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Session Overview
Panel 116: Performing Identities: Brexit and Northern Ireland
Monday, 07/Sept/2020:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

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Performing Identities: Discussion Panel on Brexit and Northern Ireland

Chair(s): Clare Rice (Newcastle University)

Presenter(s): Clare Rice (Newcastle University), Colin Murray (Newcastle University), Aoife O'Donoghue (Durham University), Sylvia de Mars (Newcastle University), Ben Warwick (University of Birmingham), Megan Armstrong (Liverpool John Moores University)

Unorthodox governance arrangements are not new to NI, a territory in which EU membership, the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement have adjusted classic conceptions of statehood. The UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement's special post-Brexit arrangements, however, make Northern Ireland a radical constitutional space; a proving ground for redefined understandings of governance and citizenship. Our ESRC-funded Performing Identities Project has explored various aspects of this settlement, including:

- What novel performances of identity will be required by Northern Ireland’s inhabitants post Brexit?

- How will these new arrangements expose the shifting nature of 21st-century governance?

- How do Northern Ireland’s inhabitants experience these adaptations to citizenship and governance?

- Can Northern Ireland’s inhabitants shape this citizenship/governance settlement through their identity performances?

Our objective has been to establish the agency of Northern Ireland’s populace in Brexit; assessing how EU, UK and Irish citizenship will be reshaped by their interactions with new arrangements. The reclassification of legal categories of rights holder as part of Brexit will affect connected personal identities (cultural, ethnic, national, socio-economic, gender and ‘legacy identities’ shaped by the Northern Ireland conflict). Some people will be required to perform new identities to achieve classification as a rights holder (undertaking economic activity, becoming dual nationals, etc), with an impact upon their underlying identities. The enforcement of multiple legal categories of rights holder, upon which one’s administrative identity hinges, will be devolved to employers, landlords and NHS administrators, creating difficulties for individuals who fall into unfamiliar categories.

Post Brexit, particular performances will be required by individuals to secure certain rights. But it is insufficient to conceive of these changes as an imposition upon Northern Ireland, or to approach Brexit simply as a polarising influence upon its most prominent communities. Over time, identity performances such as the holding of an Irish passport (to gain all of the EU citizenship rights this will secure under the outline Withdrawal Agreement) by people who self-identify as British could transform the nature of Northern Ireland's society and governance. This panel explores the links between identity and governance within the constitutional space of "post-Brexit" Northern Ireland, an interaction that has the potential to inform and transform ideas of 21st-century governance within and beyond the UK and could ultimately begin to reshape deeply ingrained conceptions of identity in Northern Ireland.

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