CAIN: Democratic Dialogue: With all due respect - pluralism and parity of esteem (Report No. 7)

CAIN Web Service



With all due respect

Pluralism and parity of esteem


National Questions


The challenge: co-existence in one space

Parity of esteem has become a political buzzword of Northern Ireland in the 1990s.

In 1990, the second Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights report on Religious and Political Discrimination and Equality of Opportunity in Northern Ireland suggested more could be done - both in amendments to the Northern Ireland Constitution Act of 1973 and in substantive legislation - to guarantee "equal treatment and esteem of both traditions in Northern Ireland". In April 1993, the Northern Ireland secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, said that "each of the main components of the community will need to be given recognition by the other, and in any settlement each must be accorded parity of esteem, the validity of its tradition receiving unqualified recognition".

The publication of the Opsahl commission report a few months later propelled the concept nearer the top of the political agenda, where it has remained ever since. In the joint framework document of February 1995, the London and Dublin governments agreed that any new political arrangements must "evenhandedly afford both communities in Northern Ireland parity of esteem and treatment, including equality of opportunity and advantage".[1]

On a negative reading - a reading backed up by the intense parades controversy since 1995 - parity of esteem has become a partisan ideological battering ram between two increasingly segregated and polarised communities, committed to an unending and bitter 'war of position', solely on the grounds that defeat would be so much worse. Embraced more positively, however, it conveys a recognition of intercommunal stalemate, after the most protracted sectarian conflict in modern Irish history, and offers a language for negotiation of a post-conflict equilibrium.

The Opsahl commission itself embodied this contradiction, in its recommendation for 'the legal recognition of nationalism' in Northern Ireland:

'Parity of esteem' between the two communities should not only be an ideal. It ought to be given legal approval, promoted and protected, in various ways which should be considered. Such recognition could be made operational at the highest level byan Act of Parliament.[2]
For while this recommendation was presented as "a future-oriented concession, recognising the role of a constructive nationalism within Northern Ireland", Prof Opsahl's own introduction described it as an expedient to redress an imbalance from the past, not part of a framework for the future".[3]

This contradiction, and the vagueness of the formulation, betray the slipperiness of the very concept of 'parity of esteem' in Northern Ireland. And it is precisely this room for partisan interpretation which has seen a notion promoted as part of a vision for a benign future for the region reduced to simply another weapon in ideological arsenals.

At one level, there must always be a degree of 'play' in a concept like parity of esteem - including for policy-makers. Even in a 'peaceful' Northern Ireland intercommunal tensions would remain requiring constant (re)negotiation; and parity of esteem would have to be flexibly defined to accommodate such tensions in a positive manner.

But that is quite a different matter from the utter cultural relativism in which the notion has become mired. Unless there is some intercommunal understanding as to what, objectively, parity of esteem can or should mean, then far from acting as a fire-blanket for sectarian tensions it becomes the very vehicle for conflict at a cultural level. And as the Drumcree 'stand-off' of 1996 demonstrated, 'cultural' conflict can have every bit as much - or even more - impact than, say, the detonation of the IRA bomb in Canary Wharf five months earlier.

A major factor in the relativism of the Northern Ireland parity-of-esteem debate has been its wholly provincial character. Apart from an excellent study by Lucy Bryson and Clem McCartney[4] of one aspect of the issue - cultural symbols - the debate has been conducted entirely without any recognition of the wider international discourse on nationalism, self-determination, minority rights and co-existence which has mushroomed in recent years.

That wider engagement has had four notable facets. First of all was the intellectual renewal of work on nationalism, national identity and so on marked by the publication in 1983 of Ernest Gellner's and Benedict Anderson's path-breaking studies.[5] Second was the fall of the Wall in 1989 and the subsequent explosion of ethno-nationalist pressures, most tragically in ex-Yugoslavia.

Third has been the promulgation of declarations on minority rights from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (1991), the United Nations (1992) and the Council of Europe (1994). Fourth and perhaps above all is the intensifying awareness that, on a global scale, questions of ethnic and national identity, far from being relics of the pre-enlightenment past, look set to play an enduring role in a post-enlightenment future - in which the 'politics of recognition'[6] will loom very large.

John Gray argues that the late 20th century has seen the collapse of the 'enlightenment project' in its various universalist guises, liberal or Marxist, both having made the error of seeing culture in general - and cultures are always particular - as epiphenomenal, even atavistic. (Thus, in Northern Ireland, for example, liberals have promoted an abstract 'non-sectarianism' against 'tribalism', Marxists 'class politics' against 'bourgeois nationalism'-neither to much avail.) In 'enlightenment's wake', we now find

the supreme problem of communities in our time, which is that of finding terms of peaceful coexistence among themselves… [C]ommunities make rival claims on territories they inhabit together, they are animated by conflicting narratives and cultural traditions, they renew their identities across the generations by strategies of exclusion and subordination, and so on. The real agenda for political thought ... is this agenda of relations among communities having irresolvably conflicting, and sometimes incommensurable claims...[9]
Or, as Michael Ignatieff puts it more pithily, "the key language of our age is ethnic nationalism".[10]

One has only to ask oneself what sense such statements would have made ten years ago to understand what a dramatically different place the world has become in the 1990s. By the same token, however, some provisional answers have emerged to this now-global challenge of managing 'agonistic (or competitive) pluralism'-answers which can put Northem Ireland's own debate about parity of esteem into a more structured theoretical, and so hopefully more stable political, context.

Borrowing a phrase from Lenin to criticise liberal/Marxist rationalism, Gellner criticises the anticipated "withering away of nationalism" evident in even so late a text as Eric Hobsbawm's Nations and Nationalism since 1780.[11] On the contrary, he argues, "the idea that political boundaries must be congruent with ethnic ones, that rulers must not be ethnically distinguishable from the ruled now has a salience and authority which it has never possessed in the previous history of mankind."[12]

Yet precisely the first lesson that the wider international debate has thrown up is this: there simply is not enough geopolitical space for every ethnic group in the world to exercise unfettered 'self-determination' - not without trampling on somebody else's space, at any rate. Thus, while there are some 184 independent states, Will Kymlicka estimates that there are more than 600 living language groups and more than 5,000 ethnic groups. If every group, in other words, sought to replicate the Serb nationalist slogan 'All Serbs in One State', the world would be permanently pockmarked by ethno-nationalist wars.

And yet the interfaces of such potential conflicts constantly proliferate in these more assertive times:

Minorities and majorities increasingly clash over such issues as language rights, regional autonomy, political representation, education curriculum, land claims, immigration and naturalisation policy, even national symbols, such as the choice of national anthem or public holidays. Finding morally defensible and politically viable answers to these issues is the greatest challenge facing democracies today… There are no simple answers or magic formulas to resolve all these questions. Some conflicts are intractable, even when the disputants are motivated by a sense of fairness and tolerance, which all too often is lacking.[13]
'National self-determination', of course, was the classical 'simple answer', as espoused by the US president, Woodrow Wilson, during the first world war. As Alan Sharp argues, Wilson, who saw Lenin as his arch-rival, tended to confuse two features of pre-war Europe - the refusal of multinational empires to grant autonomy to national groups and the lack of democratic control in many states: 'national self-determination' was thus perceived as essentially synonymous with popular sovereignty.14 His secretary of state, Herbert Lansing, saw the danger in the lack of clarity as to what the unit of self-determination should be. He wrote in his diary during the Paris Peace Conference in December 1918:
When the President talks of 'self-determination what unit has he in mind? Does he mean a race, a territorial area, or a community? Without a definite unit which is practical, application of this principle is dangerous to peace and stability ... He admires trite sayings and revels in formulating them. But when he comes to their practical application be is so vague that their worth may well be doubted.[15]
By ten days later, Lansing was utterly agitated about Wilson's embrace of 'selfdetermination':
The phrase is simply loaded with dynamite. It will raise hopes which can never be realised. It will, I fear, cost thousands of lives ... What a calamity that the phrase was ever uttered! What misery it will cause![16]
A more distant observer came to equally disdainful conclusions. In his The Economic Consequences of the Peace, John Maynard Keynes wrote that Wilson "had no plan, no scheme, no constructive idea whatever for clothing with the flesh of life the commandments which he had thundered from the White House. He could have preached a sermon on any of them or have addressed a stately prayer to the Almighty for their fulfilment; but he could not frame their concrete application to the actual state of Europe."[17]

