not anticipated. This questionnaire was written to complement a similar programme of work undertaken in Cyprus(5). Regrettably those suggestions remain undone and the Cyprus peace process remains frozen. The Greek Turkish Forum(6) has recommended the Cypriots implement these CBMs but they are painfully slow to do so and would do well to look to the Koreans for inspiration.

With all these points in mind perhaps the time has come for the UN Security Council and Guarantor States to require the Cypriots to implement a significant programme of CBMs before they sponsor another round of negotiations and summit? As for Korea they should keep doing what they are doing so well. Implementation of the agreement made in Singapore on the 12th of June will not be easy and CBMs will continue to have an important role to play in their peace process for months and years to come. Significantly at the June 12 summit President Trump also undertook to suspend South Korea/US war games but only in so far as North Korea negotiates in good faith. This should be regarded as a substantial CBM as North Korea has always considered these joint military exercises as rehearsals for invasion. However, the war games can be reinstated at any time while the measure of removing sanctions imposed by America and her allies would require international coordination and cooperation to get them re-established.

Security North and South of the DMZ and Green Line

But what about those negotiations at the US/North Korea summit that must resolve outstanding security issues and the failed Cyprus negotiations and summit, are there also some lessons to be leant there? Security for Greek and Turkish Cypriots is the most important issue for the two communities going forward. Similarly security for all Koreans on the Korean peninsular is the most important issue for them. Neither Cypriots or Koreans want a return to the conflicts that divided their communities and in this context Koreans and Cypriots, both North and South, all want arrangements to be put in place that ensure their security the day an agreement is signed and for years and generations there after.

Two distinctly different proposals were suggested for doing this on the Korean peninsular. One was the ‘Libya model’ that requires North Korea to denuclearise completely before peace is made, and only then can they enjoy all the benefits promised by America with the lifting of sanctions that allow North Korea to develop economically with China and South Korea. The other is the ‘Progressive model’, which allows for complete denuclearisation by North Korea in return for security guarantees over a period of time. Inevitably ‘the devil is in the detail’ with such a model in terms of verification and how North Korea’s security can be assured. Those details have to be worked out and might include a formal end to the Korean War and establishment of a credible East Asian security regime.(7)

Similarly there are two distinct models for peace and security on Cyprus. At the Crans-Montana summit Anastasiades for the Greek Cypriot community wanted “zero [Turkish] troops and zero [Turkish] guarantees” from day one of any new agreement that would establish a bi-communal, bi-zonal federal state as part of the European Union. However, Akinci for the Turkish Cypriot community advocated a phased reduction in the draw down of Turkish forces from the island in tandem with new arrangements with regional partners, a ‘Treaty of Friendship’ had been proposed in addition to the security benefits that would come with EU and NATO membership.

The ‘Libya model’ advocated by National Security Advisor, John Bolton, was rejected by North Korea as ‘unilateral denuclearization’ that, in their view, would threaten their security. Similarly Akinci could not accept Anastasiades proposals for “zero [Turkish] troops and zero [Turkish] guarantees” from day one of any new agreement and the Crans-Montana summit failed. If there is a lesson to be leant here in this ‘tale of two peace processes’ then it is surly this: ‘unilateral disarmament’ be it nuclear or conventional is not going to lead to security, peace and the economic benefits that flow from security and peace. The US Administration saw the error of their ways and adopted a variant of the ‘Progressive model’ at the June 12 summit and hopefully too, the Cypriots will learn from that success and agree a ‘Progressive model’ that works for them.

Lessons learnt

Perhaps there are also lessons in this ‘tale of two peace processes’ for other frozen conflicts? Firstly, the successful Northern Ireland peace process was supported by an extensive programme of peace polling and public diplomacy.(8) Korea appears to be doing the same but as they do not have to test their agreements at a referendum their programme of CBMs and public diplomacy is there as much for the international audience as it is for their domestic constituencies. If the two Koreas can be seen to be making peace then the international community should do everything they can to support them and they appear to be doing so. Israel and Palestine also regularly test a potential peace agreement against public opinion to demonstrate what ‘package’ and ‘incentives’ will win a referendum.(9) But like Cyprus they do not have in place a comprehensive programme of CBMs. On the contrary the movement of the US Embassy to Jerusalem has been characterised as a Confidence Diminishing Mechanism (‘CDMs’) with an accompanying loss of public support for US led negotiations in the Arab World.(10) The lines that separate symbolic CBMs from substantial CBMs, and substantial CBMs from substantial agreements and actions are a little arbitrary. Suffice it to say that Confidence Diminishing Mechanisms should be avoided and all CBMs should be welcomed, even the small ones that the Northern Ireland politician David Ervine famously characterised as ‘Baby steps’, because those baby steps led to an end of war and the Belfast Agreement.

Secondly, the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons was negotiated and implemented over time in Northern Ireland because the Irish Republican Army viewed unilateral decommissioning, before the Belfast Agreement, as an act of ‘surrender’, and that was unacceptable to them. So out of sight of any cameras their weapons were placed ‘beyond use’ under the watchful eye of international monitors. Security issues must be addressed with cold precision but so too must the sensitivities and respect of the parties involved in Northern Ireland, North Korea, Northern Cyprus and Palestine. Arguably such respect for the ‘other’ is the most important CBM of them all and in this regard the Americans appear to have given the North Koreans as much ‘space’ as they can to manage denuclearisation with their domestic audience. For the Americans ‘Complete Denuclearisation’ means ‘Complete Verifiable Irreversible Denuclearisation’ and possibly the North Koreans accept this interpretation privately but, for now, the Americans appear to have accepted a significant degree of ‘constructive ambiguity’ on this point to give the North Koreans an opportunity to do what is expected of them.

The ‘Progressive model’ may or may not work but it has been given every chance of success by establishing good will through public diplomacy and CBMs at the highest levels. At the 12 June summit the North Korean flag and Stars and Stripes, in equal size and measure provided a backdrop to the words of praise and expressions of gratitude shared by Kim and Trump. There are no guarantees for success but generals making war and politicians making peace must be opportunistic and be willing to risk their reputations for the prize of success. Following the Turkish Presidential elections on June 24th Anastasiades and Akinci have one more chance to make peace this year. Will they embrace it and take it?

End Notes

1 UN Cyprus Talks (2014) 11 February 2014 Joint Declaration on Cyprus. Available at:

2 RealMeter (2018, April 30), ‘? ???·?? ??’ ???? ??, ?? 78% ? ?? 65% [A sudden turn of the South Korean perceptions of North Korea’s willingness to denuclearization and peace: Distrust 78% ? Trust 65%]. Available at:

3 RealMeter (2018, May 28), ???·????, ?? 67% vs ?? 20% [Prospects for denuclearization and peace: Positive 67% vs Negative 20%]. Available at:

4 Irwin, C. J. and Yoon, S. (2018, March 12) South Korea – Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). Available at:

5 Irwin, C. J. (2017) Cyprus Peace Poll 2 – Confidence Building Measures – ‘Peace is not enough’. Available at:

6 GTF Statement 28th February 2018, Available at:

7 JUN Bonggeun, June 12 U.S.-DPRK Summit: Preparations and Prospects, Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, IFANS FOCUS, IF2018-12E, May 21, 2018.

8 Irwin, C. J. (2002) The People’s Peace Process in Northern Ireland, Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke and New York.

9 PSR (2017a) Palestinian-Israeli Pulse, August 1, 2017. Available at:

10 Gallup International (2017) Attitudes Towards the Recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli Capital, Gallup International Association opinion poll of 24 countries across the globe, December. Available at:

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A Tale of Two Peace Processes: Korea and Cyprus - Updated with security issues and references

A tale of two peace processes: Korea and Cyprus

Colin Irwin   Fri 25 May 2018   updated: Thu 19 Sep 2019

Colin Irwin and Seongwon Yoon

All peace processes are different, different peoples, histories, places, time lines and how they got in the mess they are in and how to get out of it. This is true of Cyprus and Korea but there are also some similarities and if we focus on those there may be some peace making lessons each side can learn from the other. Both Korea and Cyprus are ‘frozen conflicts’, Korea since the Armistice in 1953 and Cyprus since the Turkish invasion in 1974. Although not all conservatives are intransigent, in general, the conservative politicians in both Cyprus and Korea have made the process of peace negotiations much more protracted. Both Cyprus and Korea are separated North and South by the Green Line in Cyprus and DMZ in Korea. The South in both Cyprus and Korea is economically well developed while the North is less so and this results in the Southern populations in both Cyprus and Korea being very sceptical about the prospects of reunification as that process may create as many problems as it solves. Also, neither country can make peace all by themselves. Cyprus requires the agreement of their Guarantor States, the UK, Greece and Turkey while China and the US participated in the Armistice agreement for Korea and they, in turn, will have to play a crucial role in ending the Korean War.

A liberal Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades, who had supported the failed 2004 UN Annan Plan was elected in the South of Cyprus in 2013. In 2014 a UN Joint Declaration (1) for renewed peace negotiations was signed and a liberal Turkish Cypriot, Akinci, was elected President in the North in 2015. Similarly, liberal or progressive leaders took office in both Koreas: President Moon Jae-in in the South; and in the North, the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un looks to be heading the opposite way compared to his father, Kim Jong-il, which resulted in the signing of the Panmunjom Declaration on the 27th of April this year. But the agreement signed in Cyprus in 2013 has not resulted in a settlement of the Cyprus Problem. The conflict there remains frozen. Korea’s future prospects for peace may well be decided at the upcoming US-Trump/NK-Kim summit in Singapore on the 12th of June. Hopefully they will be more successful than the failed UN, Cyprus, UK, Greek and Turkey summit at Crans-Montana in Switzerland last year. But on this critical point there are some very significant differences between the two summits and the preparations made to help achieve a positive outcome. In Cyprus the leaders shunned a programme of confidence building measures (CBMs) while the Koreans have given their Cypriot counterparts a ‘Master Class’ in CBM, public diplomacy and personal statesmanship that has shifted South Korean public opinion in ways that Greek Cypriots can only dream of.

Significantly Clause 7 of the UN Joint Declaration signed by the Cypriots in 2014 only requires that: ‘The sides will seek to create a positive atmosphere to ensure the talks succeed. They commit to avoiding blame games or other negative public comments on the negotiations. They also commit to efforts to implement confidence building measures that will provide a dynamic impetus to the prospect for a united Cyprus.’ No CBMs are specified here and no penalties for non-compliance included. It was only an aspiration of negotiation not a condition. However, the Panmunjom Declaration signed by the Korean’s listed a number of specific CBMs and publicly, at the signing, more CBMs were announced and have been, or are in the process of being implemented. Notably, Pyongyang’s participation in the Winter Olympics under a unified flag and promise to shut down its nuclear test site and to suspend nuclear/missile tests before the summit. Seoul removed propaganda loudspeakers across the DMZ right after the summit. Then, Pyongyang shifted its clocks to align with the time in the South. In addition, North Korea’s dismantlement of its nuclear test site (May), the DMZ Peace Train Music Festival (June), the reunion of separated families (August), and President Moon’s visit to Pyongyang in the fall of 2018, etc. are all in the pipeline. Most importantly, and it was this that so dramatically shifted South Korean public opinion, the day of pageantry, symbolism and expressions of public friendship and good will between the two leaders resulted in a shift of 50 per cent, from 14.7 before the summit to 64.7 after the summit, believing denuclearization and peace was possible.(2)

The Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades may not be able to get quite such a dramatic result in the South of Cyprus but less than half the Korean shift in public opinion is all he needs to get a peace ‘package’ through a referendum. Both he and Akinci were given an opportunity to do this at the opening of the Greek Church, in the Turkish Cypriot occupied ancient city of Famagusta, on the Easter leading up to the failed summit in Crans-Montana. Again, this year the same opportunity was there but the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders did not take it to demonstrate that peace on their island was possible and their future would be better for it.

Peace processes are generally best known for the agreements, declarations and treaties signed and made. But this tale of two peace processes underlines the importance of CBMs both symbolic and substantial. With this point in mind, given the Cyprus experience, the authors developed a peace poll to test Korean CBMs in Korea (copy attached) in the hope that some of them would be put into practice. Happily, events have overtaken these efforts with the Koreans implementing CBMs at a pace and with great effect that was not anticipated. This questionnaire was written to complement a similar programme of work undertaken in Cyprus(3). Regrettably those suggestions remain undone and the Cyprus peace process remains frozen. The Greek Turkish Forum(4) has recommended the Cypriots implement these CBMs but they are painfully slow to do so and would do well to look to the Koreans for inspiration.

With all these points in mind perhaps the time has come for the UN Security Council and Guarantor States to require the Cypriots to implement a significant programme of CBMs before they sponsor another round of negotiations and summit? As for Korea they should keep doing what they are doing so well. Implementation of any agreements made in Singapore on the 12th of June will not be easy and CBMs will continue to have an important role to play in their peace process for months and years to come.

