Britishness (and Irishness) in Northern Ireland since the good friday agreement

James W. McAuley, Jonathan Tonge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines whether the promotion of British values is desirable, feasible or even permissible within Northern Ireland. Here, the advocacy of Britishness may be seen as threatening or offensive to a minority community whose political representatives desire the diminution of symbols of Britishness in order to encourage Irish nationalists to participate in political institutions. The promotion of British history, culture and belief systems may carry little remit among a nationalist community which more readily identifies with Irish versions of each of these features and may see the Irish, not British, government as the custodian of its interests. Moreover, the promotion of Britishness within Northern Ireland has historically been distinct from that found elsewhere in the UK. First, it has often been 'bottom-up', marked by ostentatious symbolism in response to the constitutional uncertainty which has beset the region. Secondly, Britishness has often taken on particular characteristics, such as Protestantism and Orangeism. In examining how the Westminster government and Northern Ireland executive have responded to these challenges, the article explores the constraints upon the promotion of Britishness in Northern Ireland. Any such project is necessarily confined to one side of the binary divide, a unionist community hardly in need of the assertion of its British identity, while it risks antagonising those holding an Irish identity. Given this, it is unclear how, if at all, the assertion of British values can be formulated on a UK-wide basis, when Northern Ireland remains an area of exceptionalism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)266-285
Number of pages20
JournalParliamentary Affairs
Issue number2
Early online date7 Oct 2009
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2010


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