From secessionist mobilization to substate nationalism? Assessing the impact of consociationalism and devolution on Irish nationalism in Northern Ireland

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Survey evidence has demonstrated that support for a united Ireland from Catholics in Northern Ireland is markedly declining. Simultaneously, electoral support for the secessionist Sinn Féin party has substantially risen in the region since 1998. Critics have attributed Sinn Féin's electoral growth to consociational power sharing, which they argue rewards ethnic hardline parties. At the same time, many of these critics predicted that consociationalism would exacerbate secessionist sentiment within nationalism, a prognostication now contradicted by survey data. In analysing this paradox, we argue that there is not a switching of identities—from Irish nationalism to UK unionism—but the repositioning of Irish nationalism from a secessionist movement to a sub-state nationalism mobilizing for more resources within devolution. In explaining this, we illuminate how consociationalism allied to devolution can, if the right endogenous and exogenous supporting factors are mobilized, lead to the repositioning of identities within a regional rather than zero-sum national context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)461-477
Number of pages17
JournalRegional and Federal Studies
Issue number4
Early online date14 Apr 2013
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2013



  • Northern Ireland
  • consociationalism
  • devolution
  • nationalism

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