Equality as steady state or equality as threshold? Northern Ireland after the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement, 1998

ABSTRACT: One position on the regulation of ethnic conflict assumes that such conflict is in part driven by popular perceptions of ethnic injustice and can be regulated by enforcement of ethnic equality. Critics argue that such appeasement of ethnic demands rewards intransigence among ethnic leaders and congeals social divisions. This paper gives qualified support to the view that ethnic conflict can best be regulated by promoting equality between ethnic groups, but for quite different reasons than those normally put forward. I argue that in at least some cases equalisation strategies work because they provoke change in the identities and attitudes and solidarities of groups. As this occurs, the equality provisions become less useful, precisely because they are ensuring equality between inappropriate units. Equality must therefore be seen as a threshold rather than a steady state, one that it is necessary to pass in order to proceed to more participatory and indeed transformative forms of politics.