by Siobhan Mullins
WhenI decided to go on a study abroad program to Northern Ireland to immerse myself in its culture, I did not expect to learn so much about it in a university classroom. Luckily, I was proven very wrong.
While in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the study abroad group was privileged to meet with two professors at Queen’s University Belfast, one of whom was Dominic Bryan. Dr. Bryan has been a professor of anthropology at QUB for nearly 24 years and has researched symbols, rituals, and the overall dynamic culture of Northern Ireland. His lively lecture and immersive learning allowed us to make sense of the country’s culture and conflict over the past few decades.
Dr.Bryan pushed us to question our understanding of the nation’s holistic identity. Or does it even have one? And if it doesn’t have its own identity, can it even be called a nation? Dr. Bryan opened our minds up to a brand-new understanding of what it means to be a nation. He explained to us that nearly all nations that have ever come into existence do so emotionally. A nation is glued together by the story told by its people. Every nation has a story of martyrs who die for it, a flag to represent it, statues erected, and anthems written. All of these symbols tell the story of a greater identity that unites all. Northern Ireland certainly is part of a country, Dr. Bryan argues, but not a nation.
NorthernIreland’s existence came about by an agreement between the Irish and the British. The states were manufactured. So, how then does Northern Ireland’s lack of identity manifest today? This question has led to a substantial division between the Protestants and Catholics. But make one thing clear: this divide is hardly religious. He argues that these two identities - not cultures but identities - look quite similar. Therefore, the groups go to great lengths to distinguish themselves from one another. Dr. Bryan discussed how this is done through the use of flags and parades.
Thetypical tri-color Irish flag is starkly contrasted with that of the U.K. flag. Both flags are hung in respective unionist and loyalist areas to mark their respective territories. Flags are used so often that Dr. Bryan argues they are even starting to lose their value. In his research, he found that more flags manufactured and produced cheaply contribute to the symbol losing its sacredness. All of this jumbles Northern Ireland’s identity even more.
Anotheridentity marker used in Northern Ireland is the parades. Dr. Bryan explained that parading in Northern Ireland has been a cause for controversy. Historically, loyalists have most commonly paraded in Belfast and heightened tensions by parading through unionist neighborhoods. A name can also conjure up preconceived notions and wary since names might give away Protestant or Catholic roots. Wherever you grow up in Northern Ireland, it is a given that you learn to locate, read, and identify all of these markers.
Oneof the biggest personal takeaways from our meeting with Dr. Bryan was our detailed discussion of cultural identity, specifically, that of Irish Americans. He argued that culture is invented out of inspiration by others rather than a mesh of multiple cultural identities. So being Irish American is not a mix, per se, of American and Irish culture. This is not to say Irish American culture is inauthentic, however it is a culture of its own. This especially stood out to me, as an American girl whose grandparents were Irish immigrants. The idea of Irish identity has quite literally been given to me in my name, Siobhan. It was a unique and enlightening take on the idea.
My culture is notinauthentic and certainly not unimportant, but it is distinctly different from that of someone born and raised in Ireland. The same goes for that of someone born and raised in Northern Ireland. At times, it may be difficult to make sense of the ongoing tensions but that is because many of us have no idea what it is like to live in this country. Dr. Dominic Bryan allowed us the opportunity to humanize and dissect what it means to be Northern Irish.
Through all theprosperity and hardship, through all the victories and violence, one thing is clear: Northern Ireland is still working very hard to find its identity as a nation.
by Evelyn Lowry
After ten days ofimmersive education in Dublin and Belfast, our group traveled to Queens University Belfast, in Northern Ireland. Our conversation with Professor Katy Hayward of Queen's University Belfast gave us incredible insight into the inner workings, complications, and implications of Brexit. Having the wonderful opportunity to learn from Katy Hayward, a professor of Political Sociology at QUB, and internationally recognized expert on Brexit as well as the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, was an incredible way to wrap up our education in Ireland “Brexit means borders”-- a phrase of Dr. Hayward’s which has remained on my mind. It has been seven years since the referendum which brought Brexit to reality, and Northern Ireland has certainly faced the most substantial consequences as a result of this historical decision. At the birth of Brexit, members of the British government did not know what Brexit truly meant in practice - how would Brexit come to life and what would it really mean for those involved?
