Back on Friday 22 November, a symposium exploring the “Northern Ireland Culture Wars” was held at the University of Ulster, Belfast. The organisers are sharing the day’s talks on Slugger, and there’ll be a post each day covering the programme.
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The theme of culture wars was chosen because of the on-going (sometimes violent) role which debates about culture often play in contemporary Northern Ireland society, evidenced by sporadic outbursts of violence centred on flag protests, parades and public commemoration on both sides of the communal divide.
Panels at the event asked whether or not Northern Ireland is experiencing a culture war. Themes explored during the event included intra-republican debates between dissidents and Sinn Féin about legitimacy, the unionist party politics of culture, and the flying of flags as part of present-centred commemoration rituals. However, the event also focused on how culture wars affect minority ethnic groups in an increasingly multicultural Northern Ireland, and explored aspects of polarised debates concerning abortion and equal marriage, which have been a feature in other Western societies such as the United States since the 1960s.
The opening address was given by Paul Burgess, Senior Lecturer in Applied Social Studies at University College Cork. He was also on the frontline of Northern Ireland’s culture wars, as a founding member of Belfast punk band Ruefrex! Paul’s presentation on Cultural identity: the new battleground in contemporary Northern Ireland society argued that the Protestant working-class community needs to reclaim ownership of its sense of Irish cultural identity as a way of challenging the notion that Britishness is incompatible with Irishness.
The symposium was organised by the Political Studies Association Specialist Group on Britishness (based at the University of Huddersfield) in collaboration with UU’s Institute for Research in the Social Sciences.