chapter  14
15 Pages

Progressive integration (and accommodation, too)


On any reasonable assessment, Northern Ireland has made tremendous political progress in recent years.1 Yet much more work needs to be done. Northern Ireland has democratic political institutions, including consociational institutions. But those institutions are still very new and no one can be sure how they will develop in the future. In the first part of this volume John McGarry and Brendan O’Leary express the hope that a richer form of democracy will develop in due course. I share that hope. I also agree with them that efforts to accommodate the interests and aspirations of British unionists and Irish nationalists will have a continuing role to play. However, unlike McGarry and O’Leary, I maintain that there might be even stronger grounds for optimism if, alongside accommodation, greater efforts were also made to foster a stronger sense of integration across society as a whole. I therefore reject the basic premise upon which McGarry and O’Leary

base their contribution. That premise supposes that “democracies have two broad and principled choices for managing diversity that are compatible with liberal values,” namely integration or accommodation.2 As they define them, integration involves the promotion of a single public identity, whereas accommodation involves the promotion of dual or multiple public identities. But integration and accommodation are not mutually exclusive principles. On the contrary, democracy requires both. Integration matters to democracy because it encourages people to cooperate politically and makes the redistribution of goods and resources within the polity more acceptable. More

generally, it matters because it makes it easier to deliver decisions that will satisfy all.3 At the same time, however, people may be unwilling to cooperate unless the ethnic, religious, or national groups to which they belong are also free to pursue certain projects of their own or have their distinct identity publicly recognized for certain political purposes. Under such conditions, it is simply wrong to claim that democracies must choose between integration and accommodation. No democracy can survive long unless, at some level, people share a single public identity. But in multicultural or multinational democracies, the political recognition of multiple public identities will also be required. In rejecting the basic premise upon which McGarry and O’Leary base

their argument, I also reject their claim that consociation should be classed purely as a type of accommodation.4 It is true that the principle of accommodation features strongly in consociational thinking. But consociations can also embody, or be based on, a principle of integration. After all, some of the revisions proposed by McGarry and O’Leary would, as they themselves admit, take Northern Ireland’s consociational institutions in a more integrationist direction – for example, the proposal that important decisions should be made by weighted majority rather than by concurrent-majority voting.5 But then the obvious lesson to draw is that consociations should be designed, from the outset, with both principles firmly in mind, thereby avoiding the need for institutional reform at some future point. Of course, McGarry and O’Leary might argue that their proposals would not make Northern Ireland’s consociational institutions all that integrationist. But that is an argument about the proper balance that should be struck between political principles, not about which principles should be chosen in the first instance.6