Edited by Jani McCutcheon and Fiona McGaughey
Chapter 21: A law unto themselves: murals in the Northern Ireland conflict
During the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland from 1968–98 (‘the Troubles’), urban landscapes were peppered, some dominated, by murals. These typically gave voice to, and were located in, one of the two conflicting communities – unionist and republican. Also prevalent were other forms of ‘street art’ such as the colouring of paving kerbs in the colours of the British or Irish flag. The images depicted in murals during the Troubles reflected the complex historical and political underpinnings for the conflict. This chapter questions whether the murals might accurately be described as ‘law’, for example due to their normative effect in marking territories. These territories were often associated with specific paramilitary groups and as such, the chapter proposes that the murals were indeed ‘paralaw’. It finds that the murals exacerbated the conflict, that the legal system failed to address the murals and that paramilitaries and communities were largely unhindered in developing the murals. Adopting a legal pluralism perspective, in the context of the Troubles, the murals were not only used to make political statements but were also paralaws – demarcating territory and depicting alternative justice systems. They were a law unto themselves.
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