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    The Northern Ireland conflict and colonial resonances

    Aveyard, Stuart ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8000-3759 (2023) The Northern Ireland conflict and colonial resonances. The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. ISSN 0308-6534

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    Scholarly disagreements over the applicability of a colonial framework to Ireland’s relationship with Britain have neglected how political actors perceived or used ideas about colonialism and imperialism. This article argues that how such ideas resonated and were used in the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ is as worthy of consideration as their validity. It examines how militant republicans conceived of Northern Ireland as having a colonial status and identified it as fitting into a broader pattern of decolonisation, seeking links with other anti-colonial forces outside Europe. It considers how a section of British politicians used the colonial framework to argue that British withdrawal was inevitable, viewing unionists as a settler community beyond the boundaries of Britishness. The dominant British discourse that opposed this framed self-determination differently, rejecting the utility of colonialism as an explanation of the dynamic of the conflict. When faced with charges of colonialism abroad, however, the rebuttal offered by those articulating this discourse had to be tailored to a suspicious international audience; the arguments available to British diplomats were narrowed by Britain’s colonial past. To overcome this, the unionist cause was omitted and select Irish voices within constitutional nationalism were promoted. Colonial analogies and comparisons shaped overall thinking on Northern Ireland, whether they were valid or not.

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