By June 1919, according to the account of the leader of an Irish-American delegation who saw Wilson, it seems the president had begun to share Lansing's forebodings:

When I [Wilson ] gave utterance to those words ['that all nations had a right to selfdetermination'], I said them without the knowledge that nationalities existed, which are coming to us day after day… You do not know and cannot appreciate the anxieties that I have experienced as a result of many millions of people having their hopes raised by what I have said.[18]
Nor has clarity emerged in the intervening decades. Hurst Hannum comments wearily: "Perhaps no contemporary norm of international law has been so vigorously promoted or widely accepted as the right of all peoples to self-determination. Yet the meaning and content of that right remain as vague and imprecise as when they were enunciated by President Woodrow Wilson and others at Versailles."[19] No international agreement has ever defined what a 'people' is.[20] It is thus that Antonio Cassese, in his excellent legal survey, describes the 'right of self-determination as a veritable Pandora's box".[21]

The paradox of self-determination in the 20th century is now well-established. Self-determination is normally understood (though theoretically there are other options) to mean the formation of new, democratically legitimated states; such legitimacy confers on states throughout the international system the right to exercise sovereign power (as against, say, being a protectorate of the United Nations); sovereignty is understood in terms of the exercise of power within a clearly defined boundary, on the other side of which another state legitimately rules; thus the corollary of self-determination is the territorial integrity of democratic states. So what if a group within such a state wants to secede-in the name of self-determination - to join another or become independent?

As Vincent Cable encapsulates it, "In a world where the politics of identity looms large, the underlying tension between the quest for minority 'self-determination' and majority 'territorial integrity' will provide the basis of much future conflict, where rights and wrongs will never be clear cut."[22]

It is all very well where what is perceived as a national community with the right to self-determination can found a state co-terminous with itself. What happens, however, when ethno-national and political geographies do not so happily correspond? The simple answer, of course, would be to adjust the latter boundary to suit, or at least to provide a measure of autonomy for that group within the existing state. But this again depends on extremely tidy geography: the group concerned must live in an area wholly separate from the other or others with which it shares the state.

If not, accommodation of its claim to 'self-determination' can only be met at the expense of a denial of self-determination to some or all of the members of the other group(s). For example, three million Hungarians live in the states around Hungary. If they were all to enjoy, with their fellow Hungarians, an untrammelled collective right to self-determination, it could only be through the dismantling of Romania, Slovakia, Serbia and so on.

It is thus that the notion of self-determination has soured in the international community. Cassese points out how after the first world war it was seen as "the animating political ideology" of a new order; after the second, it was perceived as an international legal norm; after the end of the cold war, however, its revival has had a more disturbing complexion:

If, in the past, self-determination used the coin of 'progress', in its third apparition it has come to be seen increasingly as fuelling the currency of ethno-national intolerance, rivalry, tribalism, xenophobia, and worse: a Golem turned on its Creators.[23]
Yet, on the other hand, if the aspiration to self-determination by a minority group is itself denied, then it can suffer the loss, potentially, of all other human and democratic rights as well. While in theory there are numerous international conventions and courts, and there is the ultimate authority of the United Nations, the international community is loath to intervene in sovereign states - because of the perceived domestic political costs and because of fear of reciprocal claims - to the extent required to punish oppression. Ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda demonstrate all too clearly how impotent the international community can be, even in the face of such massive human rights abrogations as 'ethnic cleansing' and genocide.

Moreover, it is perfectly possible for what are widely recognised to be democratic states to be experienced in quite the opposite manner by minorities within them. In as much as democracy is conventionally understood as the legitimate exercise of power on behalf of a majority of electors endorsing the government of the day (even if usually in a proportional system rather than first-past-the-post), it is clearly possible for a minority or minorities to be permanently excluded from power - by 'democratic' means. The old Stormont régime is by no means a unique instance. Turkey, for example, currently wants to join the democratic club of the European Union, yet its Kurdish minority in the south-east (which would likely settle for autonomy rather than secession) is just so excluded, and indeed repressed in the context of the war against the state conducted by the Kurdish Workers' Party.

What this argument indicates is that reliance on conventional democratic norms - self-determination, sovereignty and majority rule - cannot turn the trick in ethno-nationalist conflicts. On the contrary, such norms can simply be mobilised in a partisan and mutually uncomprehending fashion by protagonists on both sides, leading to endless deadlock. Cyprus provides a perfect example. In as far as Greek and Turkish Cypriots perceive themselves as members of two antagonistic communities, each rejects the compromise widely touted - a bizonal, bicommunal federation - in favour of what they deem to be 'their' community's national rights: enosis with Greece versus the maintenance of partition.

The crux of the difficulty is that the notion of self-determination can never resolve any prior dispute as to who the 'self' is to be. Hannum takes the Irish case as an instance of the dilemma:

Within the two islands of Ireland and the United Kingdom, for example, the relevant 'self' might be both islands then [until 1921] together, despite their ethnic mix of English, Scots, Welsh and Irish; each island separately, despite the mix of the first three in Great Britain and of Irish and Scots in Ireland; the two existing states; or each ethnic/geographic group, which would include at least four separate entities of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, with from zero to two additional groups (Irish Catholics and 'British' Protestants) in Northern Ireland. Citing a multitude of equally irreducible situations will not advance our thinking very far, but their existence does underscore the fact that the assertion by one 'self' of political auto-determination almost necessarily entails the denial of auto-determination to another 'self' which may be either greater or smaller; as is the case with minorities, selves can never be wholly eliminated.[24]
As Gellner puts it with customary astringency, "The phenomenon of nationalism is like a recurring decimal, it has no end, every national flea has smaller fleas to plague it in turn, not to mention the fact that fleas of the same size also torment each other."[25]

The significance of this for Northern Ireland today cannot be overstated. For there is a widespread, and unfortunately ill-informed, assumption that the formulation on Northern Ireland's constitutional status in the Sunningdale agreement of 1973, the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 and the Downing Street Declaration of 1993 - the so-called 'consent principle' - has resolved the self-determination conundrum. Under this formulation, it is held that Northern Ireland will remain a part of the UK because a majority so wishes; should a majority eventually determine, however, that it should become part of a united Ireland, that wish would be facilitated.

Yet the fact that this 24-year-old formula hasn't, in practice, brought the conflict to a close should perhaps give pause for thought. Indeed, on closer scrutiny it is apparent that it is trapped within the limits of the conventional discourse. For it merely counterposes the competing unionist and nationalist self-determination claims-to remain with the UK or to end partition - neither offering a via media between them nor suggesting any mechanism other than majority rule for making an arbitration. It thus cannot provide a basis for a settlement short of a mass conversion of Catholics to the status quo, a mass conversion of Protestants to nationalism, or the demographic emergence, peacefully accepted, of a Catholic-nationalist majority - none of which seems a remotely plausible scenario.

