Case #1708.0

Exercising Leadership in Northern Ireland

Publication Date: October 28, 2003
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In December, 1987, 18-year-old Gary McMichael suddenly became the literal heir to the tradition of political violence in Belfast, Northern Ireland. McMichael's father John--a prominent leader of a Protestant "paramilitary" group--was assassinated by a car bomb, apparently at the hands of the Catholic Irish Republican Army. This case tells the moving and dramatic story of the next decade of young McMichael's life--as he sought to use the mantle of leadership he inherited to help move Northern Ireland toward a peaceful resolution of its long history of religious "troubles." Specifically, the case examines decisions McMichael makes as head of the Ulster Loyalist Democratic Party. It describes his effort to balance the views of far-right Protestant groups--whom he's widely assumed to represent but who also exert pressure on him--and his own hopes to advance a politics that would benefit both lower-income Protestants and Catholics, as his father had hoped in the last years of his life. The case is meant to support discussion of how and why McMichael chose to exercise political leadership under some of the greatest pressures imaginable, including the pressure of knowing that the wrong step might cost him his life. It tells the story of the role McMichael played in forging the famous Good Friday agreement which set Ulster on a course toward political compromise, as well as the downward trajectory which his political party and personal political career followed in the Agreement's wake. It raises the question of whether he might have played his cards more effectively and gone on to a prominent political career--or whether history should simply thank him for the decisions he did make.

Other Details

Case Author:
Marty Linsky
Faculty Lead:
Marty Linsky
Pages (incl. exhibits):
Northern Ireland
Funding Source:
Atlantic Philanthropies