1 UN Cyprus Talks (2014) 11 February 2014 Joint Declaration on Cyprus. Available at:

2 RealMeter (2018, April 30), A sudden turn of the South Korean perceptions of North Korea’s willingness to denuclearization and peace: Distrust 78% ? Trust 65%. Available at:

3 Irwin, C. J. (2017) Cyprus Peace Poll 2 – Confidence Building Measures – ‘Peace is not enough’. Available at:

4 GTF Statement 28th February 2018, Available at:

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Korea Herald
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ROK CBM Poll Questionnaire

Cyprus Lessons: How to melt a frozen conflict

Colin Irwin   Sun 06 May 2018

The world is plagued by a number of frozen conflicts that hold themselves, their regions and occasionally the whole world to ransom denying their people peace while stoking the fires of geopolitical conflict. Israel and Palestine is the most well known of these frozen conflicts and Syria has the potential to become one along with the transnational Sunni/Shia split and radicalised international terrorist groups. Frozen conflicts can be ended by one side defeating the other, e.g. Sri Lanka, or by peace agreement, e.g. Northern Ireland where, significantly, the agreement reached was endorsed in a referendum supported by a programme of public diplomacy and opinion research. Similarly it should be possible to resolve the Cyprus frozen conflict but so far all efforts have failed. What has gone wrong, can the Cyprus problem be solved, and if so are there lessons to be learnt there that can benefit the rest of the world?

I first got involved in Cyprus when I was invited to make a presentation of the methods used in Northern Ireland to the Greek Turkish Forum in Istanbul in 1998. At that meeting, chaired by the US President’s Special Envoy Richard Holbrook, I persuaded the Greek and Turkish Cypriots to start with a peace poll that focused on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). They agreed but the proposal was not followed up resulting in the failed peace process and referendum of 2004. Lessons were learnt and local Cypriot NGOs were created to fill this gap with funding from the UNDP and Interpeace. Then, following the resumption of negotiations in 2014 I was invited to run a series of peace polls in support of negotiations in 2016/17 as part of a final ‘push’ to reach an agreement.

This paper reviews three peace polls conducted in 2016/17 using the Northern Ireland methods that require the negotiating parties to agree all aspects of the research agenda including the questions asked. The results of these polls are reviewed and compared with results from other conflicts using the same or similar methods. In Israel, Palestine, Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka a ‘peace package’ would always overcome potential difficulties inherent in the various elements of an agreement not acceptable to both parties. However, this is not the case in Cyprus where the benefits of a settlement have yet to be fully demonstrated. Significantly, no one is getting killed in Cyprus rendering the status quo acceptable.

Confidence Building Measures were an important part of the Northern Ireland peace process and although the polls indicate the people of Cyprus want an extensive program of CBMs to be implemented, they have been resisted by the Greek Cypriot side as ‘normalization’ of the status quo. But ‘normalization’ can be avoided if the CBMs focus on ‘symbolic’ issues of peace making first rather than ‘substantive’ elements of a final peace agreement. Experience in Northern Ireland and polling in Cyprus, Israel and Palestine suggest that this strategy will work both there and elsewhere in the world.

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Cyprus Lessons: How to melt a frozen conflict

In 1997 the Unionists would not enter into negotiations with the Republicans in Northern Ireland because they would not give up their guns before the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. Now, in 2018, twenty years later, history seems to be repeating itself in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Greek Cypriots will not enter into negotiations with the Turkish Cypriots unless Turkey withdraws their warships that are interfering with the Greek Cypriot drilling operations in their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). In Northern Ireland we found a formula to solve this problem of decommissioning either before or after the negotiation of a peace agreement. Perhaps a similar approach can solve the problem of gunboat diplomacy and hydrocarbon extraction in the Eastern Mediterranean?

In Northern Ireland we resolved what was called the ‘Government and Guns’ problem by putting the various options on the table to the people of Northern Ireland in a public opinion poll. The Unionists wanted decommissioning before negotiations; the Republicans wanted decommissioning after a settlement was reached and agreed; while the Alliance party and Women’s Coalition put forward compromise proposals of dealing with the decommissioning problem during negotiations, not before or after. Inevitably the compromise got the greatest support from both the Catholic and Protestant communities so that is what was done and peace was made. Here is the result of that poll published in the Belfast Telegraph on the 7th of April 1997.


Fixed timetable for the “Talks” followed by decommissioning

Preferred 20%, Acceptable 18%, Tolerable 23%, Unacceptable 40%

Fixed timetable for the “Talks” and simultaneous decommissioning

Preferred 22%, Acceptable 34%, Tolerable 27%, Unacceptable 18%

Flexible timetable for the “Talks” and simultaneous decommissioning

Preferred 15%, Acceptable 36%, Tolerable 33%, Unacceptable 16%

Fixed timetable for decommissioning followed by the “Talks”

Preferred 50%, Acceptable 22%, Tolerable 17%, Unacceptable 11%


Fixed timetable for the “Talks” followed by decommissioning

Preferred 52%, Acceptable 22%, Tolerable 15%, Unacceptable 10%

Fixed timetable for the “Talks” and simultaneous decommissioning

Preferred 21%, Acceptable 37%, Tolerable 29%, Unacceptable 14%

Flexible timetable for the “Talks” and simultaneous decommissioning

Preferred 22%, Acceptable 32%, Tolerable 27%, Unacceptable 19%

Fixed timetable for decommissioning followed by the “Talks”

Preferred 14%, Acceptable 23%, Tolerable 24%, Unacceptable 39%

Similarly in Cyprus the Turkish Cypriots want a hydrocarbon deal before the Turkish warships withdraw and this can be tested against public opinion. The Greek Cypriots want to carry on with their hydrocarbon explorations, for the Turkish warships to withdraw now and only then to start negotiations again. But there are also a number of compromise solutions being proposed such as the establishment of a UN bi-communal Committee for Hydrocarbon development or for the negotiation of a hydrocarbon agreement to be part of any new negotiations from day one of those negotiations, not before or after an agreement, but within and part of an agreement.

No doubt other creative solutions can be tried and tested as well but the point to make here is that these kinds of apparently insolvable problems can be put to the people in a poll and their opinion registered. It is not a referendum. The result is not legally binding, but for politicians looking for a way out of a corner they may have painted themselves into, it can be very helpful indeed. It saved the negotiations in Northern Ireland and should at least be tried in Cyprus. There is nothing to loose and everything to gain.

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Guns and Gunboats: How to resolve the Cyprus hydrocarbons dispute

‘Rational’ versus ‘emotional’ referendums in Northern Ireland, Colombia, Brexit and possibly Cyprus.

Colin Irwin, Department of Politics, University of Liverpool

Here is my ‘take’ on the polling I did for the Northern Ireland referendum, which was ‘spot on’ and the Colombian referendum that ‘missed by a mile’ with implications for Cyprus and possibly some lessons for Brexit just in case the Liberals get their way and we have another referendum.


Firstly we had a year of polling on various ‘planks’ in the Northern Ireland peace process all of which were published and fed into the public debate and negotiations. Secondly the questionnaire used to measure public support for a referendum was written as a synthesis of all these polls to achieve a balanced ‘package’ of ‘pro’ and ‘con’ elements that would meet the needs of both the Catholic and Protestant communities. Thirdly informants were then asked their opinions about each ‘plank’ in the agreement and where appropriate their views on associated opposition/radical proposals so that the potential referendum ‘Yes’ result could be contrasted with the potential ‘No’ results all of which fed into a public diplomacy campaign. This polling result was ‘spot on’ (see page 212 to 214 in my book The People’s Peace).


The analysis of the OAS Mission to the Plebiscite in Colombia suggests that the Colombian publics were not prepared for the referendum with a public diplomacy campaign. This clearly was not the case in Northern Ireland. Additionally I would add that if the questionnaire used to measure public support for the peace agreement there had been balanced out with all its major pros and cons then perhaps the polling would have been more accurate but as the OAS point out the decision people made was emotional rather than rational or well considered. Our decision in Northern Ireland was both rational and well considered. Finally the Colombian sample was seriously deficient and there is no excuse for this. If ORB International can get a good sample in Syria then getting a good sample in Colombia can only be a question of resources.


When we compare Northern Ireland and Colombia then it is very clear that the decisions taken were emotional and not rational. If we compare the questionnaires used for the Brexit polling and the Northern Ireland polling they are totally different. But then this is because we knew what the deal was in Northern Ireland after years of discussion and negotiations. The same could be true in Israel and Palestine if they ever did a deal there. As for Brexit no one knows what the deal is yet. Hopefully, as the deal emerges over the coming months and years then perhaps it will be possible to do some polling like the work done in Northern Ireland.


Negotiations for the reunification of Cyprus have now reached a high point in the hope that a deal can be done by the end of the year that is acceptable to both the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots in a referendum. But unlike the Northern Ireland peace process their negotiations have not been undertaken in combination with a detailed public opinion analysis of their agreements constituent parts in the two communities. Hopefully there will be time to correct this omission before a referendum. They need a rational decision not an emotional one.

BLOG - Ignore public opinion at your own peril

Colin Irwin   Sat 16 Jan 2016   updated: Sun 17 Jan 2016

Why have global leaders continually been ignoring the views of Muslims—and especially of Syrians—on conflict? A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate, Public Opinion and Human Rights available at:

All politicians in free and democratic societies know they can’t ignore public opinion. Through good leadership they can help to shape public opinion, but when election day comes they must be on the same page as their voters. Knowing this, why are the views of Muslims around the world, and most critically now in Syria, continually ignored? Arguably, these omissions have fuelled civil wars and mass migrations of refugees across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Syria is now a magnet for international Jihadists inspired by the Islamic State. The ISIS “franchise” is expanding globally, and the Super Powers have been taking sides with regional allies over the future fate of the Assad regime.

But the prospects for making peace in Syria are actually good, at least as far as the people of Syria are concerned. All sides have suffered and they want an end to war. With regards to the most serious abuses of human rights, it might be assumed that only the Sunni—who have rebelled against President Assad’s rule—are the victims of the regime’s excesses, but this is not the case.

In a poll on justice issues, Alawites also report being subject to arbitrary arrest, torture and killing by the state military and security services. However, the Sunni are able to report their human rights abuses to their government agencies, NGOs and IGOs in opposition-held areas. Similarly, the Kurds report abuses to the various Kurdish political parties that represent them in Syria. But the Alawites have no one they can report abuses to in government held areas. Significantly then, the Alawites placed the notorious and much feared Air Force Intelligence agency—established by Assad’s pilot father, who was President before him—at the top of their list of institutions to be disbanded. The Sunni and Kurds, in common cause, did the same.

Recent polls conducted by ORB International in Syria and IIACSS in Iraq also confirm the people’s desire for peace in the region. Three in four (75%) say it is “very/somewhat likely that Iraqis can put their differences aside and live side by side again” and 65% in Syria agree with the same statement. Interestingly, 74% of Iraqis and 70% of Syrians also oppose dividing their country up. But only 39% of those who support division want it done along the lines of Iraqi Kurdistan, while 38% want the division to be similar to the federal system in the United States (the remaining 23% did not know).

With regards to ISIS, only 5% in Iraq say they are having a positive influence, rising to 22% in Syria. However, while the numbers supporting ISIS are still in the minority, 81% in Syria and 85% in Iraq believe ISIS is a foreign/American-made group. Indeed, both UK and US intelligence analysts attribute the rise of ISIS to the disbandment of the Iraqi army, without pay, and disgruntled generals who sought revenge against the US and its allies following their invasion.

Similarly, polls run ten years ago in the UK suggested that Western foreign policy in the Middle East played a significant role in the disaffection and radicalisation of Muslims responsible for the 7/7 London bombings. These grievances have remained unaddressed, only to be aggravated further by democratic deficits manifest in the Arab Spring and Sunni/Shia splits across the MENA region. All of these events, unfolding in the tragedy that is Syria, prompted King Abdullah of Jordan to tell the UN General Assembly that we are now in a third world war.

Our world is clearly changing rapidly, and politics are no longer just local. Although we do not yet enjoy many benefits of democratic institutions above the state level, regional and global public opinion do help to shape the conflicts of the world. But it is not being used to its potential to find effective solutions.

There are a few notable exceptions: Transparency International, for example, does a very good job of monitoring public opinion and corruption in more than 100 countries, with a view to bringing the corrupt to public account. In addition, WIN Gallup International samples world public opinion on a selection of critical issues of global concern on an annual basis.

As an example, this year WIN Gallup International’s chosen topic was serious breaches of international law and the imposition of UN sanctions. A majority of the world’s citizens support sanctions as an appropriate action to be taken against member states that break their UN commitments. Not surprisingly, states under threat—such as South Korea and Ukraine—most strongly support the sanctions that back their position. On the other hand, the people of Palestine do not support sanctions, as such methods have not worked for them in their search for Israeli compliance with UN resolutions.

Clearly the successes and failures of all international and human rights law can be monitored in this way, globally, transnationally, regionally, and in states. It is especially important to monitor progress for minorities, as discrimination can all too easily lead to disaffection and violence. Monitoring such progress can now be done with a perceptions based peace index.

Fact-based peace indexes are able to track the intensity of conflicts, state-by-state, post fact and post mortem. The results are a chilling reminder of the failure of our international institutions established to prevent violent conflict. However, perceptions based indexes can track much more than this. They can tailor their demographics and focus their questions to explore any issue in any population. In other words, they can measure what people being affected by conflict actually think and the world should listen.

Only by exposing the fears that people share, and their genuine hopes for peace—objectively, honestly, from all sides—can we begin to have the dialogue needed to prevent the tragedies unfolding before us. Public opinion as truth telling can do this and help to make the world a more just and safer place for all its citizens.

