Negotiating an Irish peace: International negotiation, public opinion and the politics of a two-level game

Date of Completion

January 1999


Political Science, International Law and Relations




This project contributes to the theoretical literature on international negotiation and the interaction between public opinion and foreign policy, and the substantive literature on the dynamics of the Anglo-Irish peace process, by exploring the conditions under which public opinion can act as a domestic political constraint in international negotiations. This project makes three primary theoretical contributions. First, it fills a gap in the existing two-level games literature, which largely ignores the impact of public opinion, by specifically considering the role public opinion plays in the negotiation process. Second, it helps to move the two-level games approach from the realm of metaphor to that of theory by specifying the conditions under which one particular domestic actor, the public, can successfully constrain decision-makers. Third, it contributes to the public opinion and foreign policy literature by identifying an important link between public preferences and policy outcomes. ^ Specifically, three main findings emerge from this research: (1) Public opinion can act as a constraint when there is a lack of congruence between public preferences and decision-makers' preferences. (2) Public opinion can act as a constraint when the public has either direct or indirect ratification power over an international agreement. (3) Issue salience forges the critical link between incongruent preferences and domestic constraint when the public's ratification power is indirect. ^ At a substantive level, an examination of negotiations and agreements reached between the Republic of Ireland and Britain between 1980 and 1995 shows that public attitudes in the Republic of Ireland, but not Britain, have constrained decision-makers on a central issue in the peace process, the competing British and Irish claims to jurisdiction over Northern Ireland. The ability of the Irish public to constrain decision-makers results from their direct ratification power over any agreement that would require Ireland to drop or modify its claim to jurisdiction over Northern Ireland. In contrast, because the British public must rely on indirect ratification, issue salience holds the key to understanding their failure to constrain. The issue of Northern Ireland policy is shown not to be salient for the British public, thus rendering indirect ratification ineffective. ^