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Turning its back on Northern Ireland was never an option for British Government

By Liam Clarke

The British government never seriously considered withdrawing from Northern Ireland, despite facing years of an intense IRA campaign, Graham Spencer, editor of a new book on the peace process, believes.

Dr Spencer, who edited The British and Peace in Northern Ireland, comes to that conclusion in his book after the contributions received from high-ranking figures involved in the peace negotiations.

Jonathan Powell, special adviser to then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, tells him that "from the perspective of the governments, it was always a central motivating factor that the conflict had to be brought to a resolution to save lives".

Chris Maccabe, a public servant in Northern Ireland throughout the Troubles, recalls: "We were never asked to look at withdrawal, there were papers on things like repartition (redrawing the border) but they never took off."

According to both Dr Spencer and Mr Maccabe, Britain's consistent policy since the early 70s was to achieve a devolved settlement with power-sharing, to improve cooperation with the Republic and to uphold the principle that Irish unity could come, but only by consent.

Sir Jonathan Phillips warns of "inequality in any process" with more emphasis being put on "state actors" than the paramilitaries. "I would like to see an agreed way forward but it is very hard to imagine because the generations involved in the conflict will find it immensely difficult to agree the terms," he says.

He also recommends the approach taken by Spain after its civil war in the 1930s.

"A pact of forgetfulness was adopted which, if applied in Northern Ireland, would require people to say that while they recognised the pain and difficulty in past events (for all sides), there was a single imperative for the current generation to build a new society and economy, leaving the detail of what happened to be reviewed with greater historical perspective."

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