BLOG - Making peace through polls

Colin Irwin   Sat 16 Jan 2016   updated: Sun 17 Jan 2016

Public opinion polls can help bring forward the voice of the silent majority, who mostly favour peace in situations of violent conflict. A contribution to openGlobalRights’ public opinion and human rights debate available at:

The ‘right to life’ is arguably one of the most important human rights. Without life nothing else can follow. As war is one of the greatest threats to life, peace and peace-making therefore is an important remedy to human rights abuses. In this context, I have used public opinion research to advance the causes of peace and peace-making this past 25 years, with a notable success in Northern Ireland in the 1990s.

In Northern Ireland, the forced segregation of catholic and protestant children in segregated schools helped fuel the conflict. The local political and religious establishment strongly opposed integrated schools, seeing them as a threat to the status quo. But most parents understood this, so, by using public opinion research to air the opinion of the ‘silent moderate majority’—that exists in nearly all societies—it was possible to advance the cause and rights of catholic and protestant children to be educated together.

As early as in 1968, public opinion polls were reporting that a significant percentage of the population wanted their children to go to integrated schools—from a low of 30 per cent to a high of 70 per cent. However, by the mid 1990s, at the height of the conflict, only 2 per cent of these children were in integrated schools.

Armed with this polling evidence and signed affidavits from parents, I was able to take a human rights case to the Rights of the Child Committee in Geneva in 1994. They ruled that the UK government should put more resources into integrated education.

The ‘silent majority’ were given a voice through polling and they had won. By giving this silent majority a seat at the negotiating table, so to speak, peace was achieved with the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998.

I conducted nine public opinion surveys in support of the Northern Ireland peace process, between April 1996 and February 2003. The questions for eight of these polls were drafted and agreed with the co-operation of party negotiators. This helped strengthen the peace process by including more parties, developing the issues and language, and increase the overall transparency of negotiations through publication of technical analysis and media reports.

Since then I have extended this work to conflicts in the Balkans, Middle East, Kashmir, Sri Lanka and relations between the West and the Muslim World, all reviewed in my book ‘The People’s Peace’.

The Northern Ireland polls dealt with major human rights issues, but they had to be unpacked for the population. Human rights had become highly politicised, with the catholic minority demanding their rights, while the political leadership of the protestant majority denied their abuse. So when asked about human rights in general, the catholic community wanted strong progressive remedial action, while the protestant community were, in general, indifferent. But when the issues were unpacked into, for example, the right to life, free and fair elections, or an end to discrimination, the protestant community were as strong on their support of human rights as the catholic community. Hence, it is important to spell out the issues, so that people can have a clear opinion on them, and not discuss human rights in the abstract.

But some specific issues can also become highly politicised. One of the best examples is the Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land, in the Occupied Territories. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used Israeli public opinion to derail peace negotiations in 2009 through a series of ‘partisan polls’. Published in the Israeli press, the polls demonstrated popular opposition to a freeze on settlement construction.

The polls were, however, heavily flawed on two counts. Firstly, the questions were only asked and reported in Israel. The Palestinians were not asked the same set of questions, with their views reported alongside the views of Israelis. Secondly, questions about settlements were asked in isolation of other human rights abuses. Questions about rockets being fired by Palestinians from Gaza into Israel were not included.

When I ran a peace poll on both a settlement freeze and an end to rocket attacks in both Israel and Palestine, I surprisingly got similar results in both communities. Seventy seven per cent of Israelis considered a settlement freeze ‘essential’, ‘desirable’, ‘acceptable’ or ‘tolerable’ with only 23 per cent saying it was totally ‘unacceptable’. The percentage of Palestinians for or against an end to rocket attacks on Gaza, were the same.

In Northern Ireland this result would have been seized upon by the talks chairman, Senator George Mitchell, as an opportunity for political compromise, to move the peace process forward. The Netanyahu government, however, had no such interest.

Mitchell, now President Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East, subsequently resigned his post. I was advised to focus on Syria since this conflict was not subject to the intrigues and influence of Washington-based Democrat, Republican and Israeli political interests.

But political intrigues have defeated me in Syria as well.

In Syria, the polling work is dominated by governments who spend hundreds of millions of dollars on private polling around the world, in support of their respective interests, which are basically biased. The people of Syria want a national dialogue to write a new constitution to human rights standards. But the opposition in Istanbul, supported by the Gulf States and Washington, and the regime in Damascus, supported by Iran and Moscow, are not on the same page. They want peace on their own terms with the views of the people of Syria deleted from their political calculations. This in my view is a gross violation of their human rights, their right to peace and the right to life.

Kerry and his team are preparing a framework document, which will lay-out suggested parameters for a negotiated Final Status Agreement to end the Israel Palestine conflict. Inevitably this interim proposal will come under fire from spoilers on both sides. If it lacks substance on the key issues of importance to the Palestinians they will not want to stay in the negotiations and negotiations will collapse but if it does contain some real substance on these issues then Netanyahu’s government, in its present form, will most likely collapse. Kerry’s team are ‘caught between a rock and a hard place’. Is there a way to soften the landing?

Kerry is doing everything he can to muster international support for his proposals and that will certainly help. But Palestinians and Israelis in particular do not respond well to being told what is good for them. So in addition to a top down approach to public diplomacy a bottom up approach is also required. This was standard practice in Northern Ireland and James Zogby recommended such a course of action to the Kerry team but his proposals were turned down. This fact came to light when he presented the results of his latest poll at the New America Foundation in Washington on January 31st. Critically, in the panel discussion, Lara Friedman, the Director of Government and Policy Relations at Americans for Peace Now, disagreed with James Zogby on this point and explained that US strategy rested on the belief that if the Israeli and Palestinian leaders gave their support to a negotiated agreement then that agreement would pass a referendum. (1)

But Lara Friedman and the US strategists have missed the point here. Doing everything one can in terms of public opinion and public diplomacy is not a substitute for the leaders to make the right decision it is an aid to getting them to make the right decision. This is especially true when dealing with a weak leadership as was the case in Northern Ireland and is presently the case in Israel and Palestine. Netanyahu and Abbas are not Rabin and Arafat and they certainly are not Mandela so the process needs all the help it and the leaders can get. It may be too late to implement such a strategy now for the Framework Agreement but if negotiations do move forward in some form then this should be done for the referendum.

James Zogby’s poll documented the failings of the Oslo Accords 20 years on, explained the negative impact the failure to fully implement the Accords has had on the peace process and concluded that if Netanyahu backed an agreement 55 per cent of Israelis would vote for it and if Abbas backed an agreement 49 per cent of Palestinians would vote for it. (2) This result is not particularly good and probably does not fill the Kerry team with confidence. However, in another poll run by Shibley Telhami and Steven Kull for the Saban Centre at The Brookings Institution and US Institute of Peace they got a much better result with 63 per cent of Israelis saying ‘yes’ providing the Palestinians agreed to the deal and 59 per cent of Palestinians saying ‘yes’ if Israelis agreed to the deal. (3)

Shibley and Kull probably also got a better result than Zogby because they had presented their informants with a detailed outline of the deal that they would be asked to vote for and, well, we should remember that not everyone voted for Netanyahu in Israel and not everyone voted for Abbas in Palestine and this is not how a referendum question, if we get that far, is going to be presented. The context will be quite different and if Kerry achieves all he is aiming for in this regard the referendum result could be even better. It seems most likely that an agreement will have to be passed and supported by the Israeli Knesset and by the Palestinian Authority and/or PLO, which, in both cases, will carry more weight than their respective leaders alone. Additionally the agreement will be supported by the Quartet, namely the US, EU, UN and Russia as well as, most probably the Arab League so this is how a question on a Final Status Agreement should be framed.

When the politically equivalent question was asked in Northern Ireland 77 per cent said ‘yes’. But we then asked one more question: ‘If you said ‘yes’ would you still accept these terms for a settlement even if the political party you support was opposed to them?’ having been told what the agreement would be. Inevitably some support fell away. However, it was then possible to precisely calculate on the basis of party strength who was needed to pass a referendum and who was not. One party did oppose the agreement but our calculations showed that their exit from the pro-agreement camp would only drop the referendum result by about 5 per cent so the remaining parties backed the agreement, which passed in the referendum with 71 per cent voting ‘yes’ as predicted within our margin of error. (4)

The same can be done in Israel and Palestine now. For Netanyahu’s coalition ‘the writing will be on the wall’. Sometimes a little truth telling can help the bitter pill go down.


(1) New America Foundation. Peace for Israel and Palestine? Available at:

(2) Zogby Research Services, Israel & Palestine 20 Years After Oslo. Available at:

(3) Shibly Telhami and Steven Kull, Israeli and Palestinian Public Opinion on Negotiating a Final Status Peace Agreement. Available at:

(4) In Irwin, C. J., The People’s Peace. Page 213-214. Available at:

On 6 December US Secretary of State John Kerry crossed the most important of Palestinian red lines when he presented Abbas with a proposal for Israel’s security that could have, potentially, left Israeli ‘boots on the ground’ in the occupied territories indefinitely. Why did he do this forcing Abbas to make representations directly to President Obama and the Arab League? Did the Palestinian negotiators not inform Kerry that this was a red line (unlikely), or not believing them had his own negotiators told him that it was a red line he could cross? But then why should they think this? Had their research team not detailed Palestinian public opinion on this issue? Or was Kerry, as some Palestinians suggested, supporting the Israeli position and if so was he now siding with the Israelis or, perhaps, crossing a red line to demonstrate to the Israeli right that this red line was where it was?

Crossing red lines should be done as little as possible and with very great care as they can, with the smallest miscalculation, bring negotiations to a premature end. This time Abbas went over Kerry’s head to higher authorities in Washington and Cairo. But how many times can he do this and will he be obliged to repeat this exercise for borders, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem? I think not so if Kerry did it to demonstrate a point to the Israeli right he should not make a habit of it in case it backfires and the Middle East peace process is, yet again, consigned to another sorry chapter in the history of the region.

If Kerry is siding with Israeli negotiating positions then the negotiations are doomed anyway so there is no point in pursuing this possibility any further. In Northern Ireland the Irish tried to get a united Ireland ‘by the back door’. This was done by suggesting that the proposed north-south cross-border body should have the power to legislate for all of Ireland as a whole. In law, effectively, one Ireland, but this was a red line for the Unionists. Fortunately there had been plenty of public opinion research done on this issue. It was indeed a red line, a deal breaker, but powers to legislate separately north and south and co-operate were OK so that is what happened.

Similarly, for Palestinians, a sustained IDF presence on the West Bank for security purposes would be seen as continued occupation ‘by the back door’. All the polls, including mine, clearly demonstrate that Israel’s top priority is security but this has to be balanced out with the Palestinian’s top priority, a Palestinian state and an end to occupation. The Americans and their allies can ‘square this circle’ by deploying their own forces and both Israelis and Palestinians are going to have to accept a compromise along these lines. So why wasn’t this, or something similar, proposed by the Kerry team? Did they simply drop the negotiating ball? If they do this again with borders, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem then it might be better to just end the negotiations now.

First published in Haaretz on November 17, 2013 as ‘Peace: The toughest selling job in the world’.

With a US President not running for another term and a Secretary of State not seeking higher office John Kerry has been able to move the Middle East peace process forward in ways not available to Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell. Assuming he can keep ‘the show on the road’ he probably still has to get a deal done before the UN General Assembly meets again next year and then he has not only to secure a Final Status Agreement, and most commentators think he can’t, he also has to guide the Palestinians and Israelis through a referendum to a ‘Yes’ vote. Critically, on this point, even the optimistic J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami noted that:

“The publics on both sides have hardened their positions in the last 20 years. So the selling of a deal is harder than it was. I think the ultimate deal will involve sacrifices and compromises. I don’t know what they will be but they will be hard to sell and all of us will have a tough selling job to do and we have to be ready to do that.”

In the face of strident opposition from all those opposed to an agreement “tough selling job” is probably the winning understatement of this years J Street annual conference. Can it be done and, at the same time, help to secure the peace? Providing the American, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are willing to learn the lessons of the successful peace process and referendum in Northern Ireland, the failed referendum in Cyprus and failed negotiations in Kosovo I think they can.

In Northern Ireland the parties to the negotiations designed and managed their own programs of public opinion research to test policy options for their maximum acceptability in both communities and they got so good at it they were able to predict the results of the referendum to an accuracy of one percent. The most sensitive issues were finessed as required with, for example, police reform being referred to a post agreement commission and prisoner releases being done on license so that reoffenders could be returned to jail. Even so the implementation of the peace agreement has taken the best part of ten years to ‘bed in’.

Public opinion research suggests that an agreement should not be significantly more difficult to reach in Israel and Palestine than it was in Northern Ireland, at least from a public opinion perspective, implementation, however, may be a very different story. In Northern Ireland people could stay where they were and as members of the European Union take up joint Irish and British citizenship if they so wished. Managing the future rights and fates of Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlers will not be that easy but a way to mitigate the inevitable disappointments and frustrations must be found.

In Kosovo public opinion polls run in 2005, as a prelude to peace negotiations, identified the status of the divided city of Mitrovica as one of the most critical issues that had to be addressed. In 2007 the negotiations failed and in 2008 Kosovo declared independence unilaterally without reference to an accommodation on the status of Mitrovica. So Mitrovica became a ‘running sore’ in the peace process from then to the present day. An agreement to establish an Association of Serb Municipalities with special powers in April 2013 has gone some way to finding a solution to the problem but greater efforts should have been made to try and resolve this issue after it was identified eight years earlier.