This leaves nationalists feeling themselves subject to a 'unionist veto' on their self-determination right, which nationalists therefore seek to prosecute through enhanced involvement by the government of what they believe to be their national community in the day-to-day affairs of Northern Ireland. Unionists in turn, fearful of a process of 'creeping unification', resist such involvement and other north-south links, in order to prevent what they see as a de facto 'Irishising' of Northern Ireland, whatever reassurances they receive about its de jure position from British ministers. As the political interviews later in this report indicate, there is a very clear awareness, amongst both sets of protagonists, as to what is at issue here.

The upshot is that there is neither agreement on the constitutional desideratum for Northern Ireland, nor on its relationship with the Republic of Ireland-and hence no agreement on even the parameters of a settlement. And nor, within the current language, could there be.

The implications of the foregoing discussion are momentous. Nothing short of a radically new language can allow any settlement of the Northern Ireland conflict to be conceived, never mind implemented. In the absence of such a new discourse, no end of talks or fora (and Northern Ireland has had five sets of major talks and five fora since 1969) will deliver up a new dispensation; nor, indeed, will any proposals constructed by the two governments if these remain circumscribed by the language of the participants.

At the 80th anniversary of the onset of the first world war, Vernon Bogdanor wrote:

The slogan of the peacemakers in 1919 was national self-determination. The problem with the notion is that in Central and Eastern Europe - and in Ireland, too - where majorities are intertwined with minorities, there is no way of creating homogeneous national communities by drawing lines on a map. Wherever the line is drawn, significant minorities will be left on the wrong side. For this reason, the principle of national self-determination is not part of the answer to the question of how states should be organised, but rather a large part of the problem ... Woodrow Wilson's notion of self-determination was founded on the 19th-century liberal idea that humanity was naturally divided into nations and every nation should have its own state. Such an idea is clearly not capable of realisation in Central and Eastern Europe [or Northern Ireland], where minorities are territorially dispersed. This means there is an urgent need for new thinking as to how the national identities of peoples can be made compatible with democratic stability.[26]
It is similarly essential to question the concept of the 'nation-state' which national self-determination usually seeks to establish, but which is bedevilled by non-correspondence between the terms on either side of the hyphen. (Indeed Stephen Ryan estimates that only one quarter of 'nation-states' really qualify for that definition.[27]) As Bhikhu Parekh contends,
The nation-state has obvious advantages, which explains its enormous past and present popularity. It liberates individuals from the tyranny of narrow communities, guarantees them personal autonomy, equality and common citizenship, and unites them all within a collectively shared way of life. But it also has its disadvantages. Since it sees itself as the highest moral community, it cannot cherish and beyond a certain point even tolerate ethnic, cultural and religious communities lest they should become rival loci of allegiance and identity and detract from the majesty of the national community. It speaks in the language of secular individualism and has no patience with those speaking in different languages. In this respect even the most liberal state is fundamentally monocultural.

The nation-state might be suited to the needs of a culturally homogeneous society, but is a source of much mischief and disorder in a culturally plural society. It insists on homogeneity and uniformity which its constituent groups naturally resent, and its repressive attempts to enforce its demands inevitably provoke violent reactions from them. The state, an instrument of order, then becomes an instrument of disorder, and forfeits its raison d'être.[28]

On the cognate concept of sovereignty, Hurst Hannum is equally robust:
[I]t is ... important to underscore the inherent vagueness and unhelpfulness of terms such as 'nationhood' and 'sovereignty' in attempting to resolve legal and political conflicts. Both terms have been more frequently used to obscure questionable motives and defend existing privilege than to promote comprehension or compromise ... [T]o emphasise the theoretical rights of every 'nation' or the immutable characteristics of 'sovereignty' is unlikely to resolve the inherent tension between these two components.[29]
And finally, even the very discourse of nationalism itself (including, in this context, unionism of course), however much one defends it as a deeply felt emotional identity, remains intellectually vacuous. As Gellner witheringly remarks, "nationalism as an elaborated intellectual theory is neither widely endorsed, nor of high quality, nor of any historic importance… I would only add that my own reading of Irish nationalist material suggests to me that ... it is indeed pure verbiage. "[30]

Elaborated concepts of pluralism and parity of esteem do not exhaust the new lexicon required to achieve a resolution. Outside of this politico-cultural arena, for instance, there are of course such vexed questions as policing and criminal justice, a whole raft of social concerns under the heading of social exclusion, the economic challenges of long-term unemployment and so on. But new thinking in this arena is certainly a necessary, if not a sufficient, condition of a settlement.

For the fundamental argument of this report is that well-honed concepts of pluralism and parity of esteem can displace the blunt tools of 'majority rule' and 'selfdetermination'. Thus, as Dunn and Hennessey argue, if "recent world developments", interpreted pessimistically, indicate "the universality, obduracy and timelessness of national questions", more optimistically read they show "how current ideas about nationalism, pluralism and internationalism can inform the Irish dilemma and point to ways forward instead of back"[31]

The big distinction is between a language of zero-sum and a language of equilibrium. Majority rule and self-determination both imply that somebody wins and somebody loses. As Gellner laconically puts it, "not all nationalisms can be satisfied, at any rate at the same time. The satisfaction of some spells the frustration of others."[32] Pluralism and parity of esteem, by contrast, are terms, meaningless in a monocultural context, which at least implicitly recognise that identities and rights collide and must therefore be accommodated and balanced.

The end of the cold war has not only been marked by an explosion of ethno-nationalism but also by a more general efflorescence of discrete and disparate political subjects, throwing up another whole set of dilemmas: how can identities defined by their particularity discover any mutual comprehension?

Ernesto Laclau sets the scene:

[T]he end of the Cold War has also been the end of the globalising ideologies that had dominated the political arena since 1945. These ideologies, however, have not been replaced by others that play the same structural function; instead, their collapse has been accompanied by a general decline of ideological politics. The discourse of both camps in the Cold War has been, in this sense, a last version of the political ideology of modernity: that is, the attempt to legitimate one's own ideology by presenting it as a fulfilment of a universal task (whatever that might be). In a post-Cold War world, on the contrary, we are witnessing a proliferation of particularistic political identities, none of which tries to ground its legitimacy and its action in a mission predetermined by universal history - whether that be the mission of a universal class, or the notion of a privileged race, or an abstract principle.[33]
But Laclau argues that while these particularisms challenge the enlightenment notion of a universal political subject ('citizens', 'the proletariat') they do not vitiate the idea of universal values. On the contrary:
For the emergence of highly particularistic identities means that the particular groups will have to coexist with other groups in larger communities and this coexistence will be impossible without the assertion of values that transcend the identities of all of them.[34]
And it is through a notion of rights that for Laclau the universal and particular can be related.

