Two books were launched tonight in Belfast.
A reception was held at the City Hall to mark the book commissioned to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the city’s charter. I reviewed Belfast 400: People, Place and History (edited by Sean Connolly) back in December. It tells the story of the city that “emerged as the capital of Irish Unionism” yet was also “the birthplace of a United Irish movement committed to the establishment of an independent Irish republic”. Industrialisation, poor health provision, gender discrimination, corruption investigations in the City Hall council, the Blitz, and lots, lots more. Available in local bookshops as well as online retailers.
Across town at the marvellous No Alibis independent bookstore on Botanic Avenue, another edited volume was launched. Cillian McGrattan and Elizabeth Meehan curated Everyday Life After the Irish Conflict: The Impact of Devolution and Cross-Border Cooperation. This more academic tome reads like a sampler into a library of more detailed books covering different aspects of Northern Ireland culture, trade and politics in the years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
The book does not portray the Northern Ireland garden as being full of roses. There are plenty of examples of “how conflict continues to affect people’s daily behaviour in reinforcing sectarian or ghettoised notions and norms” as well as images of how “in their daily lives people are seeking to transcend or are actively transcending the residues of three and a half decades of violence and ninety years of partition”. The differences in people’s experience of segregation in Castlederg, Dunclug and Stranmillis are stark.
Duncan Morrow’s chapter on “the rocky road from enmity” reminds readers that “while the preamble to the 1998 Belfast Agreement emphasised the overarching ethical framework of reconciliation, the institutional structure which emerged was rooted in mutual mistrust and veto”.
Mandatory coalition requires images of partnership but it also risks driving all policy-making to the lowest common denominator of consensus rather than creative choice. Partnership may be the framework for reconciliation but under conditions of antagonism it is also a loveless consociational marriage without the opportunity for divorce.
Later he observes that “the paradox of the peace process is that a structure explicitly committed to sharing is being operated by those most suspicious of it”. The timeline to OFMdFM’s protracted production of a Shared Future/Cohesion, Sharing and Integration strategy is rehearsed, and the external donor funding for the Shared Education Programme is noted.
Gladys Ganiel and Claire Mitchell boil down aspects of their 2011 book Evangelical Journeys – choice and change in a Northern Ireland religious subculture into a chapter that examines the “everyday evangelical” post-Agreement subculture. Weekly church attendance in Northern Ireland has dropped “from two thirds of the adult population in the late 1960s, to two-fifth in the late 1990s, so one-third in 2008). Still, “people are more likely to attend church less frequently than not to attend at all”.
Women’s equality issues are scrutinised by Theresa O’Keefe – right to abortion, violence against women – as well as a discussion of whether some women will even acknowledge the existence of gender-based inequalities.
There are also sections looking at the role of schools in promoting good relations; cross-border commerce and the changing cross-border modes of transport; human rights and what equivalence would entail; cross-border service provision using health as an example; and the ‘new politics’ of participation and the doomed Civic Forum.
I’ll blog separately about the gender balance within Northern Ireland political institutions.
While only 200 pages long, Everyday Life After the Irish Conflict is a dense book with pointers to many longer-form publications that document enduring research studies. It provides an enticing glimpse into a number of post-conflict issues that affect people across Northern Ireland, while also taking the opportunity to appraise the twin bedfellows of conflict transformation and devolution.
While it comes with an academic-sized price tag – a shade over £60 – [Update – No Alibis bookshop selling it for a snip at £35!] I can imagine students studying education, politics and social sciences borrowing the book from their college libraries. My copy goes back to one of the authors in a few weeks time.