In Cyprus the negotiation of the 2004 UN sponsored Anan [peace] Plan was undertaken without adequate reference being made to the views of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot publics. The Plan was published on 31 March 2004 and a referendum held just under a month later on 24 April 2004. This gave those opposed to the Plan more than ample time to undermine it by focusing on its shortcomings and the referendum was lost on the Greek side. A public opinion ‘postmortem’ identified the critical failings that had contributed to its rejection and on this point Sir Kieran Prendergast told the UN Security Council on 22 June 2005 that:

“I was interested to learn that an independent bicommunal survey that polled attitudes to potential changes to the UN plan found the encouraging result among grass roots opinion on both sides that it might be possible to make certain changes that would secure majority support for the plan in both communities.”

But this was all too little too late and the status quo of a divided island remains to the present day. Israel and Palestine have been forewarned.

It is now generally accepted that past Middle East negotiations failed, in part, because the Israeli and Palestinian publics were not prepared for a settlement, let alone a referendum. But the Israel/Palestine conflict is probably the most researched conflict in the World and when it comes to polling the negotiators are spoilt for choice. Mina Zemach, Tamar Hermann and Jacob Shamir in Israel; Khalil Shikaki, Ghassan Khatib and Nader Said in Palestine, to name just a few, are some of the best pollsters around. Almost everyone in Israel and Palestine understands a percentage. Polling is part of their political culture.

But Rabin famously pointed out that “We make peace with our enemies, not with our friends” and so it necessarily follows that effective peace research must be a coordinated activity between the opposing communities. Technically most of the polling undertaken in Israel and Palestine is of a vey high standard but, regrettably, it is more often carried out by separate teams of investigators to identify and track their own societies’ problems, without adequately testing and fine tuning the full range of possible solutions needed for a peace agreement. Negotiators who can not resolve points of disagreement (Ilene Prusher, Haaretz, Nov 8), that have to be voted on in a referendum by their respective publics, without reference to carefully researched facts on those points are simply not working to modern standards of negotiation best practice.

When it comes to making peace a problem for the Israelis is a problem for the Palestinians and a problem for the Palestinians is a problem for the Israelis. Polling, public opinion research and public diplomacy can all be used to help identify both problems and their solutions, to refine the Final Status Agreement, to win a referendum and to ensure the very best prospects for its full implementation. None of which will be easy, but why make it more difficult than it has to be when we know how to do things so much better.

Peace Building Problem.

The international community are not interested in lending their support to the resolution of the conflict because they have no strategic interest in the area and/or do not believe the conflict can be resolved.

Northern Ireland Experience

There was a time, perhaps during the Second World War, when Northern Ireland was of strategic interest to the United Kingdom. Indeed Ireland as a whole was of strategic interest then and Churchill was willing to settle the Northern Ireland problem in the Republic’s favour if they were willing to enter the war in opposition to Germany. But world military and economic strategies changed with the advent of nuclear weapons and the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and European Union. In this context Ireland, Britain and their close ally America, as well as the European Union, all wanted the Northern Ireland problem solved and all were willing to expend political capitol on a successful outcome. The people of Northern Ireland were very lucky, a lot of very influential people and powerful states cared about their situation and were willing to take the risk of getting involved in an apparently intractable conflict. But a successful settlement was the key; nobody wanted to be associated with failure. Although the results of the Northern Ireland polls were rarely reported beyond the pages of the Belfast Telegraph the detailed reports given to the parties were also given to the British and Irish governments and to the Office of the Independent Chairmen. Senator George Mitchell, the principle talks Chairman and Review facilitator, took a keen interest in the reports and frequently expressed the view in public that an agreement could be reached because that is what the people of Northern Ireland wanted.(1) In this way the polls probably helped to maintain the confidence of the good Senator in the peace process and no doubt, through him, the support of the then President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Try to publish reports of the polls in the newspapers of any ally who can lend their good offices to the resolution of the conflict and send detailed reports to key decision makers in the governments of such states. Given the interest in the resolution of the Northern Ireland problem it was not necessary to send reports to other third parties but in many situations it may also be helpful to send detailed reports to both regional and global international organisations (IGOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the hope that they too might be willing to lend their support to the achievement of a successful peace process.

Israel and Palestine

The problem for Israel and Palestine is that their conflict is probably the most significant conflict in the world, both in the region and for the major super powers, particularly the United States of America. As a consequence it is researched on an industrial scale marking it out as a major source of funding for the worlds peace industry. Unfortunately this unprecedented degree of international attention has proven counter productive to the resolution of the conflict. Reports from NGOs and IGOs to charitable and state funders emphasize their success when they are most assuredly failing, and continue to do so because they are reluctant to challenge the status quo when such challenges might prejudice the renewal of their grants and research contracts. In this circumstance NGOs and IGOs are encouraging what Palestinians call Normalization at the expense of conflict resolution. The solution to this problem, Lesson 21, is to implement Lessons 1 through 20.

1 G. Mitchell, Making Peace: The inside story of the making of the Good Friday Agreement (London: William Heinemann, 1999).

Peace Building Problem.

In the 'information age' detailed analysis and access to reliable up to date facts about all aspects of public opinion on a conflict are essential if informed decisions are to be made. A failure to provide accurate and timely information can lead to decisions not being made and opportunities lost.

Northern Ireland Experience

Some large national political parties do have specialist research departments with experts at the ready to analyse, digest and write memoranda on piles of statistical computer print out. But most of the Northern Ireland parties did not have these facilities available to them so reports were designed and printed to provide them with the key statistics in a way that was unbiased, informative and accessible. This was done by using the questionnaire itself as the basis for the structure of the report. Firstly the results for Northern Ireland as a whole were reproduced in each question where the informant would usually write in their answer. This would be followed by a community and political break down: Protestant, Catholic, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), Loyalist Parties (Ulster Democratic Party and/or Progressive Unionist Party), Alliance Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Sinn Féin. This order was deliberate flowing from politically more extreme Protestants and Unionists through the centre to politically more extreme Catholics, Nationalists and Republicans. Wherever possible all the results for a particular question were placed on a single page or, for more complex questions, the Northern Ireland, Protestant and Catholic results were placed on one page and the political party results on adjoining pages. The report, like the questionnaire, also contained a demographic section that gave a break down of the sample and party support in terms of gender, age and social class (coded from occupation). This section was particularly popular with party electoral strategists. But parties with less than about five per cent of the vote were not generally included in these reports, except for the 'which party do you support' question, as their samples were boarder line in terms of statistical significance without ‘booster’ or ‘over-samples’. Finally a 'full copy' of the story delivered to the Belfast Telegraph was also given to the parties as it nearly always contained a number of analytical tables the newspaper would not have space to publish. The culture of each of the Northern Ireland parties was surprisingly different and as a result the parties used the statistical reports in different ways and to varying degrees as a research tool for strategy development, negotiating device, public opinion/media resource or for grass roots constituency development and information. Very few compliments were received on the quality of these reports, however, if they were late and not delivered promptly on the day of publication of the Belfast Telegraph stories: then numerous complaints could be expected.

Public Opinion Poll Action

In addition to reports in the popular press provide detailed statistical reports to all the parties to the negotiations with breakdowns of all questions by both political affiliation and religious, ethnic, racial, linguistic and national group as is appropriate. Be as helpful as possible. For example, demographic analysis of party support is generally also very welcome in terms of age, gender and social class.

Israel and Palestine

Because the Iriwn/OneVoice poll in Israel and Palestine had to be completed on a very restricted budget it was not possible to break down the samples into their smallest constituent demographic parts. This was a very serious omission. Typically extremist groups holding radical views are very small and it is not only important to know what these groups are thinking it is also very important, from a public diplomacy perspective, for everyone else to know how unrepresentative they are. For example, the members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who did not want to decommission their weapons, was only about 1 per cent of the Northern Irish population. It is absolutely essential that politicians making difficult decisions are given as much detailed information as possible by their researchers, which in turn requires sufficiently large enough samples and no editing out of relevant issues and questions before the polls are run. The questions they ask must be answered.

Peace Building Problem.

Secret negotiations can leave the public 'in the dark' leading to mischievous speculation about the nature of the agreement or lack of progress in the talks. When an agreement is finally reached it contains quite a few surprises leading to more disinformation and the electorate are unprepared for a referendum when it comes.

Northern Ireland Experience

Throughout 1996 I published a series of articles on peace building in the Belfast Telegraph,(1) which were the results of a public opinion survey undertaken by a team of researchers at Queen's University.(2) But in the spring of 1997 the Belfast Telegraph ran a rather disastrous phone in poll in which members of the Orange Order made sure the phone in vote was 'Yes' for their most controversial march of the year. As a consequence the editor of the Belfast Telegraph came in for much criticism from moderate politicians and he asked me if I could do a more scientific poll. This was done on the condition that the feature story could not be changed although they would retain editorial control of the front page. All the subsequent polls were published on this basis. The Belfast Telegraph had the largest circulation in the province and although it was considered to be a Unionist paper it was widely read in both communities and its editorial policy was pro-agreement. Several attempts were made to work with the broadcast media and other newspapers through a variety of deals and press releases. But all these attempts failed. The press releases were 'cherry picked', the broadcast media only wanted adversarial debates and newspapers from outside the province could not give detailed coverage to complex political issues that only those living in Northern Ireland could properly appreciate. The stories for the Belfast Telegraph were delivered a day or two before publication to give the graphic artist time to produce the artwork for the tables of statistics and for the political editors to write their front-page story and occasional leader. The parties looked forward to the publication very much. They felt it helped to keep the grass roots of their constituencies informed and involved in the peace process. On the street, through their letterbox, in the Maze prison and at Parliament Buildings everyone got the story at the same time.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Publish poll results and analysis in the popular press with a view to informing the public on the stage the negotiations have reached, the issues being discussed and the decisions that have to be made. When an agreement is finally reached the public will be ready to vote without the need for any unnecessary delay.

Israel and Palestine

Political analysts in both Israel and Palestine are well aware that the failure to prepare their respective publics for the compromises needed for a peace agreement was a major contributing factor to the breakdown of negotiations sponsored by the Clinton and subsequent US Administrations.(3) So why hasn’t this problem been corrected? One possible answer to this question is that the parties to the conflict actually prefer the status quo to a peace agreement and its implementation but a more subtle and persuasive explanation in my view is that the bureaucracies running the peace process in Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah are stuck in the political culture of all negotiations being undertaken ‘behind closed doors’. But peace polls managed in collaboration with the negotiating parties can provide just the right balance of both confidentiality and public diplomacy as required. Negotiations between Israel and Palestine, it would seem, have fallen victim to the bureaucratic imperative of ‘safety of secrecy’.

1 C. J. Irwin, ‘Ulster People Could Decide Way Forward’, Belfast Telegraph, Tuesday, December 3rd, (1996). C. J. Irwin, ‘The FEC.... Fair To Meddling?’ Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, November 20th, (1996). C. J. Irwin, ‘Hitting A Brick Wall’, Belfast Telegraph, Tuesday, October 22nd, (1996). C. J. Irwin, ‘Ulster Amnesty Rejected’, Belfast Telegraph, Monday, September 30th, (1996). C. J. Irwin, ‘The Battle For The Middle Ground’, Belfast Telegraph, Thursday, September 12th, (1996). C. J. Irwin, ‘Changing The Force Of Habit’, Belfast Telegraph, Friday, August 2nd, (1996). C. J. Irwin, ‘The Parade Question’, Belfast Telegraph, Thursday, July 4th, (1996).

2 T. Hadden, C. Irwin and F. Boal, ‘Separation or sharing? the people’s choice’, Supplement with Fortnight 356, Belfast, December (1996).

3 Klein, M., (2002) Bar-Ilan University, Israel, Failed Israeli and Palestinian Interactions, Royal Irish Academy, Friday, 22 November. Irwin, C. J., (2006) Public Opinion and the Politics of Peace Research: Northern Ireland, Balkans, Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, Muslim World and the ‘War on Terror’, Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace joint conference: Public Opinion, Democracy and Peace Making, Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre, Jerusalem, May 22-23. Shamir, J. and Shikaki, K., (2010) Palestinian and Israeli Public Opinion: The Public Imperative in the Second Intifada, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

Peace Building Problem.

Implementing an agreement can be as difficult, or even more difficult, than reaching the agreement itself, especially when the agreement required significant compromises to be made by all the parties involved. Those opposed to the agreement do all they can to frustrate its implementation by employing the strategy of 'death by a thousand cuts'.

Northern Ireland Experience

The Belfast Agreement had a two-year transition period built into it designed to allow for all the institutional and social changes required under the terms of the settlement to be implemented. But after 30 years of the 'Troubles' and arguably a civil war that hadn't been properly brought to a close since the 1920s a two-year transition period was just not quite long enough. Everyone started to relax after the deal was cut, most of the people involved with the negotiations were exhausted and the critiques of the deal started to 'sharpen their knives'. There were not meant to be any more polls but when it became clear that the agreement was starting to unravel some parties asked for them to be run again. Unlike previous polls these ones included a series of questions that asked people how they felt about the peace process and how satisfied they were with the implementation of the different parts of the agreement. They were worried about a return to violence and specific failures with implementation were clearly identifiable. The politicians got a bit of a 'cold shower' and points requiring urgent action were plainly visible in the statistics. On the one hand it was hoped that the politicians would have been able to work the agreement through their new institutions without the support of more polls. However, with the benefit of hindsight and four more polls done, it would probably have been best to keep the process going with a poll run about twice a year during the early years of implementation. In this way problems could have better been identified and dealt with before they reached crisis point.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Periodically run public opinion polls after an agreement is reached to monitor levels of satisfaction with the implementation of its different parts and the social impact of the peace process in general. Require the relevant parties to take both timely and effective political action to address critical points of discontent and failure.

