Caught between the well-armed imaginations of paramilitary organisations competing for the hearts and minds of a divided population, and state engineering of a liberal peace, civil society's impact on Northern Ireland's identity politics was limited during the thirty-year conflict. Specifically, the community and voluntary sector itself has tended to replicate as much as it challenged patterns of segregation in many of its own structures. With plans set out in the Northern Ireland Executive's Programme for Government (2008-11) to engage civil society in opening a new era of ‘good relations’ work to counter sectarianism and racism, civil society organisations will face a complex terrain, facing scepticism about their contribution to peace-making before the Good Friday Agreement, and working in a post-Agreement environment marked by continuing elite and communal antagonism demonstrated by the crisis at the turn of 2009 over devolution of justice and policing powers to the Northern Ireland Executive. A significant aspect of the resolution was a belated agreement by Sinn Fein and the DUP on a new community relation strategy, Cohesion, Sharing and Integration. This article suggests that civil society has a significant role to play in encouraging communities to confront the contradictions and tensions that continue to haunt the political architects of the Good Friday Agreement by affirming a radical and contingent vision of democracy as democratisation at a distance from the identity-saturated politics of the state-region of Northern Ireland. It draws on the work of Simon Critchley, Emmanuel Levinas and Wendy Brown, to offer an approach to identity politics in post-conflict Northern Ireland, focusing on the future orientation of civil society.
- sectarianism Northern Ireland Levinas Critchley