Parekh agrees that the problem is that these categories are defined as if they were mutually exclusive. It is perhaps illuminating to read the following quotation with an ideal-typical unionism and nationalism, substituting for universalism and particularism, in mind:

The universalist trend is grounded in the Enlightenment belief that the liberal, capitalist, and secular way of life alone is consistent with human nature and represents the last word in human wisdom. In such a view there is only one true way of being rational, moral, civilised, human. Not surprisingly its moral monism is inherently inhospitable to cultural pluralism and leaves no space for cultural diversity. The particularist trend makes the opposite mistake. Thinking that the only way to counter universalism is to embrace naïve relativism, it either holds that each way of life represents a distinct, incorrigible and equally valid vision of the good life, or that, in spite of all its limitations, it alone suits the genius of those born within it. In either case it insulates and places the prevailing way of life above criticism and leaves no space for inter-cultural dialogue and borrowing ... Multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic societies need to develop new models of political universalism that both respect deep differences and ensure equal citizenship. If they were to embrace an abstract and culturally insensitive universalism, they would provoke violence and secession. But if they surrendered to particularities in the name of celebrating differences or out of a naïve belief in moral relativism, they would sacrifice social cohesion, common citizenship and a shared way of life, and risk disintegration.[35]

Much representation of the North em Ireland conflict is as if it were symmetrical in nature - 'two traditions' and so on. In fact on closer inspection this is clearly wide of the mark. For a start, the history of Northern Ireland has been a history of one community being, as Orwell would have put it, more equal than the other. Moreover, 'two traditions' thinking, however benignly, projects an essentially Irish nationalist focus on national identity on to the primary unionist concern with state allegiance.

As Bryson and McCartney explain,

Unionists are often told that Britishness is not a real identity; there is no British nation; Britishness is an expression of citizenship. But this misses the point of what unionists want from their Britishness: citizenship in the sense of identification with the institutions of the state. They are not necessarily looking for a sense of nationality, or if they are they may be looking elsewhere.[36]
Yet if the inequality between the 'two communities' has been the raw material of the 'factory of grievances', the asymmetry between them offers a space for a way forward. This space becomes apparent once one separates the notion of ethnos (perceived national community) from demos (polity of citizens).

Now consider another distinction, on how nationality itself is conceived-between the classically French and German models. In the French revolutionary tradition, all are citizens (citoyens), abstractly defined by their secular, universal rights, regardless of any linguistic or national particularity - 'indifferent to difference', as a French commentator has encapsulated it. In the German tradition, arising from the process of unification, all are part of the people (Volk), defined by what differentiates the ascribed national 'spirit' from that of other national groups.

Now map these concepts into a matrix:

German
model
French
model
Ethnos
Ethno-
nationalism
Multi-cultural
citizenship
Demos
Multi-cultural
citizenship
Assimilationism


What the diagram shows is the space between extremist approaches to questions of national identity and state allegiance which can be opened up if a more nuanced approach is adopted. Thus, at one extreme, if one focuses on ethnos at the expense of demos, and one operates with a German model of nationality, one can only end up as an ethno-nationalist protagonist: 'All Serbs in One State'. At the other, if one resists ethnos in the name of demos, and one operates with a French model of nationality, one can only end up demanding all assimilate to the dominant national group - hence the intense and sustained controversy stirred in France a few years ago by the apparently trivial episode of two Muslim girls who wanted to wear headscarves to school.

The space for multi-cultural citizenship arises where ethnos and demos, French and German models, are balanced. As Parekh succinctly puts it, this is about "equal respect, public recognition and the valuing of cultural identities".[37] In Northern Ireland that allows of someone who feels secure in the recognition of their primary identity as an Irish national to feel nevertheless s/he can be relaxed about being a citizen of the state of Northern Ireland/UK, just as it allows of someone who defines him/herself primarily by their allegiance as a citizen to the British state to find an Irish/Northern Irish identity non-threatening.

It is here that the 'trap' of nationality can have a benign reprise. Just as there can never be enough states in the world to have one for every ethnic group, so the necessary non-correspondence between ethnos and demos allows for creative exploitation of opportunities to assuage intercommunal conflict.

It is clear, however, that this poses greater challenges to unionists than nationalists. For it does require unionists to modernise attitudes to citizenship (away from subjecthood) and to Irishness (away from stereotypical conceptions). The dominant trend within unionism conforms to David Miller's model of 'conservative nationalism': "At the core of conservative nationalism stands the idea that national identity integrally involves allegiance to authority. To think of oneself as British [in this view] is ipso facto to acknowledge the authority of institutions such as the monarchy which form the substance of national life."[38]

This implies that the state must give formal recognition to those institutions deemed to express nationality, and associated beliefs and practice must be defended against criticism. Within this view, well articulated in the interviews later, parity of esteem can only be deemed a threat to a whole way of life.

But the approach outlined here does not require unionists to stop being unionist. What it does require is that they embrace an 'inclusivist'[39] or 'civic'[40] unionism. And nor does it fail to challenge nationalists at all: on the contrary, it requires of nationalists a recognition that the vanishing point where state and nation correspond is precisely that.

As Ryan argues, "the fact that states and nations are going to be with us for some time is no reason to accept either statist solutions suggested by supporters of the status quo or calls for separation by nationalist groups, that can, as in the case of former Yugoslavia, lead to the horror of ethnic cleansing. Both of these simplistic solutions usually involve a turning away from dialogue in favour of a unilateral solution."[41]

This approach, however, also allows of a multiplication, not simply bifurcation, of identities - which Salman Rushdie describes as "the norm of life in the 20th century when we are all so jumbled up".[42] Indeed, it is arguable that even with a recognition that most individuals in Northern Ireland will always adhere primarily to a single identity, as unionist or nationalist, it is crucial that there is a - hopefully, in the long run, growing minority in each community, comprising individuals who reflexively construct their own more complex, multiple identities from the cultural repertoires available to them.

For such a group, even if a minority, is crucial to cementing the two conventional blocs and of suffusing them with a commitment to pluralism. As indicated above, nationalists don't have to convert to being unionists or vice versa; what is required is that the distinction be rendered non-antagonistic, through a common recognition of the legitimately plural identity spectrum within which they fall.

As Gerard Delanty argues, and the succeeding research confirms,

The conflict in Northern Ireland has demonstrated the absence of a point of convergence in the extremes of the two traditions and very little in the mainstream currents. This is because their collective identities are not only primary identities but are also exclusive of other identities ...: both nationalism and unionism are very much defined in opposition to each other. Up until now the dominant tendency in the debate about peace has been to seek common ground in the extremes of the two traditions upon which a peaceful and democratic society can be built. While on one level that is indeed commonsensical, on another level it cannot be the basis for an enduring political culture ... [N]ationalism and unionism are themselves incapable of wielding democratic norms upon which a post-national identity could be built. This is because they are based on essentialist identities and the reality is that people have multiple identities, even if these remain largely repressed or unarticulated ... Essential to the task of creating a new collective identity is the need to find less common ground in the extremes of the two traditions than in achieving common ground between the moderate sides.[43]

But how can such 'common ground' be established, when in Northern Ireland perceived rights so obviously collide and the protagonists so commonly talk past each other - as evidenced in both cases by the parades controversy?[44] The tendency is to avoid-as 'too difficult' - the intellectual ramifications of such questions, in favour of an approach based on negotiation. But as the independent review of parades recognised, while such negotiation is welcome it can not in itself be sufficient to resolve conflicts.[45] For, of course, if rights are perceived as colliding and there is no commonality of discourse, 'negotiation' can only become another vehicle for prosecution of conflict.

Thus, as Laclau puts it,

Negotiation ... is an ambiguous term that can mean very different things. One of these is a process of mutual pressures and concessions whose outcome depends on the balance of power between antagonistic groups. It is obvious that no sense of community can be constructed through that type of negotiation. The relation between groups can only be one of potential war. Vis pacis para bellum.[46]
So what can be done? The first answer is to distinguish the universal principle of equality from particular conceptions of the good. Focusing on the former alone makes us 'group-blind'; focusing on the latter alone leads to utter relativism.

