Working towards Irish Unity




Cultural accommodation in the here and now

Seán Mac Cárthaigh was one of a number of people who wrote a paper on cultural accommodation presented at Féile an Phobail Belfast in August. Below he outlines the rationale of the paper and reactions to it. The full text can be found under the resources tab of

Cultural accommodation of others can in theory change the dynamic for the better in any society. As part of an evolving culture of tolerance, it can help lower the temperature of contested narratives, assist connections and relationships between individuals, reduce stress, and make people happier. This is particularly the case in a divided society.

The question posed in this paper, and at the event at the Féile an Phobail in Belfast to launch it, is would mutual accommodation help in practice, here on the island of Ireland, and now, in 2023?

The wider objective of the authors is to encourage a discussion of this question, and some of those which flow from it: If mutual accommodation would indeed help here and now, what could be done to develop it? Is there a sufficiently large receptive ‘audience’ in society to have a reasonable chance of success? What are the next steps?

We consulted widely as we drafted the paper, and were very encouraged by the time and effort that so many took to respond, and by  the quality of the responses. Some of our assumptions were robustly challenged. We heard several reasons why any such initiative would be more trouble than it was worth, with almost all of these given extra freight by the fact that the ultimate constitutional status of Northern Ireland is an actively contested issue.

Skepticism emerged quickly on the Catholic/Nationalist/Republican (CNR) side, with some respondents arguing that accommodation of Protestant/Dissenter/Unionist/Loyalist (PUL) culture and identity should be discussed only as part of the negotiations about a future Ireland.

From PUL respondents came the suggestion that all mutual accommodation of their identity would be perceived by some as nationalist condescension – and as part of a slide to a united Ireland. Others suggested ruefully that there was no ‘audience’ for accommodation on the PUL side, and that a significant portion of that community was still experiencing the implementation of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement not as equality but oppression.

These served to reinforce our conclusion that, for the purposes of this paper and the discussion we hope will follow, we should consider accommodation solely in the context of the current constitutional arrangement – the here and now – and explicitly not as part of a wider debate about the future.

The reception the paper received in Belfast also encouraged us. Dr Peter Shirlow of the University of Liverpool had been invited specifically to critique the paper; he did so with considerable vigour and humour, but concluded that raising the issue of mutual accommodation was of value, and that, despite the skepticism,  an ongoing discussion could pay real dividends for all.

In the paper we raise more than 30 specific, open-ended questions or scenarios to stimulate that discussion. At the start and end of the Féile an Phobail event, we ran live polls, including one which gave people the option of choosing their favourites from five measures (eg. all-island bank holiday for 12th of July, Ireland to rejoin the Commonwealth.)

And the winner of this admittedly unscientific survey? Some 70 percent of those present would support ‘A campaign for cultural tolerance and accommodation on social media’.

Such a campaign would strike us as a pretty good starting point.

Seán Mac Cárthaigh is Director of the Ireland-US Council’s Blueprint Ireland project.  The full text of our paper is available at