Prof Simon Lee (OU)
The concept of “parity of esteem” is central to diverse constitutional, political, legal and socio-economic narratives of Northern Ireland and of these islands.
In 1994, Professor Simon Lee analysed the history and philosophical underpinning of “parity of esteem” in a collection of essays in honour of Reverend Eric Gallagher, tracing the history of its use by politicians in Northern Ireland. This seminar returns to this theme. Sometimes the concept is used in relation to politicians in Westminster or Dublin: he asks what it means to be an honest broker or “rigorously impartial” in the context of Northern Ireland as the twentieth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement approaches? Sometimes, the demand is that politicians or public bodies in Northern Ireland should show ‘parity of esteem’ in relation to communities or groups in the context of, for example, parades or languages or the allocation of resources.
But before addressing contemporary issues in Northern Ireland, the presentation considers how the concept has been used in other jurisdictions in discussions about such matters as different types of education and the provision and status of physical and mental health services.
Thereafter the presentation asserts that it is time to revisit and reimagine “parity of esteem”. It draws on two neglected political satires: The Rise of the Meritocracy by Michael Young (1958) and Facial Justice by L P Hartley (1960). The latter begins: “In the not very distant future, after the Third World War, Justice had made great strides. Legal Justice, Economic Justice, Social Justice, and many other forms of justice, of which we do not even know the names, had been attained; but there still remained spheres of human relationship and activity in which Justice did not reign.”
While doing so, this presentation seeks to answer a series of related questions. What exactly is ‘esteem’? Why should we bother with it? How do we demonstrate it? How can we develop ‘parity’ of esteem?
This seminar took place on 15 November 2017