Attracta Ingram has developed a complex and sophisticated argument, worth recounting at length, as to how a scheme of rights can come to be endorsed by diverse citizens. Certainly, it will not be acceptable to extremists who cannot accept alternative conceptions of the good as legitimate. But it should be a basis for 'common ground' between more moderate political forces, flowing as it does from principles of liberal democracy, widely recognised today as the only legitimate political order:

Now in liberal democracies people subscribe to different, often incompatible conceptions of what makes life worthwhile. These may be religious, ethical, or philosophical views. Since such views are the subject of disagreement and are also sources of the deepest convictions people have about how to lay out their lives those facts must be represented as 'givens' in any model of the circumstances in which the question of rights arises for us. In other words, our thinking about rights takes place against certain background beliefs that are not in question within the liberal democratic perspective: (1) that citizens are to be treated as equals from the point of view of politics; (2) that certain liberties, such as the liberty to practise a religion, are of fundamental importance; (3) that disagreement about the fundamentals of human existence is to be tolerated (even regarded as a good thing) rather than stamped out by force. Together these beliefs direct us to find a moral basis for an acceptable system of rights, one that can be endorsed by all citizens, in some point of agreement which overarches differences in conceptions of what makes life worthwhile. Intuitively, the clearest point of agreement is that expressed in the third belief, that moral pluralism is to be tolerated. While this belief cannot stand in isolation from the other two (toleration would not be important to people who did not believe in democratic equality and fundamental liberties), it is a useful point of entry to the unifying moral basis of all three.[47]

Underlying all three principles, Ingram argues, is the (universal) value of individual autonomy Here she challenges the widespread assumptions that rights derive from self-ownership of property, arguing instead that they should be understood as deriving from the capacity of all moral persons for self-government:

[E]qual respect for persons cannot flow from the thought that others are due the respect we claim for ourselves because they are like us in sharing our judgments of what makes life worthwhile. Instead, equal respect must come from the thought that what matters is that people develop and exercise their capacities to form and implement their own plans and projects.[48]
Autonomy, however, while individual is not private: developing one's own projects entails reasoning, which in turn entails engagement with the judgments of others about the substance of a worthwhile life. Whereas a proprietorial conception of rights implies a relation between citizens of a social contract, based on bargaining, an autonomy - regarding conception implies resolution of these relationships through dialogue.[49]

But not any dialogue. If the outcome of discourse is to be based on reason alone-rather than propaganda, deception, appeals to tradition or exercise of power-then, following Jurgen Habermas, Ingram argues that the participants must enjoy equal freedom of expression, equal individuality and equal power, and all motives except for the co-operative search for truth must be excluded.[50] This Habermas calls ideal speech and Ingram terms 'ideal discourse'.

Through such an ideal discourse we can, despite differing conceptions of the good, elaborate a set of rights principles on which all citizens can concur, derived from a common regard for autonomy. Ingram thereby outlines four:

(1) that each citizen has an equal right to the liberties, opportunities and powers of citizenship;

(2) that the citizen is incomplete outside relations to others, so citizenship cannot be defined through the provision of rights of non-interference by a minimal state;

(3) that their interdependence means that citizens must stand to each other in relations of mutual concern and respect expressed in their co-operation in a just state;

(4) that their necessary mutuality and reciprocity is shown in citizens' acceptance of dialogue rather than force or deception to settle their political arrangements and resolve the conflicts that arise from time to time.[51]

This provides a powerful theoretical underpinning for a package of rights under the banner of parity of esteem, deliberated upon and accepted thereby as based upon the common interest of free and equal, if different, citizens in the pursuit of autonomous, though interdependent, lives. It allows us to re-present the concept of parity of esteem in the language of opportunity and choice for individual citizens, rather than as the clash between ideologically armour-plated, collective political protagonists it is often thought to connote - both for the progatonists themselves and for broader publics alienated from the debate as a result.

The focus on an acceptable régime for the adjudication of rights, and on the principle of continuing dialogue, is crucial for another reason. As Norberto Bobbio recognises, and he could easily have been writing about the parades controversy,

in the majority of cases concerning human rights two equally fundamental human rights conflict with each other, and it is impossible to protect one unconditionally without making the other inoperative. Take, for example, the right to freedom of expression on the one hand, and the right not to be deceived, provoked, scandalised, offended, libelled or vilified on the other. In these cases, which are the majority, one has to refer to fundamental rights which are not absolute but relative… [52]
Bobbio also importantly reminds us how the very idea of human rights developed in reaction to an organic conception of society, in which the social whole, embodied in the sovereign, defined the duties of individual members, conceived as subjects. Emerging first in the name of religious freedom, this generalised into an individualistic conception of society, whose members were re-defined as rights-bearing citizens.[53] It would surely be a perverse historical reprise to reintroduce an organic conception, in the name of the 'nationalist community' and the 'unionist community' religiously defined-thereby disempowering individual citizens-as part of a project ostensibly intended to extend the sphere of rights.

Indeed, Bobbio goes so far as to question the very idea of 'the people' on which the idea of national-self-determination rests:

'People' is an ambiguous term, which has been used by all the modern dictatorships. It is an abstraction which can be deceiving: it is not clear what sections of the individuals living on a given territory constitute the 'people'. Collective decisions are not taken by the people, but by the individuals it is composed of, whether they are many or few. In a democracy, collective decisions are taken directly or indirectly only by single individuals in the moment in which they place their voting paper in the ballot box.[54]

Yet it is sometimes argued that the politics of recognition necessarily entails enshrining 'collective rights'. Conventional human rights régimes, it is said, treat each individual identically as a homo civicus, enjoying of civil and political liberties by dint of democratic citizenship. Their very universalism makes them blind to considerations of differential identities. What therefore needs recognition, it is then suggested, is the rights of particular groups held to embody a conscience collective.

This, however, is very much a road to hell, albeit paved with good intentions. As John Cash points out, such corporate conceptions not only subordinate individuals to ascriptive group membership and define their entitlements accordingly - at some peril to individual liberty - but also it follows that the behaviour, beliefs and aspirations of other groups can only be evaluated relativistically, in terms of their compatibility, or otherwise, with those of one's own group. And since the constitutive political relationship is no longer between the citizen and the state but between the group and the state, political authority is granted legitimacy only in so far as it is deemed to advance the interests of one's own group and to control or exclude the other(s). From this, then, it follows that the only 'solutions' that are possible are informal or formal apartheid, partition, 'repatriation' or genocide.[55]

The 'two traditions' emphasis of recent years has been a mixed blessing in this regard. On the one hand, it is certainly superior to the 'one tradition' mono-culturalism which dominated, and stultified, Northern Ireland in the old Stormont years. On the other hand, it can itself be constricting, implying as it does a pre-determined fixity of cultural styles and political affiliations: as Liah Green-field argues, nationalisms defined in collectivist terms are inherently authoritarian.[56] Where they clash, as in Northern Ireland, recognition of the rights of collectivities qua collectivities can only perpetuate the stand-off, institutionalising sectarianism and preventing the emergence of a broader pluralist and democratic culture.

In extremis, of course, emphasis on 'group rights' can only conjure up an apartheid society, in which all politics - as dialogue and exchange - is impossible. And, looking at the South African case, Adrian Guelke warns that if "the old assumption that ethnicity would be dissolved in the process of modernisation and state integration has been thoroughly discredited", nevertheless, "A danger now exists that a contrary and equally false assumption will be made, postulating the inevitability and centrality of ethnic divisions in any multiethnic society."[57] Ironically, South Africa, where the African National Congress stuck by non-racialism in the face of the perpetuation of group division by the National Party, here provides (as so often) more contrast than comparison with Northern Ireland.

