Negative Silence: The unspoken future of Northern Ireland

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The premise for finding common ground between unionism and nationalism in Northern Ireland in the 1998 Agreement centred on an accepted compromise regarding what the future of the province might be: continued union within the UK was assured but could be changed if unity with the Republic of Ireland was the will of the majority. In this way, Northern Ireland was suspended as if on a see-saw between the ‘two traditions’. As a consequence, the very success of power-sharing has made it difficult for parties to articulate a shared vision of Northern Ireland’s future. This paper identifies a ‘negative silence’ regarding the outlook for Northern Ireland and seeks to uncover some of its implications by analysing three of its constitutive elements. First, how the aspirational discourse of the four largest political parties has remained largely entrenched in oppositional gullies. Second, how the debate around the Shared Future framework and Cohesion, Sharing and Integration programme ironically embodies deep differences in political visions of a ‘shared’ future for Northern Ireland. Finally, interview-based reflections on how an inability to articulate a future for Northern Ireland affects the young ‘Agreement generation’ and their (dis)empowerment as citizens. The paper concludes that the thicker the fog of silence grows over the subject of Northern Ireland’s future, the bleaker this future is likely to be
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-38
Number of pages18
JournalNordic Irish Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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