Cera Murtagh


Women have traditionally occupied a perilous position in Northern Irish politics, ultimately constrained from participating on their own terms by its dominant discourses of nationalism, conflict and realism. Alienated from the formal political structures which enshrine these discourses, many women have alternatively embraced the informal political sphere through extra-institutional grassroots and community networks which constitute the women’s movement. Though this movement has largely conformed to the segmented structure of society, space has continually been harnessed for women of both national communities to converge on various issues and work across differences while remaining rooted within their own distinct national identities and communities. To the extent that it has emerged episodically, this style of transversal politics has been confined to collectives in the informal arena of politics. However, with the dawn of devolution and a new constitution for Northern Ireland, women recognized an opportunity to enter the formal political sphere and partake in the shaping of a new system. The Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (NIWC) effected this transition into the ‘parallel universe’ of constitutional politics. However, just as the opening-up of the political structure underlies the seizure of this political space, political obstacles can account for its loss. The combined factors of inimical discourses, their institutionalization within the consociational system and the adverse political climate of polarization effectively denied the NIWC the space it required to progress and endure within formal politics, rendering its transition a transient phenomenon.

Author Biography

Cera Murtagh wrote this essay while studying at Queens University, Belfast.