Kymlicka comes to similar conclusions. He rightly stresses that without minority rights provisions, "talk of 'treating people as individuals' is itself just a cover for ethnic and national injustice". But he warns:

Recognising minority rights has obvious dangers. The language of minority rights has been used and abused not only by the Nazis [vis-à-vis the Sudeten Germans 'trapped' in Czechoslovakia by the Versailles treaty], but also by apologists for racial segregation and apartheid. It has also been used by intolerant and belligerent nationalists and fundamentalists throughout the world to justify the domination of people outside their group, and the suppression of dissenters within the group. A liberal theory of minority rights, therefore, must explain how minority rights coexist with human rights, and how minority rights are limited by principles of individual liberty, democracy, and social justice.[58]
As Amy Gutmann puts it, "The demand for recognition, animated by the ideal of human dignity, points in at least two directions, both to the protection of the basic rights of individuals as human beings and to the acknowledgment of the particular needs of individuals as members of specific cultural groups."[59]

It is for all these reasons that the language of the international conventions on minority rights refers not to such groups as legal subjects but to 'persons belonging to' them. This reserves to individuals the crucial rights to be both less and more than a representative member of an ethnic group-less in the sense of a right of exit, more in the sense of a right to additional identities. During the war in ex-Yugoslavia, one writer passionately complained:

That is what the war is doing to us, reducing us to one dimension: the Nation. The trouble with this nationhood, however, is that whereas before, I was defined by my education, my job, my ideas, my character - and yes, my nationality too - now I feel stripped of all that. I am nobody because I am not a person any more. I am one of 4.5 million Croats.[60]
'Collective rights', in other words, turn persons belonging to ethnic, national or religious minorities into non-persons. At worst, as Ryan indicates, ethnocentrism and enemy images become entrenched, exaggerated awareness and concern about cultural difference" being manifest. "As a result of this black and white thinking 'deindividualisation' takes place, a collective ethic emerges and polarisation becomes easier."[61]

This is not to reject any notion of communal identity - that would be to relapse into abstract universalism. And as Jeffrey Weeks argues: "A community offers a 'vocabulary of values' through which individuals construct their understanding of the social world, and of their sense of identity and belonging. Communities appear to offer embeddedness in a world which constantly seems on the verge of fragmentation." But Weeks goes on to warn

A major problem, of course, is that a particular definition of community may undermine a wider sense of community embodied in the best of humanist traditions. The strongest sense of community is in fact likely to come from those groups who find the premises of their collective existence threatened, and who construct out of this a community of identity which provides a strong sense of resistance and empowerment. Seeming unable to control the social relations in which they find themselves, people shrink the world to the size of their communities, and act politically on that basis. The result, too often, is an obsessive particularism as a way of embracing or coping with contingency. And as critics of community have pointed out, social pluralism and the proliferation of associations do not necessarily mean variety for men and women personally: embeddedness means people can get stuck.

The challenge for modern advocates of community, therefore, is to imagine community without either neo-tribalism or self-immolation ... The co-existence of different communities depends upon a recognition that the condition of toleration of one's own way of life is a recognition of the validity of other ways of life.[62]

As Jean Leca pungently asks, "How can citizenship be combined with the coexistence of different cultural groups which only communicate between themselves with the deafness of resentment?"[63]

Cyprus here provides an eloquent warning. The Treaties of Zurich and London granting qualified independence in 1960 were based on residential, electoral and political segregation between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. "Individuals qua individuals did not possess rights vis à vis the national state; rights were reserved for communal groups, while small minorities were forced to choose between the two communities."[64] The rest is history.

With this key caveat, however, minority rights provisions are crucially important in engendering parity of esteem: they represent the counterbalance through which the demographic weight of a majority is reduced to equilibrium with the minority(ies) with which it shares a territory. That being so, it is worth considering why they have taken so long to emerge in the inventory of international law, and why they still only have declaratory status. And the answer, of course, lies not only in the failure of the inter-war League of Nations, or the opportunist way in which Hitler embraced the rights of German minorities outside the Vaterland - but in the way the régime of international relations embodied in the United Nations was premised precisely on sovereign, self-determining nation-states.

Thus, minority rights are absent from the founding UN Charter of 1945. While in 1946 a UN Sub-commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities was established, the 'parent' Human Rights Commission constrained its work, reflecting the unwillingness of member states to delve too deeply into this area. In 1978, the HRC established a working group to study a Yugoslav draft on minority rights. Yet it took 14 years for that to be translated into the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. And the declaration is itself rather weak: not only has it no legal force but there is no monitoring mechanism and its substantive implications are imprecise ('appropriate ... measures') or qualified ('where required').

Nevertheless, the declaration does commit UN members in general to "protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories, and ... encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity". In particular, its provisions range comprehensively over equality and non-discrimination; rights to linguistic, religious and other cultural expression; education for cultural diversity, including education via the 'mother tongue'; rights to participate 'effectively' in all aspects of public life and decision-making; freedom of communal association and in terms of developing relations with co-nationals in neighbouring states; and co-operation between states to promote rights and mutual understanding.[65]

Many of the same considerations apply to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities,[66] which covers much the same terrain as the UN declaration. Council of Europe sources indicate that the Parliamentary Assembly of the council wanted the convention to be attached as a protocol to the existing European Convention of Human Rights - a weakness of which is that it does not address the rights of members of ethnic (in the broadest sense) groups, as against abstract individuals- but the "main powers" in the Committee of Ministers of the council took a "political decision" in favour of a framework convention instead. The new code does' not, thus, allow representatives of 'national minorities' to bring cases before the European Court of Human Rights to seek redress against the states in which they live.

Nevertheless, as the explanatory report attached to the convention indicates, "The framework Convention is the first legally binding multilateral instrument devoted to the protection of national minorities in general." It arose from recognition by the heads of state of the 38-member council, at their summit in Vienna in 1993, "that the national minorities which the upheavals of history have established in Europe had to be protected and respected as a contribution to peace and stability". Both the UK and the Republic of Ireland have yet to ratify the convention.

The explanatory report makes clear that no recognition of 'collective rights' is implied here, as against persons belonging to ethnic groups. And, like other instruments on minority rights, it insists that every such person "shall have the right freely to choose to be treated or not to be treated as such" to no disadvantage.

Its preamble states that "a pluralistic and genuinely democratic society should not only respect the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of each person belonging to a national minority, but also create conditions enabling them to express, preserve and develop this identity". It stresses that "the creation of a climate of tolerance and dialogue is necessary to enable cultural diversity to be a source and a factor, not of division, but of enrichment for each society".

The key provisions of relevance to Northern Ireland are:

  • prohibition of discrimination, in favour of equality before the law and equal protection;
  • promotion of equality "in all areas of economic, social, political and cultural life";
  • promotion of conditions necessary for national minorities to preserve their identity, in "religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage";
  • encouragement of "tolerance and intercultural dialogue" and effective measures to promote mutual respect and co-operation, particularly in education,
  • culture and the media;
  • specific protection of language rights, including education through the minority language, access to the media and officialdom, street names, etc;
  • fostering knowledge in education and research of minority and majority cultures, history, ete;
  • creation of the conditions for "effective participation" of persons belonging to national minorities "in cultural, social and economic life and in public affairs";
  • non-interference with "free and peaceful contacts" across frontiers, especially where ethnic identity or cultural heritage is shared; and
  • encouragement of "bilateral and multilateral agreements with other States, in particular neighbouring States, in order to ensure the protection of persons belonging to the national minorities concerned".

