Online seminar with Professor Jennifer Todd, University College Dublin

Participation and the agenda of constitutional debate.

Thursday 3rd March, 4 PM to 5.30 PM

Full recording of the webinar here:

The second seminar in our joint seminar series on Reflections on a United Ireland

With growing discussion around the issue of Irish unification post-Brexit, DCU’s School of Law and Government in collaboration with Queen’s University School of Law is hosting a seminar series entitled “Reflections on a United Ireland”. The aim is to contribute to this constitutional debate by providing academic analysis from key experts in relevant fields. The series co-convenors are Prof Colin Harvey (QUB) and Prof John Doyle (DCU)
The first seminar was by Professor Brendan O’Leary. Future speakers will be

  • 7 April – Prof Deirdre Heenan (Ulster University)
  • 5 May – Prof Colin Harvey (Queens University Belfast)
  • 9 June – Prof John Doyle. (Dublin City University)

Seminar Abstract 
Constitutional debate, North and South, has largely been dominated by issues of self-determination and right; issues of identity; issues of institutional design, with a united Ireland involving a unitary state or continued autonomy for Northern Ireland. These are crucially important issues. But they have failed so far to engage a majority of the population in either jurisdiction, who are disengaged from traditional nationalism and unionism. If they vote in a referendum, their votes will make a difference to the outcome.  If they remain detached, the outcome will be less legitimate, less vibrant, arguably less viable.

But what do they think? Are they disengaged because they don’t care? Or is it because they care too much but about issues not now being prioritised? Surveys give us snapshots of their views, without the rationale. In recent projects, we asked women, young people, migrants in both parts of Ireland, and just ordinary moderates in Northern Ireland, what they thought. The results were surprising. Those we asked were interested in debate, but—whether North or South, from Unionist or Nationalist backgrounds—they were united in wanting to change the agenda of debate. They wanted to speak from and to experience, to focus on organic linkages, gender rights, bread and butter issues, not ‘ideology’.

Building on this research, the seminar paper will argue that:

  • more participation requires changing the agenda and process of debate
  • this has the benefit of leading to less polarisation (less emphasis on zero-sum identity politics)
  • It is not a distraction from properly constitutional issues, but rather gives a better angle on them
  • The process itself is likely to be both difficult and rewarding, in promoting critical analysis of existing structures and policies, and greater interaction between people, experts and politicians.
  • This goes against the habits and expectations of the states on both parts of the island, but it also promises major political benefits.

Speaker Bio:
Jennifer Todd, is a Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations, and a Professorial Fellow of the Geary Research Institute at University College Dublin. Professor Todd is also an Associate Fellow at the Centre on Constitutional Change at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the Royal Irish Academy. She gained her degrees in philosophy from the University of Kent at Canterbury (BA) and Boston University (PhD). The focus of her work, from early analyses of aesthetics and politics to current work on conflict and settlement, state change and identity shift, has been on the interrelation of socio-economic and political processes and processes of cultural change. She has extensive publications, individually and jointly, on ethnicity, identity, conflict and Northern Ireland: including her 1996 Cambridge UP Dynamics of Conflict in Northern Ireland (with J. Ruane) and two recent books, Identity Change after Conflict: Ethnicity, Boundaries and Belonging in the Two Irelands (Springer Palgrave Dec 2018) and (with J. Coakley) Negotiating a Settlement in Northern Ireland 1969-2019 (Oxford University Press, Jan 2020). She was also a contributing co-editor with D. Walsh for Unionisms in Times of Change: Brexit Britain and the Balkans (Routledge 2021). With J. Ruane, she is writing a sequel to Dynamics of Conflict.

Professor Todd’s international reputation is evidenced by the significance of the visiting positions and fellowships, which she has been awarded including the Political Studies Association of Ireland Fellowship ‘in recognition of outstanding service to the organisation’; the Fernand Braudel Senior Research Fellowship ‘for established academics with an international reputation’, in the European University Institute, Florence; an IRCHSS Senior Fellowship; and a Visiting Professorship at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Toulouse. She is on the steering committee of ARINS (Analysing and Researching Ireland, North and South) and on a number of advisory boards, including for the UNESCO Chair in Peace Studies and Education, Sts Cyril and Methodius University (UKIM), Skopje, Macedonia 2014-; John Hume Foundation, 2020-; and the Peace Monitoring project, of the Community Relations Council, Belfast, 2011-.

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