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Symbolic Equality: Law and National Symbols in Northern Ireland

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The way in which the law regulates the display of national symbols has important consequences for minority national groups. If the majority is allowed to monopolise the official display of national symbols, members of the minority may be further alienated and discouraged from participating in public life. In contrast, a more even-handed approach to national symbols has the potential to foster an inclusive and pluri-national public culture. This article evaluates the regulation of national symbols in Northern Ireland. It contrasts the relative success of legislation regulating the display of symbols in the workplace with the latest equality litigation under Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement of 1998 (‘the Agreement’). With respect to the latter, it is argued that the case-law suffers from a general failure to apreciate the implications of the Agreement for the display of national symbols. The article goes on to explain how equality with respect to the display of national symbols – or ‘symbolic equality’ – should be understood as an extension of the Agreement’s commitment to the more general principle of ‘parity of esteem’.

Affiliations: 1: Banting Fellow, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada


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