The Role of Progressives in Northern Irish Unionism

Event Date: 27 February 2020
Room 421
Birkbeck University of London,
Malet Street
London, WC1E 7HX

The Birkbeck Centre of British Political Life presents:

The Role of Progressives in Northern Irish Unionism

The newly relaunched Birkbeck Centre for British Political Life (BPL) will host a public-facing seminar on progressive Ulster unionism. With funding from the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, this seminar brings together journalists, political scientists, and historians, from Birkbeck and Northern Ireland.

Representations of Northern Irish Politics in recent years have been dominated by the £1billion confidence and supply agreement between the Conservatives and the DUP; allegations of corruption over a renewal heating scheme; the contestation of abortion rights and celebratory cakes; and failing political institutions at Stormont. Such representations are often partial and superficial readings of the politics of Northern Ireland. But if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that Britain’s tendency to ‘park’ questions of Northern Ireland is no longer sustainable. Given this new focus – and to better understand Ulster unionist’s position in UK politics, there is an urgent need for greater consideration of unionism; to explore voices from the wide spectrum of opinions which exist within modern unionism.

The prominence of the DUP in the UK Parliament in recent years creates a narrative of an inherently socially conservative unionism. This excludes voices including other unionist parties, liberal unionists in favour of progressive reforms, and those who backed Remain in 2016. As attention focused on Northern Ireland during the Brexit impasse in 2019, major constitutional and social changes have occurred including the legalisation of both gay marriage and abortion. This seminar centres progressive unionism’s role in Northern Ireland as it enters a new decade where its relationship with the European Union, within the United Kingdom, and on the Island of Ireland are uncertain and subject to competing aims/perspectives.


Dr Sean Brady

Lecturer in Modern British and Irish History at Birkbeck. His research focuses on gender, sexuality, politics and religion in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain and Ireland. He is currently working on a book entitled: ‘Sex and Sectarianism: Gender and Sexuality in Northern Ireland’s History’.

Dr Sophie Long

Dr Long’s PhD from Queen’s University Belfast was entitled ‘An Investigation into Ulster Loyalism and the Politics of Misrecognition’. She uses recognition theory to assess the experiences of loyalists in post-ceasefire Northern Ireland. Dr Long has also worked on the Northern Ireland programme at the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust from 2018 and now leads the Sustainable Future programme.


Conor Kelly

MRes/PhD student at Birkbeck’s Department of Politics. His research focuses on Northern Irish political parties attitudes towards the EU. Conor also works as a Research Assistant at the Constitution Unit, UCL on their Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland project.

Sian Norris

Writer and journalist. She was formerly the Ben Pimlott writer-in-residence at Birkbeck’s Politics Department (2018-2020). Sian is a regular contributor to the New Statesman, the Guardian, the Pool, Prospect UK,, and 50.50 openDemocracy.

Claire Sugden MLA

Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for East Londonderry. Ms Sugden sits as an Independent Unionist in Stormont due to her socially liberal views. She has a master’s degree in Irish politics from Queen’s University Belfast.


Dr Ben Worthy

Deputy Director of the Birkbeck Centre for British Public Life and Senior Lecturer in Politics. His research interests include Government Transparency, particularly Freedom of Information, as well as Political Leadership and British Politics.

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