Peace Polls

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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."