Centre for the Study of Conflict
Register Of Research On Northern Ireland 1993 Edition
Compiled and edited by Ciarán Ó Máolain
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Centre for the Study of Conflict
University of Ulster
T: (01265) 324666 or 324165
Register Of Research On Northern Ireland 1993 Edition
Compiled and edited by Ciarán Ó Máolain
Centre for the Study of Conflict
A searchable index of the Register Of Research On Northern Ireland is available on the CAIN server. Click on the icon below to access the service.
The Centre for the Study of Conflict
This Register has been compiled in the Centre for the Study of Conflict (CSC), a multi-disciplinary postgraduate research centre based at the Coleraine campus of the University of Ulster. The CSC has since its foundation in 1977 concentrated its attention on the Northern Ireland conflict and the nature of the society shaped by that conflict; it also works on comparative and international issues related to conflict, ethnicity and divided societies, and on conflict resolution, mediation and community relations. In a typical year it conducts or participates in about 30 separate research projects, most of which are commissioned and funded by outside agencies such as charitable foundations or public bodies. Central to the mission of the CSC is the fomenting of interest in and awareness of all research likely to advance understanding of the problems of Northern Ireland, and alongside its informal role as a "clearing house" for dealing with enquiries and disseminating information on current research it has been involved in several more systematic efforts to catalogue and classify research activities on Northern Ireland.
Reinterpreting Northern Ireland
Pádraig 0 'Malley
The mention of Northern Ireland usually conjures up images of death, violence and a divide between the two communities that seems incomprehensible to the outsider and impossible to reconcile to the insider. What gives the conflict its special aura, the late John Whyte points out, is "that somehow the intensity of feeling which the conflict evokes goes far beyond what is required by a rational defence of the divergent interests which undoubtedly ....... there is an emotional element to the conflict, a welling up of deep unconscious". An understanding of this "welling up" continues to elude us, despite the fact that Northern Ireland, according to Whyte, may be "in proportion to its size, the most heavily researched area on earth".
It is almost three years since the publication of Interpreting Northern Ireland, Whyte's superb review of the literature on Northern Ireland. In this Register of Research on Northern Ireland, the Centre for the Study of Conflict complements Whyte's effort by providing a painstaking, if not comprehensive, guide to the research that has been undertaken in recent years. Despite the caution in the Preface against treating the Register as a definitive statement of what has or has not been researched in the period under review (roughly 1989-93), one can, on the basis of the information presented here, venture some thoughts as to the thrust and the shortcomings of the current research effort, and how it responds to the political context within which it is happening.
The current research - the Register covers some 605 entries - eschews, for the most part, the narrow confines of the 'Troubles', as if the weight of the material already published, the hundreds of books and thousands of articles, has, for the time being, exhausted the potential for research specifically focused on the nature and extent of the community divide. Nor are there many attempts to find solutions' or to present new interpretations of the problem. The scope of the Register is much broader. It is dominated by the micro examination of specific issues and detailed profiles of specific communities, all of which add to our understanding of Northern Ireland society. There is a shift in emphasis. For example, there are 64 entries on economics (the largest number in any of the 14 categories) and 41 on agriculture and rural affairs, but there are only 36 entries on conflict (the second-lowest number in a category) and 31 (the lowest) on history. (Note, of course, that many cross-disciplinary entries located for convenience in a given category could equally well be assigned to another; these numbers are orders of magnitude, not absolutes.)
Community development and community relations have become areas of more intensive research. In this section there are 51 entries. "Community Development in a District Council " is a study which enhances our understanding of community work in Protestant areas, and of the relationship between community development and the local political process. Research in this area has a special value since in the past the issue has received no more than passing attention.
'"Ethnic Residential Segregation in the Urban and Rural Space of Northern Ireland" addresses one of the most distressing developments in the last 20 years: the increasing propensity of the two communities to live apart, to voluntarily segregate themselves from each other. Peace is purchased through entrenchment; 'separate but equal' is seen as part of the price of accommodation, in both senses. In fact, the whole political geography of Northern Ireland is changing, a situation which will have profound implications regarding future governance structures for the region.
