Beyond Inequality? assessing the impact of fair employment, affirmative action and equality measures on conflict in Northern Ireland

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Title: Beyond Inequality? assessing the impact of fair employment, affirmative action and equality measures on conflict in Northern Ireland
Authors: Todd, Jennifer
Ruane, Joseph
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Date: Oct-2012
Online since: 2015-10-31T04:00:08Z
Abstract: Northern Ireland is an excellent test case of the impact of fair employment, affirmative action and equality measures on ethno-communal conflict. Given the complex interconnection of factors at play in conflict, the conclusion is not a simple one although the facts are clear. From deep and historically entrenched inequality on a multiplicity of dimensions, a disadvantaged Catholic population only very slowly – and with the help of a range of allies in the US, and emerging international equality norms – got increasingly strong equality measures enacted, and very unevenly moved closer to a position of equality and indeed power. This population had traditionally mobilised on a nationalist rather than an egalitarian platform. In 1968-9, however, a civil rights campaign (in which discrimination in public employment and housing, and a consciousness of social injustice more generally, formed an important part) triggered thirty years of violent conflict which quickly became framed in nationalist terms. In the 1980s, for reasons which we discuss below, issues of economic inequality came high onto the political agenda. Since 1998, there has been a political settlement on the basis of a substantive improvement in the condition of Catholics there on all measures – economic, political and cultural - while leaving the national question open for the future. Equality is neither perfectly assured nor stable, and national identities and oppositions remain salient, yet there is a discernible identity shift and change in the urgency of nationalist aims, which appear to be related to the equality measures. The intellectual challenge is to pull apart the various strands of causality, to see how equality (for the purposes of this paper, economic equality and in particular, affirmative action measures) contributed to this. This paper gives a broad overview of the relation between changing processes of collective mobilisation, changing policies and changing benchmarks of communal in/equality in the context of a radically changing economic structure. It argues that the politicisation of economic inequality was a phase in a longer process of communal struggle, one which lost intensity only when some of the most striking aspects of employment inequality were remedied, but well before complete equality was achieved: while wider forms of in/equality have become politicised, the achievement of substantive economic progress towards equality has changed the frame of struggle, significantly moderating nationalist politics and shifting unionist self-conceptions although not blurring communal boundaries.
Type of material: Book Chapter
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Copyright (published version): 2012, Palgrave Macmillan
Keywords: Ethno-communal conflictCommunal inequalityEconomic inequalityLegislation
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Language: en
Status of Item: Peer reviewed
Is part of: Graham Brown, Arnim Langer and Frances Stewart (eds.). Affirmative Action in Plural Societies : International Experiences
ISBN: 978-0-230-27780-9
Appears in Collections:Politics and International Relations Research Collection

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