Section 75 and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland
: Conflict, ambiguity and cultural policy

  • Lillian Pollack

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisJD (Juris Doctor)


This thesis seeks to problematise the many competing factors that influence how public authorities interpret the equality and good relations obligations codified in Section 75 (s75) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Taking the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) (the leading arts and cultural development agency in Northern Ireland) as a case study, I utilise Interpretive Policy Analysis (IPA) and grounded theory to explore how ACNI’s interpretations of s75 shape and inform broader policy developments in both equality policy and cultural policy in Northern Ireland.

Section 75 bears significant weight given that it arose from a more stringent need to ‘mainstream’ equality after previous anti-discrimination laws in Northern Ireland proved inadequate to tackle existing inequalities. In particular, I grapple with the concept of ‘ambiguity’ as reflected in both s75 and broader cultural policy. The relationship between ambiguity and cultural policy is well established in the academic literature but this thesis attempts to evaluate its impact in light of a very specific and instructive set of statutory obligations, namely the equality duties imposed by s75. In particular it seeks to establish that ambiguity dulls the effectiveness of s75-inspired policies and ultimately contributes to an implicit cultural policy of ambiguity.

My analysis of the impact of s75 on ACNI focuses on the interpretation and presentation of key terms such as ‘good relations’ and ‘equality of opportunity’ in five primary documents that were created by ACNI in order to comply with s75 obligations. I reflect on the surprising paucity of both quantitative and qualitative evidence regarding s75 compliance and infer that, besides the inherent ambiguity underpinning ‘good relations’ and ‘equality of opportunity’, ACNI is not adequately resourced to comprehensively engage with them.
The thesis is accompanied by a Portfolio comprised of a Case Note and Legislation Report, which serve to elaborate on and clarify the enforcement of s75. The Case Note studies the recent decision of Re Toner [2017] NIQB 49, which crucially expanded s75 complaints to be brought by way of judicial review. I discuss the implications of introducing judicial review as a route for s75 complaints for an arm’s length body such as ACNI. The Legislation Report serves to provide a richer contextual background to the wording of s75 and its place in the broader Northern Ireland Act 1998. I also consider in this report the crucial role of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) as the key s75 complaints mechanism.

Overall, this research project seeks to modestly contribute to a better understanding of how an arts and cultural policy organisation such as ACNI interprets s75, and how, in the very interesting context of Northern Ireland, this ultimately informs and shapes broader cultural policy in the region. My in-depth analysis of ACNI’s interpretation of s75 provides an original contribution to knowledge by considering s75’s role in perpetuating a cultural policy of ambiguity in Northern Ireland.

Thesis embargoed until 31 July 2024.
Date of AwardJul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorAli FitzGibbon (Supervisor) & Anna Bryson (Supervisor)


  • Section 75
  • Human Rights
  • cultural policy
  • constructive ambiguity
  • implicit/explicit cultural policy
  • Arts Council of Northern Ireland

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