Symmetrical Solutions, Asymmetrical Realities: Beyond the Politics of Paralysis

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The historic significance of the Good Friday Agreement and its role in ending organized political violence is acknowledged at the outset. The article then goes on to probe the roots of the political paralysis built into the architecture of the Agreement that are predicated on a misplaced political and cultural symmetry between the “two communities.” It is suggested that the institutionalized relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. facilitates a cross-party, populist, socio-economic consensus among the nationalist and unionist political parties on the welfare state, taxation and maintaining the massive British subvention to the region. This in turn allows them to concentrate on a divisive culturalist politics, i.e., on antagonistic forms of cultural and identity politics over such issues as flags, parades, and the legacy of the “Troubles” which spills over into gridlock into many areas of regional administration. The article argues for a much broader understanding of culture and identity rooted in the different, if overlapping and interdependent, material realities of both communities while challenging the idea of two cultures/identities as fixed, mutually exclusive, non-negotiable and mutually antagonistic. It then focuses on the importance of Belfast as a key arena which will determine the long-term prospects of an alternative and more constructive form of politics, and enable a fuller recognition of the fundamental asymmetries and inter-dependence between the “two communities.” In the long run, this involves re-defining and reconstructing what is meant by the “Union” and a “United Ireland.”
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)806-814
Number of pages9
JournalStudies in Conflict and Terrorism
Issue number9
Early online date16 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - 12 Aug 2014

Bibliographical note

Special Issue: Northern Ireland: 20 Years After the Cease-Fires


  • Northern Ireland
  • conflict
  • Good Friday Agreement
  • governance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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