Cultural policy in Northern Ireland

Making cultural policy for a divided society

Authored by: Phil Ramsey , Bethany Waterhouse-Bradley

The Routledge Handbook of Global Cultural Policy

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138857827
eBook ISBN: 9781315718408
Adobe ISBN:


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Northern Ireland (NI) is a small region of the United Kingdom with a history of violent conflict associated with the national and religious identities of its inhabitants. Post-conflict societies face complex challenges in the development of cultural policy, particularly where some cultural markers have become associated with antagonism or political affiliation. This chapter will focus on how the social, spatial, educational, religious and political divisions in NI – coupled with deep socio-economic deprivation and a lack of political consensus – mean that many issues relating to cultural policy are neglected. We chart how the history of NI has left significant barriers to shared culture within NI, leading to inertia on policy in relation to community relations and social cohesion. That being the case, we show how the government Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI), the main arm’s length body for funding, have clear policies relating to how arts and culture can alleviate socio-economic problems. This is shown in the context of how the wider political system gives a central role to cultural policy as a driver of economic development, seen through the work of the publicly funded body Northern Ireland Screen, responsible for attracting international film and television productions to NI through direct financial subsidisation of production costs. With this example, we show that there is much clearer consensus on the economic role for culture in NI than there is in relation to the more contentious cultural issues relating to historic divisions.

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