According to the 1991 census, the Catholic population came to 41.4 per cent and is probably rising, while the Protestant population is at 54.1 per cent and most likely falling. The political effect of the change is most apparent in the 26 local government areas. Seven had Catholic majorities in 1971, and 11 in 1991. Most dramatic, perhaps, is the situation in Belfast. The Catholic population rose from 31.2 per cent in 1971 to 42.5 per cent in 1991. According to the Opsahl Commission what all this underscores is that the relative strengths of majority and minority are changing in Northern Ireland, and with that our notion of what constitutes a majority, i.e. when is a majority a sufficient one? Opsahl also draws attention to the striking imbalance of the religious divide in geographical terms. Almost every local authority west of the Bann has a Catholic majority, as has that area taken as a whole. Three of the six counties have Catholic majorities, so that there are in fact two minorities in Northern Ireland, one east of the Bann and one to the west.
The degree of physical separation between Protestant and Catholic is increasing year by year, with the number of segregated areas more than doubling in the last two decades. The results:
Thus, even if the level of violence has fallen in the last 14 years, the levels of polarisation and segregation, amounting in many areas to de facto apartheid, has not been conducive to enabling a climate that will bring to fruition the seeds of trust, tolerance and mutual understanding which would provide the necessary underpinnings of a settlement.
Hence the importance of studies such as "Intergroup Communication and Intergroup Relationship Rules". This study set out to determine the attitudes of individuals about communicating across the religious divide, and the impact of intergroup contacts. The researchers studied how Protestant and Catholic students felt about the discussion of religion and the Troubles with own-group and other-group members. The results showed that the two groups felt differently; Catholics were more reluctant to discuss than Protestants. Intergroup contact affected the value placed on such discussions but not the amount of discussion, nor the perceived outcomes of interactions. In other words contact per se does not lead to improved communication; but if the two groups were made more aware of their respective feelings about these topics, communication could be improved. A related research programme has aimed to elicit the informal rules structures used in intergroup contacts, suggesting that the two denominational groups employ different sets of rules and that conflict resolution may depend as much on understanding these rules as on attitudes per se.
Hence also the importance of studies such as "A Community Profile of the Oldpark/Cliftonville Area", "Catholic and Protestant Relations in Four Rural N. Irish Communities, 1975-80", "Life in Glencairn", "Duncairn Neighbourhood Development Project Evaluation", "Community Study of a Northern Irish Town", "Spatial Restructuring in the Belfast Urban Area 1960-1990", and a thesis on "Sectarianism in Housing in North Belfast". Indeed, one of the most under-researched areas within sociology is the subject of sectarianism in housing. The North Belfast study focuses on people's experience of intimidation and murder and how this influences their housing decisions; the relationship between these phenomena and housing policy in the area, and whether housing policy has responded by challenging, or perhaps reinforcing, sectarian division.
Of more than passing interest is the fact that of the 36 entries on politics and government, there are none that deal with the nature of the obstacles which preclude the key political players from reaching an accommodation with each other.
The section on conflict, which includes violence, conflict theory, paramilitarism and conflict resolution also demonstrates a change of emphasis. Conflict is now perceived as a constant, something present in every social or societal situation. Conflict is normal; it only becomes abnormal when we lose our ability to control it. The problem then becomes one of how to manage and regulate that conflict. What social mechanisms come into play to keep the conflict within socially acceptable bounds? How do you identify these social mechanisms? And what happens when these mechanisms fail to kick in at critical junctures?
There is, however, a disturbing corollary to this reasoning. The more conflict is seen as the norm, and the more successful the state is in managing a conflict, the less urgent the task of determining the underlying causes of the conflict, and, consequently, the less the incentive to bargain and, if necessary, concede in order to achieve a lasting accommodation.
