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The Problem of Recognising Individual and National Identities: A Liberal Critique of the Belfast Agreement

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Ian O'FlynnORCiD


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This paper considers the charge that liberalism cannot adequately provide for the recognition and institutional equality of rival interpretations of national identity in Northern Ireland. I argue that although liberalism comes up short when confronted by the kinds of collective rights and interests that are at issue between the two nationalist communities, British and Irish, it nevertheless has a crucially important role to play. In particular, I distinguish between the protection and promotion of national identities in order to show why a liberal concern for individual rights provides us with important standards by which we can assess the merits of the collective rights that national communities typically claim. In the light of these normative considerations, I then show why the Belfast Agreement risks entrenching national identity in ways that curtail individual freedom within and across the two communities, before indicating how the Agreement might be reformed in keeping with the protection-promotion distinction. I conclude by seeing how this distinction plays itself out with respect to the work of the Northern Ireland Equality and Human Rights Commissions, and suggest why the relation between individual and collective rights has crucial implications for Northern Ireland’s political future.

Publication metadata

Author(s): O'Flynn I

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy

Year: 2003

Volume: 6

Issue: 3

Pages: 129-153

ISSN (print): 1743-8772

ISSN (electronic): 1743-8772

Publisher: Routledge


DOI: 10.1080/1369823032000233582


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