Israel and Palestine

Most of the peace agreements in the Middle East have not been fully implemented, the most prominent of these failures being the Oslo Accords. There is no regular testing of public satisfaction with its various provisions, in both Palestine and Israel, as a part of a collective responsibility for their implementation. Inevitably trust has broken down on both sides and without an effective remedy for these omissions entry into a new peace agreement will be significantly more difficult. A rigorous public appraisal of all past agreements using the same research instruments in both Israel and Palestine might be a good place to start.

Peace Building Problem.

Those opposed to an agreement, even when it has been endorsed by the people in a referendum, continue to criticise it from their own constituency’s point of view as at least unworkable and more probably unfair. Slowly they try to erode support for the agreement in the hope that what they think was lost in the referendum can be reversed in future elections.

Northern Ireland Experience

All ten parties elected to participate in the negotiation of the Belfast Agreement were treated equally and had the same rights of access to the process of designing and running the public opinion polls as part of the Northern Ireland peace process. However, after the agreement was reached I was asked if I would like to help the pro-agreement 'YES Campaign', but the funders, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, advised me not to do so as such an action could be considered political and thus might prejudice the independence of future research. However, after the referendum of 22 May 1998, in which a majority voted for the agreement, this restriction was relaxed and I worked with the pro-Agreement parties as required although all final reports continued to be made available to both pro and anti-agreement parties. At this point in the peace process it would have been difficult to work with the anti-agreement parties in good faith as they would have wished to introduce questions with the intention of undermining support for the agreement. Tracking support for the Belfast Agreement also became an essential part of the three post referendum polls as others were running polls that showed Protestant support to be slipping. Although many people were disappointed with the rate of progress with implementation and had 'second thoughts' about voting for such an agreement again they did want it to work. Some results from the Mitchell Review poll are given in Table 1.(1)

Public Opinion Poll Action

Periodically run public opinion polls after an agreement is reached to demonstrate continued support for the agreement as both a deal that people would still vote for and more critically as a deal that they would like to see work.

Israel and Palestine

Since they were signed in 1993 support for the Oslo Accords has fallen away, year on year, in both Israel and Palestine, because they have not been fully implemented and because they have not delivered peace. For example by May 2004 only 26% of Israelis supported the Accords while only 18% believed they would deliver peace.(2) However, from a peace polls and public diplomacy perspective the critical question that should have also been asked is ‘do you want the Accords to work?’ In practice all these questions should be asked together in both communities on a regular basis to inform all the parties to such agreements exactly where their support is and where it is under threat in both social and political demographic detail.

1 C. J. Irwin, ‘Guns, trust and the Agreement’, Belfast Telegraph, Tuesday, October 26th, (1999).

2 The Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, War and Peace Index available at:

Table 1. Support for the Belfast Agreement during the Mitchell Review

Peace Building Problem.

At the moment of decision people start to lose their nerve. Is this a good idea or is it political suicide?

Northern Ireland Experience

Each poll contained a wide range of questions dealing with issues left over from the previous poll; the beginnings of new questions to be explored in greater depth in future polls; contextual 'how do you feel about' questions; ordering priorities and so on. But each poll also contained a set of questions designed specifically to help resolve particular problems that arose at that point in the peace process. In the first poll the most critical issue to be addressed was decommissioning. People did not want the negotiations to be stopped. If there was a problem they wanted it dealt with by a subcommittee. In the second poll all the objections to negotiations had to be dealt with. Critically Ulster Unionist supporters wanted their party to be in the negotiations with Sinn Féin. The third poll was designed to provide detailed information about public opinion on all the different parts of the agreement that had to be made. The agreement took shape and was tested as a ‘package’ in the fourth poll. Critically the parties knew before they cut a deal that they could win a referendum. They did. As well as demonstrating continued support for the Belfast Agreement in the three post agreement polls the first of these polls, the fifth poll, explored various options for overcoming the problem of decommissioning and new negotiations were initiated. The sixth poll dealt with these problems again in the Mitchell Review but also included a lot of questions about how people felt about the failing peace process. People wanted action and the new institutions of government were established. In the seventh poll the concept of 'placing arms beyond use' was tested against public opinion and shown to be generally 'acceptable'. But it was close. Although the Ulster Unionist Council decided to go back into government with Sinn Féin on this basis the vote was only 459 in favour to 403 against.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Content is as important as timing. Agree with the parties which questions are going to be run in which poll. The person or team running the poll must have their 'finger on the political pulse' and should know what results are required by paying close attention to people on the street, news reports, radio talk shows, the press and most importantly their private discussions with the party negotiators. Poll results cannot be 'fixed', but they must be relevant and the analysis must draw conclusions appropriate to the needs of the day.

Israel and Palestine

In addition to being the most researched conflict in the world Israel and Palestine are now probably the most polled as surveys of public opinion become an increasingly more significant element of democratic political culture all over the world. But quantity does not necessarily mean quality and certainly does not equate with polling as a constructive part of a peace process. In Northern Ireland the BBC and other news media were running polls but the peace polls there were simply bigger, better and critically more relevant to the resolution of the conflict than any of the other polls. They set a standard which, in time, the other pollsters had to meet or be dismissed as of little relevance. A well-managed program of peace polls does not only help resolve problems at the centre of a conflict it also raises the game for everyone else. The polling undertaken in Israel and Palestine lacks coordination so the good work that does get done is drowned out by the noise of other pollsters whose work is frequently of very poor quality or partisan. The analysts in Washington, Oslo, Geneva and other Western capitols may be very pleased with the public opinion surveys they commission but they are loosing the public diplomacy war where and when it matters.(1)

1 For example although the Geneva Accord website lists the polls that draw conclusions in support of negotiations and a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine they have edited out the partisan polls that oppose their initiative. This would be understandable if they were winning the public diplomacy war. But they are not. The partisan pollsters have won as illustrated by the sequence of polls listed below:

‘Survey: Israeli Jews oppose settlement freeze and evacuation of outposts’ (Israel News: Lerner, A., June 4, 2009)

‘Dahaf Institute Poll: Majority Of Israelis Support Obama’s Settlement Policy’ (Yedioth Ahronoth: Kadmon, June 5, 2009)

‘Poll: 56% of Israelis back settlement construction’ (Associated Press: June 12, 2009)

‘J Street blasts ‘distorted’ poll that says Israelis against settlement freeze’ (Haaretz Service: June12, 2009)

??Jerusalem Post’/Smith Poll: Only 6% of Israelis see US gov’t as pro-Israel’ (The Jerusalem Post: Hofman, G., and Smith Research/Jerusalem Post Poll, June 19, 2009)

‘Poll: Israelis oppose full settlement freeze 69%:27%, only 6% say Obama favours Israel’ (Independent Media Review Analysis: June 19, 2009)

‘Netanyahu’s Defiance of U.S. Resonates at Home: Polls Show Resistance to Settlement Freeze’ (The Washington Post: Howard Schneider, August 19, 2009)

The Geneva Accord polls are available at:

Peace Building Problem.

The ‘horses have been brought to water’ but they simply will not drink. Everyone knows what the compromise is, the shape of the deal is clear, but no one will take the plunge. ‘After you sir’ - ‘No after you’. Without a decision being taken confidence in the peace process starts to fade, a political vacuum forms and violence creeps back onto the streets.

Northern Ireland Experience

The work with party negotiators to design the first questionnaire began in January of 1997, data collection for the first poll was undertaken between 12 and 22 March and the results were published in the Belfast Telegraph on 7, 8, and 9 April. That is about two months for the design of the poll and three weeks for interviews, analysis and writing up. Critically this poll was published to deal with procedural problems holding up the Stormont talks prior to the imminent May first general election. A change of government was expected and it was hoped the poll would help to clear the way for a fresh start to the negotiations. In particular it was intended that the results should stimulate public debate but care was taken not to publish too close to voting day so as to avoid accusations of political interference. From this time on, until the signing of the Belfast Agreement, questionnaire design was ongoing particularly when the Stormont talks were in recess. The second poll was published on Thursday 11 and Friday 12 September before an Ulster Unionist Party meeting on Saturday 13 September at which they had to decide if they would go into talks with Sinn Féin on Monday 14 September. If they decided 'No' the talks would collapse. They decided ‘Yes’. The third poll, that dealt with all the substantive elements of an agreement, was published on 10, 12, 13 and 14 January to provide 'food for thought' after the Christmas and New Year break (but no holiday for the pollsters!). Deals were made and a 'package' was tested in the fourth poll against public opinion between 12 - 20 March and published on 31 March. The Belfast Agreement was made on Good Friday 10 April 1998. The fifth poll published on 3 and 4 March 1999, created an opportunity for new negotiations on the question of decommissioning and the sixth poll published on 26 and 27 October dealt with issues raised in the Mitchell Review which was brought to a successful conclusion a week later. The seventh poll, like the second poll, was published just days before an Ulster Unionist Party meeting called to decide whether or not to take the Party back into the Executive with Sinn Féin. They did.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Timing is everything. Arrange with the parties to the negotiations when the results of a poll should be published so that the publication event will precede the decisions to be made in the negotiations by an appropriate period of days or weeks - not longer. Also get the detailed statistical reports to the parties at the same time to both assist them with the decisions they must make and allow them to give informed answers to the press. All of this will help to raise expectations for a conclusion to this part of the peace process. A good talk's chairman will seize the moment.

Israel and Palestine

With all of this experience in mind the fieldwork for the Irwin/OneVoice poll was undertaken as soon as it was known that Obama had won the US Presidency in 2008 and George Mitchell would be appointed his Special Envoy to the Middle East. The objective of this first poll was to explore all possible options for moving the peace process forward when Obama took office in 2009. Although this initiative was quite successful it was not followed up with a program of pro-active peace polling leaving the public opinion and public diplomacy field open to Israeli partisan polling that undermined the peace process by focusing on the settlement issue in an unhelpful way.(1) To say that those working on the polling and public diplomacy should cooperate closely with those responsible for the negotiations is an understatement. It needs to be much more than this. It should be a close collaboration if peace is to be achieved. In Israel and Palestine the polling undertaken in support of the peace process most commonly ‘follows the curve’ when it should be ‘ahead of the curve’ helping to set the agenda not commenting on it.

1 For a discussion of these issues see Chapter 9, Israel and Palestine, in Irwin, C. J., ‘The People’s Peace’, CreateSpace, Scotts Valley, CA., 2012.

Peace Building Problem.

Not every part of an agreement can be settled as a search for common ground or even compromise. Some parts, which are very important to one party, will have to be 'horse traded' for other parts, equally important to other parties. The deal, as a whole, will inevitably contain a few victories and disappointments for each side to the conflict. Can the deal be sold?

Northern Ireland Experience

Yes the deal can be sold. If it is fair and has the potential to deliver peace, with all the benefits that can flow from that, then it will be acceptable. But it does have to be sold as the Northern Ireland polls and subsequent referendum campaign clearly demonstrated. The front-page headline of the Belfast Telegraph on 31 March 1998 (1) read '77% SAY YES'. This result was for Northern Ireland as a whole in response to reading a six-point summary of the proposed settlement and being asked if they would support it if their political party also did. But in a follow up question this support fell to 50% if the support of their party was withdrawn. Clearly the deal could be done but the two governments would not be able to go over the heads of the parties. They would have to do it together. Two further points are worth noting here. Firstly the supporters of Loyalist and Republican parties with paramilitary associations had the greatest misgivings about a deal but they trusted their leadership and would follow them. Secondly when asked about each of the six points of the proposed agreement in turn many people who said 'Yes' to the package as a whole said 'No' to some of the parts of the deal they still did not like. People were willing to compromise, in a big way, for the sake of an honourable settlement.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Test the comprehensive agreement to be put to the people in a referendum as a complete set of its major points and then test each element separately. The whole will be greater than the sum of its parts and will probably be 'acceptable' as a comprehensive agreement although individual issues may well remain contentious or even 'unacceptable' in isolation from the total package.

Israel and Palestine

Following the test of the Belfast Agreement as a ‘package’ in 1998 Israeli and Palestinian pollsters started using this technique to test the Clinton/Geneva settlement framework in 2003.(2) They have produced an excellent time line analysis of support for these accords with 58% of Israelis and 50% of Palestinians saying they would vote ‘yes’ in December 2011.(3) But that is as far as it goes. Without a modern peace process that also deals with all the public opinion, public diplomacy and procedural problems that stand in the way of real negotiations the results of these polls are of little more than academic interest.

1 P. Connolly, '77% SAY YES', Belfast Telegraph, Tuesday, March 31st, (1998).

2 Geneva Accord polls available at: ttp://

3 Joint Israel Palestinian Poll, December 2011:

Peace Building Problem.

