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Divided Past, « Shared Future »? Political integration of immigrant origin populations in Northern Ireland: the case of citizenship acquisition

Sarah Toucas
Sciences Po Paris
Sarah Toucas
Sciences Po Paris
Open Panel

Abstract

This paper asks how political belonging of immigrant origin minorities is shaped in the Northern Irish bi-communal society, where constitutional matters are part of daily politics and the everyday life. In particular, it focuses on the decision to apply (or rather not to apply) for citizenship, be it British or Irish citizenship, and on the factors influencing this decision. From 2001 to 2008, migration to Northern Ireland increased significantly and over a very short period of time. Whilst ethnic minorities used to remain in the background, immigration and integration are now slowly being accepted as important features of the society. Since the beginning of the 1990s, equal access to rights for the members of the two “traditional” communities has been an absolute pre-requisite for the implementation of the peace process in Northern Ireland. The majority within Northern Irish society still is and sees itself as being divided into two main communities: a Protestant-Unionist (and Loyalist) community and a Catholic-Nationalist (and Republican) community. Whilst the former is supportive of the current arrangement (i.e., NI being part of the UK), the latter would tend to hope for a united Ireland. The current political system is based on devolution and power sharing. The arrangements for voting in the Assembly elected after the Good Friday Agreement (1998) established that “each political party must designate itself as either nationalist or unionist and no vote can be passed by the Assembly unless a majority of each ‘camp’ is in agreement” (McVeigh and Rolston, 2007, p.10). Divisions are also part of the everyday life. Belfast (our case study) is a segregated city, and “mixing” between the two communities still is an issue. Under specific conditions, NI-born individuals and spouses of Irish citizens can choose between Irish and/or British citizenship. Findings for this paper are informed by available official quantitative data as well as semi-direct interviews conducted in Belfast with both long-term EU migrants who came to NI between 2001 and 2007 and well-established minority ethnic communities whose older members lived through the Troubles (and have, like the rest of the society, been subjected to the “chill factor”).