Resolving international border disputes: the Irish experience

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The literature on international border disputes has in recent years focused increasingly on the role played by norm transition in promoting or facilitating new political compromises. This article explores the value of a specific model of norm replacement in accounting for the circumstances leading to Ireland’s Good Friday agreement in 1998, which formally and finally settled the long-running territorial dispute between Ireland and the United Kingdom. Drawing on the theoretical literature, it identifies three phases in this process. First, from the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 until the civil unrest in Northern Ireland peaked in 1972 the irredentist norm was substantially unchallenged. It was embedded in the 1937 constitution, which defined the national territory as extending over the whole island of Ireland—including Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom. The second phase, from about 1972 to 1998, was one of norm competition. The irredentist norm was severely challenged by new political realities in Northern Ireland, and was potentially destabilising for the state itself. It was increasingly challenged by an alternative ‘consent’ norm, one embracing in effect the geopolitical status quo. The third phase, from 1998 onwards, was one of consolidation of the new norm, now written into the Irish constitution to replace the wording of 1937. The article suggests that this model plays a valuable role in accounting for the changing status of the Irish border, but also that the Irish experience has implications for the broad shape of the model.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-398
JournalCooperation and Conflict
Issue number3
Early online date17 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sep 2017


  • partition
  • boundary disputes
  • territorial politics
  • Northern Ireland
  • United Kingdom
  • Republic of Ireland

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