Some parties and, at the very least, some members of some parties remain wedded to the radical views of their constituency as the best solution to everyone's problems. They simply will not accept that a compromise with cross community support is the only viable solution and way forward.

Northern Ireland Experience

In addition to testing radical proposals as options alongside options for compromise and common ground in all the public opinion poll questions, extreme Republican and extreme Unionist solutions were also tested against the emergent Belfast Agreement shortly before it was made. The Unionist alternative to a comprehensive settlement was published in the Belfast Telegraph on Tuesday 31 March 31 1998.(1) They wanted a devolved government like Scotland or Wales and for Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. A simple majority of the population said 'Yes' to this proposal but significantly a higher percentage preferred the Belfast Agreement style comprehensive settlement from both communities and a majority of Catholics did not wish to remain in the UK. The Republican alternative was published the following day, Wednesday 1 April.(2) Although a slim majority of Protestants would accept police reform they would not accept an ‘all island of Ireland’ body to manage policing. Having the people of Northern Ireland decide their constitutional status was acceptable to both communities but Protestants would not accept having their fait placed before an ‘all island of Ireland' vote and almost everyone, except Sinn Féin, wanted a regional assembly. That day the headline read 'Little support for SF agenda'.

Public Opinion Poll Action

From time to time test radical proposals against public opinion but be sure to get the radicals involved in the exercise with the questions drafted to their satisfaction. Inevitably such proposals will only receive support from their own constituency and even then that support may not be as strong as they might suppose. Most people can recognise an honourable compromise when they see it - and when they don't.

Israel and Palestine

This kind of exposure of radical solutions from extremist politicians and their polarized constituencies can only be an effective tool for positive public diplomacy when the results of such polls are published in the media of all the parties to the conflict at the same time. But Israelis and Palestinians live separate lives in segregated communities informed by their own media in their own languages, which in turn are serviced by their own news agencies. The necessities of a modern peace process and public diplomacy require the establishment of a comprehensive strategic communications strategy and joint news agency.(3)

1 C. J. Irwin, ‘Alternatives to a comprehensive settlement’, Belfast Telegraph, Tuesday, March 31st, (1998).

2 C. J. Irwin, ‘Little support for SF agenda’, Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, April 1st, (1998).

3 This was done in Kosovo and Serbia with the establishment of the ‘Albanian-Serb Information Exchange Forum’ available at:

Peace Building Problem.

One man’s middle ground is another man’s surrender. Inevitably, everyone, except perhaps the talk's chairman, views a fair compromise as a sell out to the other side.

Northern Ireland Experience

Once all the questions are drafted to everyone's satisfaction then each issue should contain a series of options or choices for which the informant can indicate their preference. In the first poll done in this series people were asked to rank order their first, second and third choice and so on. This worked reasonably well up to a maximum of about eight choices but it got progressively more difficult and slow. In the second poll those being interviewed were asked to say which options they considered to be 'Desirable', 'Acceptable', 'Tolerable' or 'Unacceptable' and in subsequent polls 'Essential' was also added in as a first choice. This five-point scale worked very well indeed. It was simple to administer in the field if the same style was used throughout the questionnaire. Adding more options didn't make answering the questions more difficult and analysing the results produced easy to understand information that clearly indicated how much each community wanted or did not like each option. For example, here are the results for the controversial North/South bodies options published in the Belfast Telegraph on 13 January 1998.1 Unionists did not want them at all or with as few powers as possible. Republicans wanted them to have strong powers that would effectively make them a government of Ireland as a whole. The polls indicated that the Protestant community would accept North/South bodies with powers of consultation, co-operation and administration providing these powers did not exceed he authority of the respective governments, North and South, that had set them up. Catholics required these bodies as part of an agreement and they got them within the limitations acceptable to the Protestant community, Figure 1.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Test solutions to problems as a series of graded options that span the issue being raised from the radical position of one party through the centre ground to the radical positions of others. Inevitably the fair compromise, as well as points of agreement, will receive the greatest cross community support, objectively measured and not subjectively perceived.

Israel and Palestine

Israeli and Palestinian peace researchers are reluctant to run polls that deal with the extreme positions of the two communities and thus expose the true feelings of their electorates on such issues. But unless this is done in both communities together the possibilities of establishing the necessity of carefully crafted compromises cannot be clearly demonstrated in contrast to those extreme positions. Additionally, when research is done in this way, extremist politicians can make the point that their proposals were not tested against public opinion, allowing them to dismiss the results of the research as irrelevant. Finally, without input from real negotiators the finer points of compromise cannot get drafted and tested against public opinion so progress in the peace process towards new accommodations cannot be made with the aid of such polls.

Figure 1

Peace Building Problem.

During a conflict the language of political rhetoric and in particular the names of institutions, events and places develop separately within each community to produce distinctive vocabularies, symbols and meanings that are part of their different identities. But a settlement requires one agreed terminology that transcends the polarised and sometimes inflammatory vocabularies of the various communities and parties to a conflict.

Northern Ireland Experience

The detailed drafting of the 'In Search of a Settlement' questionnaire did not only facilitate the formulation of issues but also the development of a common language and terms acceptable to all parties. The methodology of requiring all parties to agree the questions demanded nothing less. Both sides had to adjust their rhetoric, at least for the purposes of an agreement. For example Republicans liked to refer to the Republic of Ireland as the 26 counties, Northern Ireland as the 6 counties and the whole island together as the 32 county Ireland or Eire as none of these terms implied partition. On the other hand Unionists wanted to use the terms 'Northern Ireland' and 'Republic of Ireland' as they recognised partition. Although these terms tended to be used for international legal reasons most parties also agreed to use the terms 'North of Ireland', 'South of Ireland' or simply 'North' and 'South' as well as 'Island of Ireland' for the both together. Similarly the idea of having a 'Council of the British Isles' had been floated around for some years by Unionists. This Council would be comprised of representatives from England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. But the Republic was not 'British' although many maps referred to this group of islands, off the North West coast of Continental Europe, as the 'British Isles'. Providing the term 'British' was dropped the concept was acceptable and the 'Council of the Isles' was born and subsequently got drafted into the Belfast Agreement.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Draft, draft and redraft the questions to be run in each poll with the political contact group until a consensus is reached with regards to all terminology to be used. Necessarily inflammatory and partisan language will have to be replaced with neutral terms if the answers to the survey questions are not to produce biased results that would prejudice the outcome of the research.

Israel and Palestine

When I first started to extend my work on the Northern Ireland peace process to Israel and Palestine in the 1990s Israelis strongly objected to the use of the term ‘Palestinian’. At conferences in Israel the preferred term was Arab and Israelis who used the term Palestinian would open themselves up to severe criticism from their colleagues. This situation has changed over the years with Palestinian now far more acceptable than it was, but separate terminologies sometimes still had to be used in the 2009 Irwin/OneVoice poll. For example: ‘West Bank and Gaza’ in Israel and ‘Palestinian or Occupied Territories’ in Palestine. Peace in the Middle East requires a common language and every agreed common term brings the conflicting parties one step closer to a comprehensive peace agreement. However difficult the negotiations we never ran a question in Northern Ireland with two separate vocabularies.

Peace Building Problem.

Real peace agreements that attempt to address all the major problems at the heart of a conflict are necessarily complex dealing, as they must, with issues ranging from policing and human rights through electoral and constitutional reform to questions of amnesty and support for victims. Nothing substantive can be left out and the respective electorates have to vote 'yes' for an agreement that is necessarily a compromise and that does not deliver on all the promises made by their respective political leaders.

Northern Ireland Experience

The drafting of all the detailed questions for the 'In Search of a Settlement' poll took almost a year. While these questions were being agreed two polls were run in the spring and autumn of 1997 dealing with procedural issues. The third December poll of that year, published in the Belfast Telegraph on 10,(1) 12,(2) 13 (3) and 14 (4) January 1998, was timed to give a lift to the Stormont Talks after the Christmas break. While most people took a summer recess the negotiators worked on the polls and when they took a New Year holiday this poll was being analysed and prepared for publication. The questionnaire went through about a dozen drafts to produce a 22-page booklet that the interviewee filled out at home. The data produced were enormous dealing with public opinion on every major aspect of the Belfast Agreement: causes of the conflict and solutions, human rights, policing, an assembly, North/South bodies, East/West bodies, constitutional reform, a referendum, implementation, general preferences for a 'package' and a section on demographics. The general public were now very well informed about all the issues that had to be decided. The parties, governments and chair had detailed reports on public opinion as it related to each aspect of the agreement that they now had to make.(5) No one had a good excuse not to 'do the business' and negotiations got under way in earnest.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Never be afraid to include any serious issue raised at the drafting stage. With explanatory preambles and the careful use of non-technical terms most issues can be explored with the public in carefully pre-tested booklet style take home questionnaires. Even if a question has to be dropped because it is too esoteric or just plain unhelpful its inclusion at the drafting stage will have raised the issue with the party negotiators and allowed them to wrestle with it.

Israel and Palestine

This is not being done in Israel and Palestine, as part of the formal negotiations, because they have not resolved the procedural issues that will allow the formal negotiations to proceed without interruption. The major points of an informal peace agreement negotiated as part of the Geneva Accord (6) is regularly tested against public opinion.(7) But the ‘Devil is in the detail’ and those details are not being explored with a view to resolving them as was done in Northern Ireland. This could be done informally as part of an on-going informal peace process but the people have been disenfranchised while their leaders and the key players in the international community concern themselves with electoral politics.(8)

1 C. J. Irwin, ‘Reforming RUC quite ‘acceptable??, Belfast Telegraph, Saturday, January 10th, (1998). C. J. Irwin, ‘Protecting the rights of the people’, Belfast Telegraph, Saturday, January 10th, (1998). C. J. Irwin, ‘Steps we need to take to win peace’, Belfast Telegraph, Saturday, January 10th, (1998).

2 C. J. Irwin, ‘Why Ulster now wants to have new assembly’, Belfast Telegraph, Monday, January 12th, (1998).

3 C. J. Irwin, ‘Feasibility and reality of north-south bodies’, Belfast Telegraph, Tuesday, January 13th, (1998).

4 C. J. Irwin, ‘A Comprehensive Settlement’, Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, January 14th, (1998). C. J. Irwin, ‘Constitutional Issues’, Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, January 14th, (1998). C. J. Irwin, ‘What hope for Council of the Isles?’, Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, January 14th, (1998).

5 C. J. Irwin, In Search of a Settlement, Summary Tables of Principal Statistical Results, Institute of Irish Studies, The Queen’s University of Belfast, January (1998) p. 1-100.

6 Geneva Accord available at:

7 Geneva Accord polls available at:

8 For a review of these issues see Chapter 9, Israel and Palestine, in Irwin, C. J., (2012) The People's Peace, CreateSpace, Scotts Valley, CA.

Peace Building Problem.

Before an agreement can be reached 'shape of the table' decisions have to be made about who is eligible to negotiate, how decisions will be made in the negotiations, who will chair the negotiations, pay for them and where they will be held and last, but by no means least, if there is to be a referendum who is eligible to vote.

Northern Ireland Experience

Many of the procedural issues were settled by the British and Irish governments before the polls began. The parties to the Belfast negotiations held in Stormont Castle were elected on a proportional basis. The first ten got in. This ensured participation by parties with both Loyalist and Republican paramilitary connections. The two governments also favoured the John Hume/SDLP proposal of a referendum in both the North and South of Ireland at the same time, Sinn Féin wanted an all 'island of Ireland' referendum while Unionists preferred leaving it up to the Northern Ireland electorate alone. On 12 September 1997 the results of a poll exploring these and other related procedural issues was published in the Belfast Telegraph.(1) People wanted a referendum, they wanted the Stormont Talks to keep going even if Sinn Féin walked out (they didn't) and they wanted the largest Unionist and Nationalist parties to stay in (they did). The only workable compromise on who should vote in a Referendum appeared to be the John Hume/SDLP formula although Northern Ireland Protestants considered the Republic of Ireland vote to be of little or no relevance. However, by subsequently including changes to the Republic's constitution in that vote its importance, for everyone, was substantially increased. Northern Ireland Catholics also wanted any deal made to be supported by a majority in both communities. This was done in the system of party voting adopted in the Stormont Talks and also in the way the polls were analysed. Unionists favoured a simple majority and this is how the Northern Ireland referendum was calculated. So in a way everyone got a bit of what they wanted. Perhaps the most significant contribution made by the polls at this point in the proceedings was to help bring these technical issues into the public discourse and the fact that the people required far fewer preconditions than their political leaders. The people simply wanted them 'to get on with it'.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Use public opinion polls to both test the various options for the design of the political negotiations as well as structuring the sampling, demographics and mode of analysis of the data collected in the polls to mirror the decision making processes that are adopted.

Israel and Palestine

The procedures for negotiating a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine are quite simply ‘not fit for purpose’. They are ‘off-again/on-again’ between the political elites of the Prime Ministers office in Israel and the Presidents office in Palestine with the sometimes intervention of the US Presidents representative to the Middle East when one is appointed. The procedures of this peace process are set as much by the electoral cycle in America as they are by the necessities of peace in the region. None of this would matter if the political elites were negotiating in good faith and doing their duty for all the peoples who look to them for a successful outcome to their deliberations. But this is not the case. Every aspect of the Israel/Palestine negotiations needs reform with input - directly or indirectly - from all the parties to the conflict, intense negotiations in Jerusalem and elsewhere as may be required and independent monitoring of breaches of international law by the parties to the negotiations. This list could be much longer. Critically the 2009 Irwin/OneVoice poll focused on procedural issues, which were much easier to resolve then questions of substance. The publics in both Israel and Palestine wanted far more effective procedures than those on offer, but their wishes have been denied.

