Elizabeth DeYoungNov 11, 2023
Power, Politics and Territory in the ‘New Northern Ireland’
Girdwood Barracks and the Story of the Peace Process
Liverpool University Press 2023
In the wake of the Good Friday Agreement, the redevelopment of the former Girdwood Army Barracks in North Belfast was hailed as a ‘symbol of hope’ for Northern Ireland. It was a major investment in a former conflict zone and an internationally significant peacebuilding project.
Instead of adhering to the tenets of the Agreement, sectarianism dominated the regeneration agenda. Throughout the process, politicians, community groups and paramilitaries wrangled over the site’s future, and territorial contest won out over housing need. After eleven years of negotiation and £11.7 million, the EU-funded Girdwood Community Hub opened its doors to the public in 2016, but its impact has been underwhelming.
The Hub’s redevelopment is a microcosm of the peace process itself, and the ways in which post-Agreement politics have failed to deliver a ‘shared future’ for the people of Northern Ireland, twenty-five years on. Elizabeth DeYoung's book Power, Politics and Territory in the ‘New Northern Ireland’ (Liverpool UP, 2023) provides a lively account of Girdwood’s redevelopment and a wry critique of the fractious political context around it. Through flânerie and encounter, the author brings us across peace walls, into community meetings and behind the scenes of decision-making in Northern Ireland. Girdwood’s story also sheds light on how power, politics and territory intersect in divided cities globally.
The activist group that Elizabeth references in the book and podcast is Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR). For more information on their work in Belfast, go here.
Aidan Beatty teaches in the history department at Carnegie Mellon University.