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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 November, 2003, 17:26 GMT
Electorate more 'cynical'
Dr Gilligan said process would face recurrent crises

Cynicism about politics and politicians has replaced the initial optimism after the Good Friday Agreement, according to a Northern Ireland academic.

Dr Chris Gilligan said politics had become "a private matter among politicians - and the public are excluded".

In an article in the Global Review of Ethnopolitics journal, he said: "The latest deal in October was a prime example. Only the leadership of the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein knew what was going on. Not even their respective members were in the loop. Nobody else had a clue what was going on."

Dr Gilligan, a sociology lecturer at the University of Ulster, said it was "no surprise that people are switching off from politics".

"The traditional mutual distrust between nationalist and unionist has become subsumed within a wider distrust of the political process itself."

Political uncertainty was adding to the confusion among the electorate, said the UU academic.

The peace process is likely to endure even if the DUP become the largest Unionist party in Northern Ireland
Dr Chris Gilligan

"There is no idea of where the peace process is going. This in turn sows confusion amongst the electorate. Even the parties are not clear where the peace process is going.

"During the conflict the parties knew where they stood and so to did their voters. Now it's not clear where anybody stands.

"I suspect in this election it will be a case of people voting against parties rather than for parties, because of the sense of mistrust in relation to the peace process. But it is too close to call - all four main parties are neck and neck."

The political process had made it harder for parties to read rivals' actions and it was sometimes unclear who their opponents were, he said.

However, Dr Gilligan said the process was unlikely to be destroyed by the election results, but would face recurrent crises.

"The peace process is likely to endure, even if the DUP become the largest Unionist party in Northern Ireland," he said.

"But as long as cynicism, retreat and uncertainty are the main features of the political landscape in Northern Ireland, however, the peace process will continue to be characterised by recurrent crisis."

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