The convention also stresses the need for national minorities to respect the rights of others and that nothing within it implies any right to engage in activity contrary to the "sovereign equality, territorial integrity and political independence of States". It thus goes as far as the international community yet has in squaring the circle of how, in the many European countries in particular where states and ethnic groups do not follow the same boundaries, the clash of the two key international principles of self-determination and non-violability of borders can be resolved.

Earlier, in 1992, the Council of Europe had promulgated the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages. This ranges from education in the medium of the language, to its use in communication with authorities, in cross-border exchanges and in economic and social life, to expression through the media and via cultural activities and facilities. Again, there is no vehicle for an aggrieved citizen or group to avail of the charter to secure legal redress.

Finally, in this context, the work of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe should be mentioned. The 1989 Vienna Declaration of the then CSCE, the 1990 Paris Charter and (in the same year) the Copenhagen meeting addressed the rights of national minorities and the last addressed mechanisms for preventing violations. At the Helsinki meeting in 1992, a post of High Commissioner on National Minorities was establishing. The holder (Max van der Stoel) began operating in the following year, but he has a staff of only four, is essentially oriented to early-warning prevention of emergent conflicts and can not communicate with any party condoning violence.[67]

These minority rights provisions could clearly be substantially strengthened, notably by rendering them justiciable before domestic and international tribunals in the manner of the European Convention of Human Rights. But Rekosh, while a strong supporter of minority rights to guard against the 'tyranny of the majority', nevertheless has an apposite warning of the limits of international human rights safeguards, however robust, when applied to particular situations:

[N]o treaty will ever solve all of the issues that can divide national, ethnic, religious and linguistic groups ... [P]recise decisions about these issues must take into account the particular circumstances. The best way to address these thorny problems is to engage in a genuine dialogue in good faith with the participation of all interested parties.[68]

And this is why this report has broadened the argument beyond parity of esteem to include the related issue of political pluralism. Legalistic solutions can only bear so much weight: if citizens and their representatives can not practise 'dialogue in. good faith' in their everyday and political lives, without requiring constant legal direction or constraint, then there is no prospect of Northern Ireland ever functioning as a multi-cultural society in a manner congruent with liberal-democratic norms. Indeed, the displacement of political conflicts into litigation, as so often in the US, may serve to heighten, rather than assuage, group antagonisms.

John Gray is perhaps overly world-weary, but he takes us to the heart of the matter:

For the pluralist, the practice of politics is a noble engagement, precisely on account of the almost desperate humility of its purposes - which are to moderate the enmity of agonistic identities, and to generate conventions of peace among warring communities. The pluralist embrace of politics is, for these reasons, merely a recognition of the reality of political life, itself conceived as an abatement of war.[69]
But how is pluralism to be practised, with such a benign, or at least less malign, end in view? After all, it could in theory be argued that the more pluralism a society allows, the more potential sites for conflict are established. In extremis, if every individual were reduced to selfish difference, then society would be reduced to a Hobbesian war of all against all, in the absence of a sovereign dictator.

And, indeed, as Anthony Giddens warns, in today's "post-traditional social order", a cosmopolitan culture partly induced by globalisation, there is a tendency to retreat into various types of "fundamentalism", that is to say not only a defence of tradition, but a defence of tradition in a traditional way.[70] An instance would be not only to insist on the right to march down a particular road to express a particular tradition, but to insist precisely on the ground that it had been traditional to do so.

Thus the danger of today's world to which Gray points - and in Northern Ireland's case the danger of the conflict simply becoming permanent, 'peaceful' or not - is that competing religious or other ethnic fundamentalisms hold sway in reaction to one another, in a relationship which Frank Wright described as "communal deterrence".[71] A healthy democracy, Chantal Mouffe insists, is not represented by "a confrontation between non-negotiable moral values and essentialist identities".[72]

The alternative, however, is to recognise that liberal democracy in a context of agonistic pluralism must have another function beyond the expressive: it is not simply about the collection and counting of 'mandates', but also about the further step of creating a relationship as near to 'ideal discourse' as possible between elected representatives.

This, as Giddens presents it, is essentially the opposite of fundamentalism. If fundamentalism refuses to explicate its concerns to other groups (the latter perceived as in a relationship of antagonism), or to assimilate the latter's concerns, what Giddens calls "dialogic democracy" accepts this need for rational engagement:

On the one hand, democracy is a vehicle for the representation of interests. On the other, it is a way of creating a public arena in which controversial issues - in principle - can be resolved, or at least handled, through dialogue rather than through pre-established forms of power. While the first aspect has probably received most attention, the second is at least equally significant.[73]
And Giddens recognises the particular role of dialogic democracy, in countering fundamentalism and constraining violence, in ethnically divided societies. Indeed, unless one accepts - or could even without 'ethnic cleansing' achieve - complete segmentation of populations, there is no alternative if conflict is to be stemmed:
Difference ... can become a medium of hostility; but it can also be a medium of creating mutual understanding and sympathy ... Understanding the point of view of the other allows for greater self-understanding, which in turn enhances communication with the other ... Dialogue has great substitutive power in respect of violence, even if the relation between the two in empirical contexts is plainly complex ... These things having been said, dialogic democratisation is likely to be central to civil cosmopolitanism in a world of routine cultural diversity.[74]
It will be immediately clear that dialogic democracy, in as much as it insists on a broader notion of democracy than the merely representative, is incompatible with any notion of 'majority rule'. Majoritarian notions of democracy precisely represent a refusal of the equality between majority and minority representatives on which 'ideal discourse' depends. Dialogic democracy, by contrast, aims to find a point of mutual understanding which bears no necessary relationship to the respective sizes of the groups involved. It is not a mere out-working of a negotiated balance of power. Nor is it a process confined to elected representatives, but it can embrace an engagement between such representatives and what Norman Porter calls "the politics of civil society".[75]

It is for all these reasons, as the work of Ingram, Laclau and Giddens in sum demonstrates, that attempts to resolve intercommunal relations in Northern Ireland via political talks have so far proved entirely abortive. Unless a political culture characterised by dialogic democracy is developed and consolidated, theological and political fundamentalisms, and 'war of manoeuvre' power plays, will prevail. By definition, it is unlikely that the protagonists to the conflict, with the vested interests in which they have invested so much-political or paramilitary - will be the initiators of such a cultural transformation.

The key implication of this intellectual overview of notions of pluralism and parity of esteem is that old concepts of national self-determination, sovereignty, the nation-state and majority rule - whose direct interlinkage has turned them into a formidable chain locking situations into conflict-have to be unpacked and replaced by a more differentiated discourse, in which the space for cultural diversity can emerge.

As Ryan, more optimistically, argues, it is possible for ethnic citizens to show allegiance to a state which equitably fosters communal life; it is possible to establish incentives to 'make moderation pay'.