1 C. J. Irwin, ‘The people’s vote’, Belfast Telegraph, Friday, September 12th, (1997).

Peace Building Problem.

Politicians like to make peace deals. It can help to win elections. But easily made peace agreements that do not deal with the issues at the heart of a conflict are probably 'not worth the paper they are written on' and may well be broken 'before the ink is dry'. Beware of strangers bearing peace deals especially if their popularity is slipping at home.

Northern Ireland Experience

The party negotiators were invited to list their solutions for the problems drafted in Lesson 7 but where there had been 19 problems there were now only 17 'steps towards a lasting peace'.1 Some 'steps' were redundant. As before Unionists tended to focus on security issues and decommissioning. Republicans and Nationalists on equality issues and reform of the police service. Again the centre parties could be relied upon to deal with social issues that the major parties considered to be less important for an agreement although perhaps essential as part of an effective peace process. Interestingly the general public agreed with the centre parties sometimes placing such matters higher on their list of priorities than 'Reformed and shared government'. The question is given in Table 1 listing all the suggestions and results for Northern Ireland as a whole, Protestants, Catholics and each of the major political parties expressed as a percentage of those who said the 'step' was 'Essential'.

Public Opinion Poll Action

For every element of the conflict raised as a concern ask the parties to propose a potential solution. Rank these 'solutions' in their order of priority for each community and party to the conflict. Make sure everyone's top priorities are included in the settlement or it will most probably unravel and try to address all the issues raised as part of an on-going peace process.

Israel and Palestine

Table 2 from the 2009 Irwin/OneVoice poll lists the top 5 priorities for moving the peace process forward in both Israeli and Palestinian terms. Gilad Shalit has now been released (3rd item on the Israeli list), as have many Palestinian prisoners (5th on their list). Most of the other items on these two lists are ‘doable’ if the parties have a mind to and certainly would be possible on a ‘quid-pro-quo’ basis. But negotiations between Israel and Palestine are not managed with the support of a comprehensive program of public opinion research and public diplomacy aimed at achieving a peace settlement. They are not systematically addressing these issues so that they can move on to the critical matters of substance.

Table 1 and 2

Peace Building Problem.

Each party to a conflict will not take the issues and concerns of other parties seriously. In particular they believe that the complaints put forward by other parties - particularly those directed at themselves - are little more than political rhetoric designed to ferment discord and distrust between their respective communities. The issues, concerns and complaints, they believe, are not genuine and therefore do not need to be addressed as part of a negotiated settlement.

Northern Ireland Experience

The party negotiators were invited to list what they believed to be the most significant causes of the Northern Ireland conflict. In practice when one party raised an issue of concern to their own community in a draft the next round of consultations stimulated a series of counter concerns from opposition parties. For example when Republicans proposed ‘The British presence on the island of Ireland’ as a problem Unionists countered with ‘The Republic's involvement in Northern Ireland affairs’ and so on. Social issues, like segregated education and housing, tended to be introduced by the smaller centre parties as was 'The failures of Northern Ireland politicians'. The question is given in Table 1 listing all the suggestions and results for Northern Ireland as a whole, Protestants, Catholics and each of the major political parties expressed as a percentage of those who said the 'cause' was 'Very Significant'.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Get all the parties to a conflict to list the elements of the conflict, as seen from their point of view, in mutually acceptable neutral terms and test them against public opinion to see which issues are genuine concerns of the respective communities and which are not.

Israel and Palestine

Most of the polling done on the Middle East conflict is done in one community or state or another for the consumption of the people and politicians in those communities or states and their counterparts in Washington and other capitols. The polling is not generally done to inform Israeli and Palestinian citizens exactly what each other’s priorities are for peace and how best to get there. It is not an on-going dialogue between the conflicting parties but more commonly a statement of their respective negotiating positions. Israelis and Palestinians live in their separate ‘bubbles’ maintained through the barriers of security walls, checkpoints, different languages and separate lives. A successful peace process must necessarily bridge these gaps and the 2009 Irwin/OneVoice poll attempted to do this. The respective problems of each community were prioritised (Tables 2a and b) but unlike Northern Ireland this program of public opinion research and public diplomacy was terminated, the problems were not addressed and the peace process failed.

Table 1, 2a and 2b

Peace Building Problem.

Each party to a conflict want their particular agenda dealt with first, preferably, if at all possible, as a precondition to the negotiations proper. Such rigidity can stall negotiations in the pre-negotiation agenda setting stage so no one 'gets off first base'.

Northern Ireland Experience

The Unionists took the view that several of the issues that were part of the agenda for the Stormont talks should not be items for negotiation at all because they were in breach of domestic UK or international European law. In particular Unionists believed decommissioning of paramilitary weapons, particularly those belonging to the IRA, and the removal of the Irish claim over the territory of Northern Ireland, in Articles 2 and 3 of their constitution, were not matters for negotiation. Rather they felt these issues should be settled to the satisfaction of Unionists before the negotiations proper for a power sharing assembly, North/South bodies, police reform and so on. Republicans and Nationalists accepted none of this. They believed Unionists would negotiate no further once they had got what they wanted on these critical points. The talks were stalled and several questions were written specifically to address these problems. For example, in the poll published in the Belfast Telegraph on 11 September 1997,(1) 65 per cent of Protestants considered it 'unacceptable' to stay in the talks with Sinn Féin if their cease-fire broke down while only 12 per cent of Catholics shared this view. On the other hand 52 per cent of Catholics considered it 'unacceptable' to make decommissioning a talks precondition while only 16 per cent of Protestants agreed, Table 1. The solution to this apparently intractable dilemma was the establishment of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning to deal with the problem while the talks were in progress.

Table 1. All the parties should be prepared to talk to each other...

[Percentage 'Unacceptable']

Even if the cease-fires do not hold. (Protestant) 65% - (Catholic) 12%

So long as the cease-fires hold. (Protestant) 16% - (Catholic) 8%

So long as the cease-fires hold and there is also some decommissioning. (Protestant) 10% - (Catholic) 17%

Only after decommissioning has been completed. (Protestant) 16% - (Catholic) 52%

Opinions were also split on when to deal with the problem of Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution. But this issue was not so critical as the question of decommissioning. Only 17 per cent of Protestants and 3 per cent of Catholics considered it 'unacceptable' not to ‘Keep the Talks going’ on this occasion and ‘let reform of the Republic of Ireland's Constitution be dealt with at the same time as all the other issues that must be part of an over all settlement’. This is what happened.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Test proposals for precondition items against public opinion. When 'we' do not want 'their' issues dealt with before 'ours' and 'they' do not want 'our' issues dealt with before 'theirs' the only option that will gain the widest cross community support will be for all issues to be dealt with at the same time without any preconditions. However, on many occasions, both communities will actually prefer negotiations to go ahead without any preconditions or delays at all, particularly if the issue is not critical to their safety or security.

Israel and Palestine

Negotiations between Israel and Palestine are not ‘getting past go’ because of the settlement issue. Palestinians are not asking for the removal of illegal settlements before negotiations can start, or the removal of checkpoints or an end to occupation. Their bottom line is simply no more settlement expansion during negotiations. Israelis want an end to rocket attacks from Gaza. The Palestinians have been able to arrange such cease-fires in the past so a quid-pro-quo poll that explores all such possibilities in a balanced way should produce a positive result with no more breaches of international law on either side. Such a poll that examines every conceivable precondition from both a Palestinian and Israeli point of view, however extreme and unreasonable, has never been run because, in a peace poll, the utter reasonableness of balanced accommodations tied only to negotiations would inevitably come through as the logical choice. (2) Faced with such a threat to the status quo Israel was allowed to engage in a program of partisan polling that focused on the views of the settlers and the peace process, under the stewardship of Senator George Mitchell, was brought to an untimely close. Such errors of public diplomacy can be fatal and should not be repeated. (3)

1 C. J. Irwin, ‘YES vote for talks’, Belfast Telegraph, Thursday, September 11th, (1997).

2 For a preliminary analysis of these peace process solutions see the Irwin/OneVoice 2009 peace poll Israel and Palestine: Public Opinion, Public Diplomacy and Peace Making.

3 For a review of these issues see Chapter 9, Israel and Palestine, in Irwin, C. J., (2012) The People's Peace, CreateSpace, Scotts Valley, CA.

Peace Building Problem.

Exploring all the possible elements of compromise and accommodation in public may be seen as weakness and open up a party’s negotiating position to attacks from more radical elements and/or political opportunists.

Northern Ireland Experience

The parties elected to take part in the negotiation of the Belfast Agreement frequently found themselves in a complex of 'Catch 22' traps. If a major Unionist, Loyalist, Nationalist or Republican party suggested a creative and bold compromise they would be attacked as traitors by members of their own community opposed to the peace process. But if they said nothing then they appeared to be doing nothing even if, behind closed doors, secret negotiations were taking place in earnest. Unfortunately such secret negotiations allowed for the creation of mischievous rumours and falsified leaked documents which were generally far more radical in their content than the negotiations proper. Both honest open debate and discrete private discussions opened up a party to political attack. Those opposed to an agreement worked very hard to make sure all possible solutions to the Northern Ireland problem 'spelt disaster' in the public mind before they had a chance of becoming a reality. To deal with this problem the parties developed an unwritten 'code of practice' for running the public opinion polls that involved the following key features:

• All questions and options had to be introduced by a party to the negotiations to ensure both relevance and serious intent.

• The wording had to be agreed by all the parties to the negotiations to remove bias, leading or partisan phrasing.

• Questions and options could not be attributed to a party in public or in private communications. The detailed footnotes that accompanied each draft questionnaire made no reference to party connections and the notes on attribution, that accompanied each newspaper report, were agreed with all the parties and were generally vague on this particular point.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Test all the possible elements of compromise and accommodation proposed as various options in a public opinion poll without attributing the different options to any particular party.

Israel and Palestine

Public opinion and public diplomacy is not managed to help Israel and Palestine get to peace. Arguably, from a post Northern Ireland perspective, this is not a modern peace process. The parties to this conflict do not use public opinion research to systematically explore solutions that could resolve the problems that are holding up negotiations. If surveys of public opinion were not a regular part of the political culture of Israel and Palestine this situation would be understandable but this is not the case. Louis Guttman who founded the Israel Institute of Applied Social Research (IIASR) in 1955 pioneered a program of regular polling in both Israel and Palestine following the 67 War. Israel and Palestine were the first state/people to be surveyed in this way with a view to resolving their conflict. Regrettably this expertise has not been developed and used constructively to achieve peace in recent years by building on the lessons of Northern Ireland.

Peace Building Problem.

After years of violence, ‘off again - on again’ war and numerous failed political initiatives to bring the conflict to an end very few people have any confidence that yet another attempt to conclude an agreement will be any more successful than all the failures of the past.

Northern Ireland Experience

In addition to all the sophisticated questions designed to map out the structure and elements of a peace agreement a few simple ‘Yes/No’ questions were included in each of the Northern Ireland polls with the intention of creating a confidence-building headline in the local press. Consequently on the front page of the Belfast Telegraph of 7 April 1997 (1) under the banner headline ‘YOUR VERDICT’ sub headlines from the first poll also read ‘94% Want a negotiated settlement’ as well as ‘69% Do not want talks to stop’ but also more soberly ‘74% Believe Stormont talks will fail’. In the second poll on 11 September 1997 (2) the headline was ‘92% SAY YES’ to the question ‘Do you want your party to stay in the talks?’ and the editorial leader was entitled ??Yes’ to talks’. Additionally ‘Put talks package to vote’ was the front-page story the following day on 12 September (3) with the observation that ‘Less than one in ten - 9% - regard the idea as unacceptable’. The third poll moved on from questions of procedure and started to deal with the substance of a settlement so that on 12 January 1998 (4) the front page story was ‘Poll signals backing for new assembly’, on 13 January (5) it was ‘NORTH SOUTH LINKS VERDICT’ and on 14 January (6) the front page story was ‘Poll reveals Ulster yes for islands council’. Before the agreement was signed it was tested in the fourth poll. On 31 March 1998 (7) the banner headline was ‘77% SAY YES’ and the deal was finally struck on Good Friday. But that wasn’t the end of the matter. Implementation became a problem with Unionists wanting ‘guns before government’ and Republicans wanting ‘government before guns’. On 3 March 1999 (8) the front page story was ‘DUP voters want deal to work: poll’ and the inside page was ‘93% SAY: MAKE THE AGREEMENT WORK’. But it didn’t work all that summer so with Senator Mitchell as facilitator everyone tried again. By 26 October (9) the Belfast Telegraph front page headline now read ‘65% STILL FOR DEAL’ - that is to say they would still vote ‘Yes’ while 85 per cent still wanted the agreement to work. Support was not as strong as it was but as the editorial pointed out on that day it was ‘Still the best option’. Confidence was maintained.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Although the public opinion polls must deal with all the problems and possible solutions that lie at the heart of a conflict questions of confidence and continued progress should also be addressed by asking people if they want a political agreement, an end to violence, negotiations to be started, timely decisions to be made, democratic institutions to be re-established, the maintenance of human rights standards and the rule of law, effective policing acceptable to the whole community and economic development in the context of peace and so on. Of course nearly everyone wants all these things and asking such questions, arguably, is a trivial use of the polls. But providing such questions are only included in the context of the more serious issues that must be addressed then giving ‘a boost’ to the self confidence of both the politicians and their electorate, from time to time, can be a very worth while thing to do in an effort to provide some encouragement to the war weary population.