The Opsahl Commission addressed itself directly to this question: whether there was an urgent popular desire to seek out an acceptable settlement of the problem, and if so, whether that urgency conveyed itself to Northern Ireland's politicians and committed them to compromise? The Commission concluded that the lack of urgency was almost palpable, and that the reasons for this were multifaceted: the conflict is manageable - if you do not live in North or West Belfast, or in a border area, are not a member or former member of the security forces, are not on anyone's list of 'legitimate targets' - in short, if you personally are not at much risk of being killed. Most people live remarkably normal lives. Because it is a manageable conflict, there is little pressure on the politicians to reach a settlement. People have distanced themselves from the problem and their responsibility for it. The lack of pressure on the politicians, and people's scepticism about what talks can deliver, reflect a larger underlying political reality: people's alienation from the political process itself. This 'malaise' ironically reflects itself in the contents of the Register, the diffusion of its contents, the sheer eclecticism of its embrace.
Some entries in the conflict category hold out the promise of making distinctive contributions to the literature. The "Biography of Terrorists in Northern Ireland" is designed to develop a database that will provide a picture of what sort of people become involved in paramilitary activity using social class, gender, education, psychiatric state etc. as variables. "Cultural and Structural Approaches to Conflict Management in Northern Ireland" focuses on two schools of thought which have come to dominate conflict management theory: there is the 'settlement' school which favours power-bargaining, negotiation, and compromise over issues, and the 'resolution' school which promotes non-negotiated, co-operative problem-solving approaches. The two approaches, the author maintains, are complementary and interdependent.
Protestant paramilitary organisations, previously an under-researched topic, receive some long overdue attention. Between 1969 and 1989, loyalist paramilitaries were responsible for some 691 deaths, or 25 per cent of the total. Usually, loyalist violence comes in cycles. It ebbs and flows with variations in political circumstances, in recurring patterns of tit-for-tat killings. In the last three years there has been an upsurge in loyalist violence which has given cause for concern. In 1991 loyalist paramilitaries were responsible for 42 deaths, or nearly 45 per cent of fatalities; in 1992 for 35 deaths, also around 45 per cent, and in the first four months of 1993 for 15 killings, or over 53 per cent of the total. These numbers are greater than for killings by republican paramilitary organisations in the same period.
What makes this cycle of loyalist violence more ominous is the manner in which it differs from the violence of loyalists in the 1970s. It is more ruthless, more efficient, and less open to infiltration. It is also generationally different. Members of the UDA or UVF in the 1970s were there to protect the status quo. Members were part of the 'old' Northern Ireland, grew up under successive unionist regimes, believed that Northern Ireland was a Protestant state for a Protestant people, and even if they did not share in privilege and power, they felt they were members of the superior group and wanted to preserve their position. Today it is sometimes forgotten that Northern Ireland has been under Direct Rule for 22 years, for almost one third of the period since Partition. Many of today's loyalist paramilitaries were born after the conflict erupted in 1969. They have no reference point for Protestant privilege and power, and never knew Stormont rule. Given the increasing alienation that has taken hold in Protestant working class areas, they see the Protestant community as constantly losing, see nationalists as winning, and see their relative position continue to decline. Two studies - "Loyalist Politics and Paramilitaries in Ulster" and "Loyalist Paramilitary Ideologies in Northern Ireland" - open the terrain for further research and it is to be hoped that other scholars will take advantage of the opportunity.
Every entry in the category on conflict adds to our understanding of the complex nature of ethnic divisions. In "Understanding Conflict... and finding ways out of it", the researchers attempt to deepen their understanding of conflict by concentrating on the relationship between conflict at a political/structural level, examined through conflict theory, and the experience of people in conflict. Overall, the bibliography of research on conflict and conflict resolution provides a nicely finessed balance between complex theories of conflict and its management, and case studies that test the usefulness of these theories in practice.
"Violent Politics: The role of violence in the political process of Ireland and Northern Ireland" goes a step further. Here the author makes the case that the success of all the major constitutional movements of the 19th and early 20th century can be explained by the degree to which "a controlling form of symbiosis" was achieved by non-violent constitutional groups over the violent factions. In Northern Ireland, the author argues that similar patterns of interaction between proponents of violence and constitutional means were seen in the Civil Rights movement, the fall of Stormont, and the failure of power sharing initiatives between 1973 and 1985. What mattered was the ability of leaders to harness proponents of violence and thereby challenge the state's monopoly of the use of force. In addition, the author argues that the failure of the British and Irish governments to appreciate the degree to which proponents of violence are legitimised by the failure of constitutional initiatives has led to the adoption of counter-productive conflict resolution strategies.
