Multiculturalism and sectarianism in post-agreement Northern Ireland
This dissertation contributes to existing scholarship on contemporary multiculturalism. It does so by exploring how multicultural agendas are operationalised in Northern Ireland – a society divided along sectarian lines. As the political violence of the conflict has receded, Northern Ireland has witnessed unprecedented levels of in-migration. This dissertation seeks to understand how, as Northern Irish society is increasingly being conceived of as culturally diverse, emerging multicultural agendas interact with embedded sectarianism. The empirical research focuses on the political institutions and policies pertaining to Northern Ireland as a whole, and the specific activities and social practices of various ethnically-identified minorities, voluntary organisations and anti-racist movements in selected areas of Belfast. The research involved interviews with civil servants, policy makers, ethnically-identified minorities, voluntary groups and anti-racist activists. This dissertation argues that a government concern for managing cultural diversity can be understood as part of a process of ‘normalising’ Northern Ireland after the conflict. However, a persistent sectarianism complicates, and often impedes, the advancement of multicultural, and particularly anti-racist, agendas. This argument is developed through an exploration of policy and institutional structures, anti-racist campaigns and responses to racialised violence, as well as initiatives that seek to recognise and celebrate cultural diversity. This dissertation shows that the relationship between sectarianism and multiculturalism in post-Agreement Northern Ireland is not unidirectional. Instead, the two processes are deeply imbricated with each other: multicultural initiatives are shaped by sectarianism, and sectarianism persists in emergent multicultural imaginaries. This said, the dissertation suggests that multiculturalism is also capable of disrupting sectarian constructions of space and identity in Northern Ireland. Based on these findings, this dissertation argues that cultural diversity provides an opportunity to denaturalise the social structures and narratives which reproduce sectarianism. It is argued that this process could play an important role in advancing the construction of a socially cohesive and multicultural Northern Ireland.