Government communication in a post-conflict society: Contest and negotiation in Northern Ireland's consociational democratic experiment

Charis Rice, I. Somerville, J. Wilson

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


    Democratic governance in Northern Ireland is consociational (i.e. power sharing is mandatory). The role of Special Advisers within mandatory coalitions has received little attention from scholars, despite the fact that consociationalism is increasingly prescribed as a solution to fragmented conflict ridden societies across the world. Drawing on data from elite interviews with Government Information Officers, Special Advisers and journalists, this paper utilises a discursive framework to analyse their perspectives on the impact and role of Special Advisers in Northern Ireland’s devolved, power-sharing government. In particular, we consider how Special Advisers impact on the communication of departmental and Executive policy. Initial findings suggest that while Special Advisers function similarly to those working elsewhere inWestminster model democracies, the post-conflict and politically volatile consociational context in Northern Ireland adds additional complexity to their role. SpAds not only articulate issues to the media but also play an important diplomatic role in inter-party negotiation and conflict resolution between the five ideologically opposed parties in government. Special Advisers in Northern Ireland therefore not only communicate their minister’s political priorities and policy decisions, but also play a crucial role in the development and maintenance of internal and external working relationships across the consociational governing administration. This paper adds to our knowledge of Special Advisers in democratic societies by evaluating their role in what is, by Western European standards, a relatively unique political system.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationOrganisational and Strategic Communication Research: European Perspectives
    EditorsGisela Gonçalves, Ian Somerville, Ana Melo
    Place of PublicationPortugal
    PublisherLivros Labcom
    Number of pages25
    ISBN (Print)978-989-654-115-6
    Publication statusPublished - 2013

    Bibliographical note

    The full text is available from:


    • government communication
    • democracy
    • post-conflict
    • Nothern Ireland
    • consociationalism


    • Governance, Leadership and Trust
    • Peace and Conflict


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