Representing a new Northern Ireland

Sites of creation and contest in devolved governance - Awarded November 2001
This project, which received substantial funding under the ESRC Devolution and Constitutional Change Research Programme, will explore attempts to represent or imagine the new political dispensation in Northern Ireland through rituals and symbols. The central focus will be upon official endeavours by public bodies to intervene in symbolic conflict through policy and practice. The research will examine historical changes, discourses, formal and informal policies and practice over the use of symbols and rituals. It will particularly examine the ways in which issues of representation have been dealt with since the signing of the Belfast Agreement and the start of devolved government. Included as cases studies in the research will be royal visits, the flying of flags and the support of popular public events. The work at the Institute will be undertaken by Dominic Bryan, Gillian McIntosh and b.m.walker@qub.ac.uk.

In Brief
This project explores attempts made to represent the new political dispensation In Northern Ireland through rituals and symbols. It will develop case studies on the use of emblems and flags by public bodies, popular events such as parades and concerts, and civic events Including royal visits. It will show how far the 'two traditions' model of community relations persists, or Is It being recast, as the peace and devolution processes unfold, and how far any new, civic Northern Irish Identity Is developing.

Context
On 10 April 1998 'The Agreement' on devolution In Northern Ireland and a new political relationship between the UK and Ireland was published. But not only has there remained a sizeable minority In Northern Ireland which Is opposed to the agreement, but the meaning of the agreement Itself has been fought over by those who endorsed It. Even Its name - the 'Good Friday Agreement' or 'Belfast Agreement' Is contested. This kind of symbolic contest Is common In Northern Ireland. There, as In other divided societies, symbols provide the material through which communities 'Imagine' themselves. Northern Ireland has a wide range of rituals and symbols, many present In both communities, but more often contested than shared. The agreement sets these symbolic traditions In a new context. It Is conceivable that the agreement may bring about the opportunity to bring about changes In the sense of the community In Northern Ireland which go beyond Irish and British Identities.

Objectives
Grounded In theories of ethnicity and Identity, the project will 'map' attempts by official bodies to play a role In the symbolic meaning and rituals In Northern Ireland. It will:

  • Examine the symbolic strategies and policies developed by public bodies In Northern Ireland In their use of fags and emblems, and In the context of both popular and civic events.
  • Analyse the political forces at play In the contestation over symbols and rituals.
  • Observe the Interplay of official and alternative discourses and practices associated with symbols and rituals.
  • Map the development - or lack of - senses of common Identity for Northern Ireland. Will a civic notion of being from Northern Ireland develop alongside Identities of Britishness and Irishness?
  • Draw out Implications from the research for the management of conflict In Northern Ireland.

Research Plan
The research will be organized around a number of case studies, Including the flying of Union and Irish flags, St. Patrick's Day events, the Belfast Carnival; royal visits and the changing and multiple use of the Stormont Parliament building as a symbol of government and a venue for popular events. The work will rely heavily on ethnographic methods, Including Interviews with a range of Informants and extensive participant observation. Supplementary analysis of media coverage of official and alternative symbolic discourses will be carried out.