The role of ex-paramilitaries and former prisoners in political tourism

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Abstract

Northern Ireland has a turbulent history, enduring 30 years of violence known as ‘The Troubles’. Streets in Belfast that were once ‘no-go’ areas are now popular tourist attractions. They are the sites of assassinations, attempted murders and memorials to the dead - both those killed and those who killed. This article reports back on interviews and focus groups with ex-prisoners and ethnographic walks, participating in guided tours of streets, memorial sites and cemeteries, led by former paramilitaries turned tour guides. These local, sometimes controversial, figures play a key role in Belfast’s tourist industry, letting those at the very centre of the conflict present and represent the city’s dark and contentious history. In this article, we argue that ‘Troubles tourism’ is not about glorifying or commodifying violence, as its critics have suggested (Northern Ireland Assembly, 2008; O’Doherty, 2016; Tinney, 2017), but rather, it enables the contested nature of the conflict to be understood by allowing competing discourses to co-exist and divergent positions to be tolerated, which is politically important for peace. As such, post-conflict tourism requires a different analytical approach than that currently offered in the ‘dark tourism’ literature, which often focuses on visitors’ motivations and expectations, and the commodification of history. Instead, we suggest that increased attention be dedicated to the voices of those with previous experience of violence, and the potential of this to understand current ongoing struggle, as well as consider how tourism might contribute to community transition in a post-conflict context
Original languageEnglish
Article number102185
JournalPOLITICAL GEOGRAPHY
Volume80
Early online date7 Apr 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

Keywords

  • Belfast
  • Conflict tourism
  • Irish republican army (IRA)
  • Northern Ireland
  • Paramilitary
  • Troubles
  • Troubles tourism

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