On April 28, 2021, the Auschwitz Institute held a virtual book launch event for the latest publication by AIPG’s Director of Academic Programs, Dr. James Waller, entitled A Troubled Sleep: Risk and Resilience in Contemporary Northern Ireland. The launch event featured an introduction by AIPG’s Executive Director, Dr. Tibi Galis, followed by a presentation by Dr. Waller on the book’s contents before concluding with an interactive Q&A session. The event was attended by 45 participants from countries around the world, including representatives from governments, civil society, and academia.
In contemporary Northern Ireland, the risk of a return to violent conflict is not only ever-present but growing, more than two decades after the peace agreement that ended the thirty-year sectarian conflict known as “the Troubles.” Dysfunctional governance and social fragmentation remain critical challenges. Recently, the political situation triggered by Brexit has reignited violence and sparked a series of confrontations in April 2021.
A Troubled Sleep: Risk and Resilience in Contemporary Northern Ireland is the product of the research conducted by Dr. Waller during his sabbatical year as an honorary Visiting Research Professor at Queen’s University Belfast. Following the Brexit vote in 2016, Dr. Waller decided to return to Northern Ireland to restart his research efforts, focusing on the social and political consequences of Brexit in terms of constitutional status and identity. The resulting investigation and writing processes included extensive ethnographic fieldwork, comparative research, and over 110 hours of face-to-face interviews with politicians, academics, former political prisoners, paramilitary members, journalists, police, as well as religious and community leaders across Northern Ireland.
As a result, A Troubled Sleep represents a profound analysis of one of the world’s most deeply divided societies, investigating its current vulnerabilities and points of resilience as a “post-conflict” society. The vulnerabilities highlighted by the text were examined using a risk assessment model that studies the longer-term and slower moving structures and measures that leave societies vulnerable to violent conflict. Among the risk factors analyzed in this book are divergent interpretations of conflict history, specific methods for exercising authority in the country, and susceptibility to social discord and fragmentation.
Dr. Waller emphasized that the purpose of A Troubled Sleep: Risk and Resilience in Contemporary Northern Ireland is to discuss the different ways history is remembered, taught, processed, and understood:
I wanted to understand the risk and resilience of contemporary Northern Ireland, in the comparative framework of how we understand resilience in other societies around the world, and what type of evidence we can bring to try to comprehend its impact in today’s Northern Ireland.
The current situation has demonstrated that identity politics continue to prevail over democracy in Northern Ireland, with government paralysis leading to a political vacuum for extremist voices to exploit. One of the most concerning risks is when de facto social segregation becomes normalized, and acclimatization to violence becomes a generational legacy. In this context, Dr. Waller highlighted the importance of political moderation, generosity, as well as mutual trust and respect:
I think there is space for resilience and hope in Northern Ireland. It is necessary to promote a healthy memory environment and find some way to deal with a very contested past to get there. There needs to be a commitment to rethinking identity more broadly to help people move forward, maybe as Northern Irish rather than Protestant, Catholic, unionist or nationalist.
Following the presentation, event attendees were invited to participate in a Q&A session with Dr. Waller and Executive Director Dr. Tibi Galis. The discussion focused on conflict triggers and class division. Dr. Waller emphasized socio-economic problems, such as disparity in education and lack of job opportunities, particularly among loyalist communities, a development accelerated by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. He further highlighted the lack of consensus over the territory’s name, Northern Ireland or North of Ireland.
A Troubled Sleep: Risk and Resilience in Contemporary Northern Ireland is now available to order directly from Oxford University Press and through online retailers such as Amazon (in both Kindle and hardcover formats) as well as your local bookstore.