If the number of Register entries in a given category is used as a barometer of the direction in which research is moving - and again we acknowledge the compiler's caveat on that score - then issues relating to economics qualify as one of the primary areas of research. Hardly any aspect of economic activity is left untouched; the range of entries covers, inter alia, economic development, employment, enterprise, workplace training, industry, industrial relations, public finances, management and trade. However, there are two areas which command a lot of space on the political terrain, but which do not appear to command commensurate attention in the current literature. These are the impact of the conflict on the Northern Ireland economy, the relationship or lack thereof between the economies, and the European dimension.
The Single European Act, it is argued, will require much closer economic relationships between North and South - either they will swim together or they will drown separately. The Opsahl Commission found that a large number of submissions, many from business people with no political agenda, supported cross-border economic relationships within the EC, or viewed them as an important step forward. Dr George Quigley, chairman of the Ulster Bank, argues for "an island economy", which would have to be an exercise in synergy, not a zero-sum game: i.e. both economies must be seen to gain from the relationship.
Three major linked studies conducted jointly by the ESRI and NIERC, under the title of "Growth and Development in Two Regional Economies", will go a long way towards eliminating this deficiency. "The Two Economies of Ireland" will be a comparative study of the performance of both economies since the 1960s, focusing on the determinants of growth, competitiveness, public finances, international balances, employment, and the labour market problems shared by the two regions: emigration and unemployment. "Medium-Term Prospects for Ireland, North and South" will study institutional constraints, policy options and other factors affecting the economic outlook for both economies over five- and ten-year periods, and will focus, among other things, on cross-border trade and economic co-ordination; and "Peripherality, the Single Market and European Monetary Union: Implications for Ireland's two regional economies will be a study of the situation of the two regional economies, and their situation on the periphery of the European Community.
"Potential Synergies in the Financial Sectors of Northern Ireland and the Republic" explores more ground for mutually-beneficial co-operative endeavours. "Study into Marketing Practice in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland" and "Regional Plans for Eire and Northern Ireland" round out research in this area. Thus, seven studies out of 63 examine North-South relations and the implications of a single market on a peripheral economy, which hardly represents an overwhelming preoccupation with these crucial issues. Indeed, the yawning disjunction between the level of research into the probable impact of the European dimension of policies designed to promote regionalism and the devolution of power from the centre, and the level of public discourse on these issues, invariably based on a series of simple assumptions, should be a matter of serious concern for policy makers on both sides of the border.
In "Economic Inequalities, Government Policy and the Northern Ireland Conflict", the author deals with the importance of Catholic economic grievances, especially in the area of employment, in perpetuating the conflict. She concludes that employment creation and equality of opportunity have a significant impact. Government policy in employment-related areas such as education, economics and regionalism has failed to reduce the employment differential during the past 20 years. This, she reasons, has helped fan the flames of the conflict.
Questions of equity and equality have come to the fore. Research in these areas identify areas of continuing Catholic under-representation - engineering, banking, finance and insurance, for example. Other studies examine the relationship between religion, funding and attainment in science. Catholic schools have received less funding than their Protestant counterparts over the years and tend to be less well resourced as a result. This, and cultural/historical reasons, may explain the relative underachievement of Catholic schools in science. In "The Chill Factor and Equality of Opportunity in Northern Ireland" the Fair Employment Commission sets out to (a) identify the factors which combine to create the 'chill factor' in access to employment, (b) ascertain the scale of the problem overall and in particular areas and industries, (c) gather evidence of the effects of the 'chill factor' on access to employment in both communities, and (d) identify ways of counteracting the 'chill factor'.
One could go on. Each entry in the Register adds its own particular insights, the whole much richer than the sum of the parts; a validation of John Whyte's observation that there is not one Northern Ireland problem but many, each with its own distinct parameters, its own particular idiosyncrasies, each deserving of its own share of attention.
Professor Pádraig O'Malley is a Senior Fellow of the John McCormack Institute of Public Affairs in the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He was a member of the Opsahl Commission and is currently working on a book on the transition to democracy in South Africa.