Peace Polls

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Peace Building Problem.

Real peace agreements that attempt to address all the major problems at the heart of a conflict are necessarily complex dealing, as they must, with issues ranging from policing and human rights through electoral and constitutional reform to questions of amnesty and support for victims. Nothing substantive can be left out and the respective electorates have to vote 'yes' for an agreement that is necessarily a compromise and that does not deliver on all the promises made by their respective political leaders.

Northern Ireland Experience

The drafting of all the detailed questions for the 'In Search of a Settlement' poll took almost a year. While these questions were being agreed two polls were run in the spring and autumn of 1997 dealing with procedural issues. The third December poll of that year, published in the Belfast Telegraph on 10,(1) 12,(2) 13 (3) and 14 (4) January 1998, was timed to give a lift to the Stormont Talks after the Christmas break. While most people took a summer recess the negotiators worked on the polls and when they took a New Year holiday this poll was being analysed and prepared for publication. The questionnaire went through about a dozen drafts to produce a 22-page booklet that the interviewee filled out at home. The data produced were enormous dealing with public opinion on every major aspect of the Belfast Agreement: causes of the conflict and solutions, human rights, policing, an assembly, North/South bodies, East/West bodies, constitutional reform, a referendum, implementation, general preferences for a 'package' and a section on demographics. The general public were now very well informed about all the issues that had to be decided. The parties, governments and chair had detailed reports on public opinion as it related to each aspect of the agreement that they now had to make.(5) No one had a good excuse not to 'do the business' and negotiations got under way in earnest.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Never be afraid to include any serious issue raised at the drafting stage. With explanatory preambles and the careful use of non-technical terms most issues can be explored with the public in carefully pre-tested booklet style take home questionnaires. Even if a question has to be dropped because it is too esoteric or just plain unhelpful its inclusion at the drafting stage will have raised the issue with the party negotiators and allowed them to wrestle with it.

Israel and Palestine

This is not being done in Israel and Palestine, as part of the formal negotiations, because they have not resolved the procedural issues that will allow the formal negotiations to proceed without interruption. The major points of an informal peace agreement negotiated as part of the Geneva Accord (6) is regularly tested against public opinion.(7) But the ‘Devil is in the detail’ and those details are not being explored with a view to resolving them as was done in Northern Ireland. This could be done informally as part of an on-going informal peace process but the people have been disenfranchised while their leaders and the key players in the international community concern themselves with electoral politics.(8)

1 C. J. Irwin, ‘Reforming RUC quite ‘acceptable??, Belfast Telegraph, Saturday, January 10th, (1998). C. J. Irwin, ‘Protecting the rights of the people’, Belfast Telegraph, Saturday, January 10th, (1998). C. J. Irwin, ‘Steps we need to take to win peace’, Belfast Telegraph, Saturday, January 10th, (1998).

2 C. J. Irwin, ‘Why Ulster now wants to have new assembly’, Belfast Telegraph, Monday, January 12th, (1998).

3 C. J. Irwin, ‘Feasibility and reality of north-south bodies’, Belfast Telegraph, Tuesday, January 13th, (1998).

4 C. J. Irwin, ‘A Comprehensive Settlement’, Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, January 14th, (1998). C. J. Irwin, ‘Constitutional Issues’, Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, January 14th, (1998). C. J. Irwin, ‘What hope for Council of the Isles?’, Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, January 14th, (1998).

5 C. J. Irwin, In Search of a Settlement, Summary Tables of Principal Statistical Results, Institute of Irish Studies, The Queen’s University of Belfast, January (1998) p. 1-100.

6 Geneva Accord available at:

7 Geneva Accord polls available at:

8 For a review of these issues see Chapter 9, Israel and Palestine, in Irwin, C. J., (2012) The People's Peace, CreateSpace, Scotts Valley, CA.