Northern Ireland since its establishment after the partition of Ireland in 1921 has been a deeply divided society and a region riven by periods of violent conflict, most notably the ‘Troubles’ (1968-1998). In recent years a peace process attempted to reconcile the societal divisions and, in respect to formal politics, the Good Friday Agreement (1998) produced a new constitutional settlement based on consociational governance in Northern Ireland. In Western European states some sort of majoritarian democratic system is the norm and thus most studies of government public relations (PR) and political communication by Western scholars focuses on majoritarian parliamentary or presidential government systems. The role of government communication specialists within mandatory coalitions has received little attention from scholars, despite the fact that consociationalism is increasingly prescribed as a solution to deeply divided conflict ridden societies across the world. Drawing on data from elite interviews this chapter analyses perspectives on government PR from Government Information Officers' (GIO) alongside that of the other key actors with whom they regularly interact in Northern Ireland’s government-media communicative sphere - ministerial Special Advisers (SpAds) and political journalists. The communicative interactions between these groups are discussed within broader debates about government public relations in democratic societies and in particular in relation to theoretical work on communication and deliberative democracy. We also assess how the comparatively unique consociational political system, designed to produce a functioning democratic government in a deeply divided society, impacts on government public relations in Northern Ireland’s public sphere. Finally, we conclude with some reflections on the role government PR could play in deploying ‘bridging rhetoric’ to help Northern Ireland move toward a more authentic deliberative democracy.
|Title of host publication||International Public Relations: Perspectives from deeply divided societies|
|Editors||Ian Somerville, Owen Hargie, Maureen Taylor, Margalit Toledano|
|Place of Publication||Oxon, U.K.|
|Number of pages||22|
|Publication status||Published - 25 Aug 2016|
Somerville, I., & Rice, C. (2016). Deliberative democracy and government public relations in a deeply divided society: Exploring the perspectives of Government Information Officers in Northern Ireland. In I. Somerville, O. Hargie, M. Taylor, & M. Toledano (Eds.), International Public Relations: Perspectives from deeply divided societies (pp. 72-93). Oxon, U.K.: Routledge.