Israel and Palestine

The people of Israel and Palestine are war weary, occupation weary and fruitless negotiation weary. The Israelis want security and the Palestinians want their own state so asking any question regarding a desire to achieve these goals, to end the conflict and establish the means to do so, will inevitably get a positive response. The Israeli and Palestinian media should be full of public exaltations for their politicians to do what they should do – negotiate and conclude a peace agreement. But the polls run in Israel and Palestine rarely do this – Why? Firstly it is only worthwhile to do so when the peace process is active. If the prospect of progress is zero then there is no point in building up the people’s hopes only to get them shattered. Secondly, and more commonly, failed politicians prefer negative headlines that emphasise the public expectation that they will indeed fail. So expectations get polled while desires get ignored to give these failed politicians an opportunity to say ‘the people did not think that this process would work anyway’. Expectation questions should never be asked in isolation. They are run for the benefit of these failed politicians who expect or may even want a failed peace process. The media will inevitably run such questions that underline the negative expectations of their publics so peace polls must always counter such questions by running them alongside questions that emphasise the people’s desires for peace process success.

1 M. Simpson, 'YOUR VERDICT', Belfast Telegraph, Monday, April 7th, (1997).

2 M. Simpson, '92% SAY YES', Belfast Telegraph, Thursday September 11th, (1998).

3 M. Simpson, 'Put talks package to vote', Belfast Telegraph, Friday September 12th, (1998).

4 Political Staff, 'Poll signals backing for new assembly', Belfast Telegraph, Monday, January 12th, (1998).

5 M. Purdy, 'NORTH - SOUTH LINKS VERDICT', Belfast Telegraph, Tuesday, January 17th, (1998).

6 N. McAdam, 'Poll reveals Ulster yes for islands council', Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, January 14th, (1998).

7 P. Connolly, '77% SAY YES', Belfast Telegraph, Tuesday, March 31st, (1998).

8 M. Purdy, 'DUP voters want deal to work: poll', Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday March 3rd, (1999).

9 N. McAdam, '65% STILL FOR DEAL', Belfast Telegraph, Tuesday, October 26th, (1999).

Peace Building Problem.

A break down of communication due to a lack of trust. For example when parties engaged in hostilities will not give up violence in favour of political negotiations because they do not believe the other parties will negotiate in good faith. When, perhaps, one party or the other believes the negotiations and/or the cease-fire is only tactical.

Northern Ireland Experience

When the negotiations for the first poll were begun in January 1997 the Conservatives were in government in Westminster where they relied on the votes of the Northern Ireland Unionists to keep them in power. In this situation the possibility of meaningful compromises being agreed on the future of the Province were very doubtful and consequently the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had broken their cease-fire and returned to hostilities against the British state. In these circumstances there was a break down of effective communications between Sinn Féin (the political wing of the IRA) and the other political parties, the two governments and the Office of the Independent Chairmen because the British were opposed to any negotiations with terrorists at war. When Labour replaced the Conservatives in May 1997 Sinn Féin wanted to reinstate their cease-fire and return to political negotiations but only if they believed that these negotiations would be undertaken in good faith. They wanted to be sure that those responsible for managing the talks would not allow the Unionists, in particular Dr Paisley the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, to frustrate progress through filibusters and other delaying tactics. In particular they were concerned to know how Senator George Mitchell, the senior talks chairman, might handle such matters. These concerns were addressed to Sinn Féin’s satisfaction firstly through the informal channels of communication available to them, which included the public opinion poll contact group, and then formally when the embargo on direct communication with the British government was temporarily lifted during an informal suspension of hostilities. Subsequently the IRA called their second cease-fire, the DUP left the talks, the Ulster Unionists did not block progress and the Belfast Agreement was signed on Good Friday 1998. As an academic at Queen’s University the poll facilitator also had free access to other scholars, in particular human rights and constitutional lawyers, who were able to give opinions on specific issues when a party to the negotiations so required.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Establish independent, reliable and confidential lines of communication between the parties with points of access to other independent third parties who can provide expert advice as required.

Israel and Palestine

Because the negotiations between Israel and Palestine are limited to the parties in government independents and small parties who may be strongly pro-peace (e.g. Meretz in Israel) or parties very sceptical of the value of negotiations (e.g. Hamas in Palestine) become side-lined by the peace process. At the very least they should be part of informal contact groups so that they can make a positive contribution to negotiations when they are able to do so and/or become a party to a final settlement if and when it might be achieved. Of course they may not take advantage of such opportunities but through informal contact groups, that include common programs of public opinion research, all the parties have the opportunity to communicate with each other, share their ideas and concerns and thus vicariously be a party to a peace process that may, from time to time, break down at the formal level.

Peace Building Problem

Political parties, who are at best electoral competitors and at worst actively engaged in hostilities publicly refuse to enter into negotiations with their 'enemies' without first having them agree to a series of unacceptable preconditions. But without dialogue any possibility of achieving a workable agreement on the preconditions, let alone a settlement of the conflict, is impossible - the ultimate 'chicken and egg' problem.

Northern Ireland Experience

Although the first purely academic piece of research demonstrated public support for a political compromise on the future of Northern Ireland the politicians disagreed with a lot of what was done in this poll. Many of them thought the questions were biased or were the wrong questions on the wrong issues or even that the most important issues had been ignored. Inevitably different politicians from different parties had very different views on these matters. Some of them also thought that the methodology could be improved in terms of the way the questions were asked, analysed or broken down in terms of community and political groups. These criticisms were all very healthy, welcome and provided for a great deal to talk about and agree upon without running the risk of making political decisions that were irreversible. Through a series of private interviews with representatives of each party firstly the issues to be dealt with in the next poll were agreed as well as the time when they thought it could most effectively be published. Secondly the introduction to the polling interview was agreed in which it was clearly stated who was doing the research, who was funding it and who would get the results. Thirdly successive drafts of the questions were circulated until a consensus was reached in which each party felt their issues were dealt with to their satisfaction and that no other parties issues were put forward unfairly with questions that would be considered leading. In this way, informally, quick progress was made on a wide range of issues that were not necessarily being discussed in the formal negotiations at that time because of procedural and/or agenda problems. When the results of the first poll were published a number of procedural problems were solved and both the negotiations proper and the private polls were able to move on to the next set of issues - the different parts of an agreement.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Firstly, run a public opinion poll that demonstrates the desire of the people for an honourable settlement and that the possibility of achieving an agreement is real. Secondly, invite all the serious parties to the conflict to appoint a representative to work with the researchers on designing and agreeing a series of public opinion polls with the expressed objective of assisting the parties with their negotiations.

Israel and Palestine

With the election of President Obama to the White House and the appointment of Senator George Mitchell as his Special Envoy to the Middle East a peace poll was conducted in Israel and Palestine that clearly demonstrated the possibility of achieving a peace agreement.(1) Many other polls had confirmed this reality over the years.(2) But that is as far as the process went. Instead of using the results of the peace poll to deal constructively with problems in the negotiations the Israelis used partisan polls and public diplomacy to oppose a balanced set of accommodations that would have seen the negotiations move forward.(3) Regrettably funding for the peace polls was then terminated, so an invitation to engage with Israeli political parties more clearly committed to achieving a peace agreement with the Palestinians could not be made, and the peace process failed.(4) In these circumstances peace-making must not be restricted to government parties alone but extended to all politicians dedicated to achieving an end to conflict.


1 Irwin, C. J., (2009a) Israel and Palestine: Public Opinion, Public Diplomacy and Peace Making. Part 1. The Shape of an Agreement, Part 2. Process,, April.

2 Shamir, J. and Shikaki, K., (2010) Palestinian and Israeli Public Opinion: The Public Imperative in the Second Intifada, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

3 Irwin, C. J., (2009) Israel and Palestine Peace Polls: Public Opinion and Peace Making in Comparative Perspective, Public Opinion and Survey Research in a Changing World, WAPOR Annual Conference, September 11th to 13th, Lausanne, Switzerland.

4 Irwin, C. J., (2012) The People’s Peace: Pax Populi, Pax Dei - How Peace Polls are Democratizing the Peace Making Process, CreateSpace, Scotts Valley, CA.

Peace Building Problem.

All too often political parties find they have to align themselves with different sections of society and communities to get elected. In deeply divided societies this reality can lead to the increased polarisation of party policies and their associated electorate groups (1) when most people, most of the time, would prefer accommodation, peace and the prosperity that flows from political stability. All too often politicians and political parties (track one) find it difficult, if not impossible, to establish a positive dialogue with all the people (track three) through the media and institutions of civil society (track two) in an effort to define a set of common goals with a view to achieving some common ends.

Northern Ireland Peace Poll Solution

Public opinion polls were used in Northern Ireland to create a form of inter-track diplomacy through an on-going process of questionnaire design with the politicians, interviews with their electorate and publication of survey results in the local press. This did not happen 'over night' by way of some carefully designed diplomatic strategy but over a period of months and years during which time all the elements of this peace building exercise were put into place. Firstly, a programme of pure research was undertaken by a group of academics at The Queen's University of Belfast (2) on different aspects of peace building and public policy that included a public opinion poll survey and the publication of the findings in a series of articles in the Belfast Telegraph (3) and as a supplement in a local current affairs magazine, Fortnight.(4) This study also included questions that began to explore attitudes towards various political solutions to the Northern Ireland problem. Secondly, the political parties elected to participate in the negotiations on the future of Northern Ireland were invited and agreed to participate in the drafting of a new poll designed to address all the issues presently holding up progress in the negotiations. They agreed providing individuals were not cited as being actively involved in the exercise. A degree of discretion was essential especially when 'old enemies' were co-operating in a common enterprise. Thirdly, funding was secured from an independent sponsor, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, that all parties accepted as neutral and agreement was reached with the Belfast Telegraph that their paper would publish the reports of the surveys without insisting on editorial control of their content. The political consultations, interviews, analysis, writing and publication were genuinely independent, from beginning to end, across all three tracks of the process. Consequently the parties had confidence in the process and took the results of the research seriously.

Peace Making Best Practice

Get the media, newspapers, political parties, appropriate charities and sponsors, universities and academics involved in a collective enterprise of designing and running a series of public opinion polls as part of a peace process.

Israel and Palestine

In the name of security the government of Israel has erected both physical and legal barriers that make interactions between the peacemakers on both sides extremely difficult and sometimes quite impossible. Informal interactions between journalists, editors, academics, researchers and politicians are severely restricted between the two communities. As a consequence of these policies the polling work undertaken in Israel and Palestine is frequently dominated by single community partisan agendas that emphasise problems rather than solutions. Without the right to the freedom of association between the committed peacemakers on both sides and the proactive encouragement for them to exercise that right civil society can never become an effective partner for peace. Jerusalem was once the centre for all such interactions and should be again through the lifting of all restrictions that bar peacemakers from the city of peace.


1 D. L. Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).

2 T. Hadden, C. Irwin and F. Boal, 1996. ‘Separation or sharing? the people’s choice’, Supplement with Fortnight 356, Belfast, December, (1996).

3 C. J. Irwin, ‘STILL POLLS APART, People longing for real talks to start’, Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, April 9th, (1997). C. J. Irwin, ‘Referendums could bypass politicians’, Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, April 9th, (1997). C. J. Irwin, ‘DRUMCREE THREE, Rule of law is what people of Northern Ireland want’, Belfast Telegraph, Tuesday, April 8th, (1997). C. J. Irwin, ‘Wide support for Bill of Rights’, Belfast Telegraph, Tuesday, April 8th, (1997). C. J. Irwin, ‘TRUCE HOLDS KEY, Sharp divisions on how talks replace the guns’, Belfast Telegraph, Monday, April 7th, (1997). C. J. Irwin, ‘Voter’s query parties’ push’, Belfast Telegraph, Monday, April 7th, (1997). C. J. Irwin, ‘Few believe peace is at hand’, Belfast Telegraph, Monday, April 7th, (1997).

4 T. Hadden, C. Irwin and F. Boal, 1996. ‘Separation or sharing? the people’s choice’, Supplement with Fortnight 356, Belfast, December, (1996).


Drama students at the wall that separates Al-Quds University from the rest of Jerusalem

1 comment

Colin Irwin   Thu 17 May 2012

Read what Ghassan Khatib has to say about the importance of Tack II diplomacy at - May 14, 2012, Edition 15...

"Given the current political reality, the fact that the Israeli government position and Israeli practices do not allow for the resumption of formal negotiations, track II talks can play two useful roles. The first is to prepare the ground for serious negotiations when the climate changes, particularly when the United States presidential election has run its course and Israeli society becomes interested in a serious peace process once again.... While the chance of renewing the peace process is currently limited, a collapse of the status quo--the worst case scenario--is also possible if no efforts are made to maintain a baseline of gains. Track II diplomacy can play a role here and its players should include Palestinians, Israelis and members of the international community."