restricted access Sites of Creation and Contest in Northern Ireland

Symbols provide the material through which communities, groups, nations, and states attempt to "imagine" themselves. Since 2001, we have conducted research, funded by the United Kingdom's Economic and Social Research Council, into the changes in the use of rituals and symbols in Northern Ireland. We wanted to see whether the new political dispensation led to the creation of new symbols reflecting a "new Northern Ireland" or whether conflicts continued around the displays of British and Irish symbols. The dominant paradigm amongst social scientists for exploring identity politics argues that ethnic, national and cultural identity is in a constant state of being constructed and reconstructed in an instrumental, pragmatic way to achieve group allegiance and solidarity. Our research has attempted to explore how this has taken place in Northern Ireland. This paper looks at the way disputes over the flying of official flags have been handled and the way in which Parliament Buildings Stormont, historically and symbolically a bastion of unionism, came to be viewed as an acceptable venue for the new Northern Ireland assembly by Irish Nationalists.