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New Left Review I/233, January-February 1999

Brendan O’Leary

The Nature of the British-Irish Agreement

It is an academic, personal and political honour to give the ninth John Whyte memorial lecture. [*] This text is an updated version of the ninth John Whyte memorial lecture delivered in Belfast on November 26 1998. It significantly modifies and expands articles written with C. McCrudden and J. McGarry for the Sunday Business Post(Dublin) and another two articles by the author published by University College London’s Constitution Unit (School of Public Policy, 1998), and by cottish Affairs, 1999. Thanks are especially owed to C. McCrudden, J. McGarry, R. Blackburn, P. Chaudhuri, J. Coakley, W. Connor, G. Evans, C. Gearty, A. Guelke, R. Hazell, D. Horowitz, K. Jacobsen, J. Hall, T. Lyne, P. Mair, M. Mansergh, D. McCrone, I. Mclean, P. Mitchell, T. Nairn, M. Qvortrup, J. Todd, R. Wilford, members of the Constitutional Unit at ucl, members of the Politics and Government departments at qub, ucd and lse, and many Irish and British public officials and politicians who cannot be named here. It is an academic honour because John Whyte was the most dispassionate analyst of our conflict—and so is a hard act to follow. Interpreting Northern Ireland still conveys his marvellous gifts of clarity and concision in exposition. It is a personal honour because, together with Ernest Gellner, he was the mentor who had the greatest influence on me as a young lecturer. Lastly, it is a political honour. John Whyte worried whether social scientific research on Northern Ireland was worthwhile. Nevertheless, he contributed extensively to public deliberation in defiance of his occasional despair on this matter. He would have been pleased at the extent to which social science, including political science, can be discerned in the making and nature of the Agreement.

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