The ruling trinity transformed: negotiating power and local leadership in Ireland
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This thesis examines power relations in the political, economic and religious spheres in local society in Ireland, so as to assess the contribution being made by a local leadership to a contemporary Irish social power order. The contemporary evidence gathered as part of a case study approach is compared to the configuration of a dominant class leadership extant in the 1970s and associated with a historically privileged Catholic-nationalism described by Chris Eipper (1986). Representing class society as a field of force in his work, Eipper argued that an interdependent ruling bloc at the local and national levels, structured between the economic, religious and political spheres, critically reproduced the ordering logics of an Irish class system (1986, p.3). Based on his local fieldwork in Bantry, Co. Cork, Eipper concluded that in the event of a deconstruction of the ideological and material bases upon which the Irish power system he identified depended, the dominant pattern of leadership would be reshaped, if not dismantled. Two such potential resolutions were an end to the Northern Ireland conflict and an increased co-ordination by the European Union. The research undertaken for this study firstly finds that a transformed local leadership matters, contrasting with hypotheses both of the hegemonic effects of the international economy in Ireland since the late 1980s and of assumptions implying the unimportance of local power dynamics in this context. In the case studied, the contemporary pattern of local leadership and power observed is rooted in the continuing social salience of personalistic power relations. Where collective decision-making provided a novel source of social power in local society, I found variable outcomes for the local influence of individual members of the ruling bloc and indeed, changes within the bloc itself. Nonetheless, the structural pattern of leadership altered only as much as was permitted by a translation of these observed changes in a broader lived experience of Irish power relations and that remained culturally valid. In sum, the local version of the ruling bloc successfully reinforced its interests by means of novel forms of governance. Since negotiation via collective action at the local level represented a novel structural arrangement of personal power relations in this case, I concluded that changing material and ideological factors in Ireland have not yet supplanted the dominant Irish social power system prevailing since the post-colonial era, even if they have altered the mode of authority available to a contemporary local leadership.