All of this, however, will mean a move away from the concept of the nation-state in favour of the separation of the nation and the state and an effort to live with cultural pluralism ... This will not, of course, be easy, but a combination of denationalisation and democratisation of the state, the de-internationalisation of ethnic conflict and ethnodevelopment do seem to offer the best hope for the creation of peaceful and democratic multi-ethnic societies…[76]
Cassese agrees:
Perhaps the best solution is neither to embrace some form of utopian cosmopolitanism nor to assume an attitude that decries ethno-cultural differences. Too much richness would be lost if diverse cultural expression could not find expression. What deserves, instead, careful consideration is the need for separation of ethno-cultural differences from the State as a political entity. Thus, the next stage in the evolution of self-determination, the most radical stage of all, might be one in which States would increasingly become polities belonging to their citizens defined in 'civic' terms rather than 'ethno-national' terms. The separation of 'State' and 'nationality' would imply that within the 'non-national' or truly 'multi-national' State - that is, the State that belongs to all its citizens-citizens would be free to group themselves around their cultural heritage and symbols… [77]
This, in turn, implies a "plural constitution" - a concept we return to at the end of this report-as well as an acceptance that "the problems of multicultural existence, even in a non-national State, would [still] be legion".[78]

But, as this theoretical/international overview has itself highlighted, one must distinguish the universal principles at stake in this debate from their particular embodiment in a concrete situation. So let us turn now to the views of key players in Northern Ireland as to what, for them, parity of esteem is all about.


Footnotes
1I am indebted to a paper on parity of esteem by David Stephens of the Irish Council of Churches for the material in this paragraph.
2A Pollak ed, A Citizens' Enquiry: The Opsahl Report on Northern Ireland, Lilliput, Dublin, 1993, p113
3ibid, pp 133 & 5
4Lucy Bryson and Clem McCartney, Clashing Symbols, Institute of Irish Studies, Queen's University, Belfast, 1994
5Ernest Gellner, Notions and Nationalism, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1983; Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, Versa, London, 1983, revised 1991
6The phrase is drawn from Charles Taylor et al, Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1994.
7AD Smith, Nations and Nationalism in a Global Era, Polity, Cambridge, 1995, p2
8Smith, The Ethnic Origins of Nationalism, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1986, pp 22-31
9John Gray, Enlightenment's Wake: Politics and Culture at the Close of the Modern Age, Routledge, London, 1995, p129
10Michael Ignatieff, Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1994, p5
11Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, Cambridge, 1990
12 Gellner, Encounters with Nationalism, I B Taurus, Oxford, 1994, p38
13 Will Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship, Clarendon, Oxford, 1995, p1
14 Alan Sharp, 'The genie that would not go back into the bottle', in Seamus Dunn and T G Fraser eds, Europe and Ethnicity: World War I and Contemporary Ethnic Conflict, Routledge, London, 1996, pp 12-14
15 cited in Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 'On the "self-determination of peoples"', in his Pandaemonium: Ethnicity in International Politics, Oxford University Press, 1993, p82
16 cited in ibid, p83
17 cited in Antonio Cassese, Self-determination of Peoples: A Legal Reappraisal, Cambridge University Press, 1995, p141
18 cited in Moynihan, op cit, p85
19Hurst Hannum, Autonomy, Sovereignty and Self-determination: The Accommodation of Conflicting Rights, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1992, p27
20 Moynihan, op cit, p71
21 Cassese, op cit, p1
22 Vincent Cable, The World's New Fissures, Demos paper no 6, London, 1994, p48 23
23 Cassese, op cit, p4
24Hannum, op cit, p31
25 Gellner, Encounters with Nationalism, pp 178-9
26 Vernon Bogdanor, 'Exorcising the ghosts of 1914', Independent, August 1st 1994
27 Stephen Ryan, Ethnic Conflict and International Relations (second edition), Dartmouth, Aldershot, 1995, p3
28 Bhikhu Parekh, 'Introduction', New Community (special issue on national identity), vol 21, no 2, April 1995, p.149
29Hannum, op cit, pp 25-6
30 Gellner, Encounters with Nationalism, pp65-7
31 Seamus Dunn and T W Hennessey, 'Ireland', in Dunn and Fraser eds, op cit, p178
32 Gellner, op cit, p2
33Ernesto Laclau ed, The Making of Political Identities, Versa, London, 1994, p114
34ibid, p5
35Parekh, op cit, pp 148-9
36 Bryson and McCartney, op cit, p50
37Parekh, 'United colours of equality', New Statesman, December 13th 1996
38 David Miller, On Nationality, Clarendon, Oxford, 1995, p124
39 John D Cash, Identity, Ideology and Conflict: The Structuration of Politics in Northern Ireland, Cambridge University Press, 1996, passim
40 Norman Porter, Rethinking Unionism: An Alternative Vision for Northern Ireland, Blackstaff, Belfast, 1996, pp 167-213
41 Ryan, op cit, p228
42 Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, Nationality and Citizenship: A Discussion, HCA, Prague, 1993, p13
43Gerard Delanty, 'Habermas and post-national identity: theoretical perspectives on the conflict in Northern Ireland', Irish Political Studies, vol 11, 1996, p30
44 Dominic Bryan and Neil Jarman, Parade and Protest, Centre for the Study of Conflict, University of Ulster, Coleraine, 1996
45 Report: Independent Review of Parades and Marches (the North report), Stationery Office, Belfast, 1997
46 Laclau, Emancipation(s), Verso, London, 1996, p32
47Attracta Ingram, A Political Theory of Rights, Clarendon, Oxford, 1994, pp 97-8
48 ibid, p98
49 ibid, pp 121-2
50ibid, pp 125-6
51ibid, p171
52Norberto Babbio, The Age of Rights, Polity, Cambridge, 1996, p27
53ibid, pp ix-x
54ibid, p90
55 Cash, op cit, pp 101-2
56 Liah Greenfield, Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity, Harvard University Press, 1992, pp10-11
57Adrian Guelke, 'Ethnic Rights and Majority Rule: The Case of South Africa', in International Political Science Review, vol 13, no 4, 1992, pp415-432
58Kymlicka, op cit, pp 194 &6
59 Amy Gutmann, introduction to Taylor, op cit, p8
60S Drakulic, Balkan Express, Hutchinson, London, 1993, p51
61 Ryan, op cit, pp 83 & 87
62Jeffrey Weeks, The idea of a sexual community', Soundings, no 2, spring 1996, p72
63 Jean Leca, 'Questions on citizenship', in Chantal Mouffe ed, Dimensions of Radical Democracy: Pluralism, Citizenship, Community, Versa, London. 1992, p30
64 Adamantia Pollis, 'The social construction of ethnicity and nationality: the case of Cyprus', Nationalism & Ethnic Politics, vol 2, no 1, spring 1996
65The declaration is reproduced in full in Asbjørn Eide, New Approaches to Minority Protect ion, Minority Rights Group, London, 1993, p4.
66Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and explanatory report, Council of Europe Press, Strasbourg, 1995
67 J Quigley, 'Combination of national groups interests in multi-ethnic states: international practice', in Helsinki Citizens' Assembly of Moldova, Civic Peace and Democracy in Multiethnic Societies, Chisinau, 1995; Oxford Research Group, New Conflicts in Europe: Conflict and Resolution, Oxford, 1992
68 E Rekosh, 'Minority issues in an international human rights context', in ibid, p31
69 Gray, op cit, p129
70Anthony Giddens, Beyond Left and Right: The Future of Radical Politics, Polity, Cambridge, 1994, pp 5-6
71Frank Wright, Northern Ireland: A Comparative Analysis, Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1988, p12
72Chantal Mouffe, The Return of the Political, Verso, London, 1993, p6
73Giddens, op cit, pp 15-16
74 ibid, pp 244-5
75Porter, op cit, p50
76Ryan, op cit, pp 237-8
77 Cassese, op cit, p365
78ibid, loc cit

[Report Contents] [List of Reports]

Democratic Dialogue {external_link}
53 University Street, Belfast, BT7 1FY Northern Ireland
Phone: -44-28-9022-0050 Fax: -44-28-9022-0051
E-mail:
info@democraticdialogue.org

Back to the top of this page