Professor Haywardspoke to us about the “cornerstones of Border management”, a cycle of conditions, all of which need to be met and the things which make those requirements possible. One, knowing what is crossing the border, which consists of paperwork processes. Two, knowing that what is crossing the border meets proper criteria, through implementation of checks and presence of infrastructure. And three, knowing that entry through a border is conditional and preventable. An Eisenhower Fellow, Dr. Hayward shared with us that she had conducted research about border management by using the United States as an example of how to utilize technology to control a border, as the country has done this for its borders with Mexico and Canada. A key finding was that information is absolutely necessary for border management, and infrastructure such as checkpoints, guards, and technology are essential to manage if something is not meeting border requirements.
In terms ofBrexit, Dr. Hayward outlined the “trilemma”-- leaving the E.U. single market, avoiding a border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and additionally avoiding a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. From this trilemma, the Northern Ireland Protocol was created, creating a trade border in the Irish Sea. This has become a major point of contention in Northern Irish politics, and has led to the Democratic Unionist party of Northern Ireland boycotting governmental power-sharing, and functioning at Stormont.
A major takeawayfrom this meeting with Dr. Hayward was learning about Article Eighteen of the Northern Ireland Protocol, designating that Articles Five to Ten of the N.I.P. will be put to a vote in front of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Stormont, in late 2024. This vote will decide if the articles will be negotiated by the U.K. and E.U., or if they will continue to stay the same. However, how will this work if the D.U.P does not return to power-sharing at Stormont? Dr. Hayward explained to us that the articles will still be put to a vote. Interestingly, the articles require that if only a simple majority of one party votes to reaffirm or rewrite, and the vote is not ‘cross-community’, then another vote must take place four years ahead. If Articles Five through Ten of the Northern Ireland Protocol are voted down in 2024, they are to be rewritten by the U.K. and E.U. to rewrite– it is necessary to recognize that once again, Northern Ireland is not part of this central discussion. For change to be made to the Northern Ireland Protocol, whether it be to reaffirm or rewrite the presented articles, it is necessary that there is a cross community vote.
We touched on thepossibility of reunification in our discussion with Dr. Hayward. If reunification occurs, the Northern Ireland Protocol will no longer apply, all 32 counties of Ireland and Northern Ireland will be part of the E.U. Through 2022 opinion polling, Dr. Hayward showed us that an increasing number of people think that the existence of a United Ireland is more likely than the United Kingdom in twenty years’ time. Additionally, sixty-three percent of respondents believed that Brexit made a United Ireland more likely. Dr. Hayward noted that current and future conversation and debate of a united Ireland must acknowledge the growing diversity of Ireland, stating that it looks incredibly different than it did a decade ago.
Created inresponse to boycott over the Northern Ireland Protocol, The Windsor framework is not a rewritten protocol, but rather a reinterpretation of the legal text provided in the Protocol. The agreement is an example of commitment to ‘mutually agreeable solutions”. Through the introduction of a red lane and green lane system, goods prohibited in the E.U. can be sold in Northern Ireland. The green lane is designed for retail and agrifood from Great Britain to be easily attained and sold in Northern Ireland. The Windsor Framework was designed to bring an end to the D.U.P.'s boycott of power sharing and involvement in government at Stormont. In recent local elections, The D.U.P. maintained the same number of seats in government, and the party sees the results as vindication of their boycott approach, and their messaging that the Northern Ireland Protocol undermines the Union. How will the implementation of the framework affect both the future of Stormont in Northern Ireland, and chances of a united Ireland?
I am eager to seeif the return of power sharing will come to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and how the future of the border will unfold following implementation of the Windsor Framework, in conjunction with increasing discussion of shared Ireland Initiative. Our conversation with Dr. Hayward was incredibly thought-provoking and insightful, and I was left with a much broader understanding of how Brexit truly does mean borders.