Belfast. Peace by Piece. 

The city of Belfast offers a window into understanding how groups interact with the institutions without a secure social footing from years of residence. The devolved, yet federal nature of the Northern Ireland state results in immigration largely controlled from London, resulting in an even wider gap between the immigrant populations in residence and the local authorities who are far more preoccupied with the bi-communal politics of the divided city. One of the largest migrant populations today is the Polish community whose political activity is more diffuse and are frequently seen to have "one foot in Poland." Those areas of core interaction focus on employment and education in the here and now, rather than action to secure community representation in the future. Still, the economic tensions around housing and labour are significant in a developing economy emerging from years of conflict and present unique challenges for immigrant newcomers.

Peace by Piece - photo by Antonio Olmos
Photo Credit: Antonio Olmos

Recent Presentations/Publications

Twietmeyer, Sam. 2022. “Good Relations and Exclusive Tensions: Immigrant and migrant contestation in the city of Belfast” 26th Annual World Convention, Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN), May 4-7, 2022.

There is currently very little research on how the Protestant and Catholic divides in Belfast, Northern Ireland (NI) affect and are affected by the influx of migrant or “newcomer” communities. This is largely due to the comparatively recent rise in immigration to NI and, relatedly, the comparative size of the immigrant communities in question. Moreover, the state structures and policy regarding these communities is relatively new or even non-existent. The majority of the discourse on immigration in NI concerns services provision, including health, education, and security, highlighting religion and language as key areas of interest. In terms of state structures, most institutional arrangements, both formal and informal, are designed around the Protestant-Catholic divide. For example, the “Good Relations” model which provides a strictly accommodationist approach to NI organisations and services and interprets all other societal and ethnic tensions in NI as secondary to the key binary of Protestant and Catholic. Simultaneously, the majority of NI politicians, including councillors at the city-level, prefer an individual-based integrationist approach to minorities. Newcomers are thus either adversely affected or outright ignored. This paper presents a framework and initial research for an in-depth study of migrant mobilization in the city of Belfast to address the question: How do ethnic newcomers assert political agency, if at all, in the divided city of Belfast?