Austerity and consociational government in Northern Ireland

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AbstractThis article examines the institutional crisis of the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2015 as a case study on the impact of austerity on multiculturalism in Ireland. I make a case for viewing the Assembly as a multicultural institution through pointing to the historical role of community relations policy, which was directed at reconciling “sectarian” Irish nationalists and Ulster unionists. It did so through shifting from an understanding of the conflict as one based on the struggle for Irish national self-determination to one based on conflicting identities. I argue that Sinn Féin’s embracing of multiculturalism is a product of its accommodation to British rule in Ireland. Sinn Féin has made a virtue out of its political volte-face by becoming the strongest advocate of ethnic Irish nationalism in Northern Ireland. The ethnic power politics of Sinn Féin has found its unionist equivalent in the political manoeuvrings of the Democratic Unionist Party. Austerity measures imposed by the Westminster government have created problems for the parties in the power-sharing Assembly, problems that threaten the collapse of the Assembly. It is because of, rather than in spite of, the multicultural mechanisms embedded in the Assembly that the institution has got to crisis point. This is an institutional crisis, not a crisis of multiculturalism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-48
Number of pages14
JournalIrish Studies Review
Issue number1
Early online date17 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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