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Aspects of Sectarian Division in Derry Londonderry - Sixth public discussion: The Effects of Political Violence

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Sixth Public Discussion

The Effects of Violence
Central Library, June 15, 1995

The Effects of Violence in Communities

Andrew Hamilton
School of Social and Health Sciences
University of Ulster


Andrew Hamilton's paper examined inter and inter community relations within three communities in pre cease-fire Northern Ireland and explores the impact of political violence on these. It addresses the polarisation and alienation of sections of these communities and explores the relationship between segregation and violence, raising questions about public policy and management of segregation.

The following is a summary of the main points made in the presentation by Andrew Hamilton

It could be said that violence leads to segregation but violence and segregation and the effects of both are more cyclical and interdependent. In communities here, violence often leads to a feeling of insecurity, which in turn leads to segregation. A lack of knowledge of the 'other' breeds suspicion which can lead to hostility and thence to violence.

In Northern Ireland, where there is a high level of residential segregation, the workplace becomes the one area where people may significantly mix. However, in highly segregated residential areas, people often have no experience of significant mixing.

It is important to ask "What do we mean by mixing?" Is mixing living together in the same street? Identifying the 'other' in Northern Ireland is not simply blatant sectarianism, but it is often done in order to set the boundaries of the relationship and to set the parameters of any contact so that certain subjects can be avoided and are not discussed. The result of this is that you do not get to know about the 'other'. It seems that a Protestant and Catholic can live together, and get on better than Protestants living with other Protestants, and Catholics living with other Catholics, because significant issues on which potential conflict may occur are avoided. Is this significant mixing?

Northern Ireland contains two separate communities and this has intensified over the past few years. There is also a relationship between alienation and segregation. An increased sense of alienation from the state in Northern Ireland, means that there is a strong perception that the state does not represent communities. This alienation is more than a sense of grievance. The Catholic community feels alienated from the state and state institutions, and more recently, the Protestant community also feel alienated from the state, particularly since the Anglo Irish Agreement. This sense of alienation has spilled over onto law and order issues, and has led to greater alienation from the police force. Alienation also extends into the economic life of communities. This is also apparent in working class Protestant areas. The effect of alienation is to push the two communities further and further apart, and as a result, they are now segregated more than in the past.

One of the negative outcomes of all of these developments is violence. However, it has been argued that physical segregation has also acted to contain the violence. The clear geographical definition of communities by peace lines and sectarianly defined perimeters has meant that from the security forces' point of view, segregation has made it easier to police communities.

Violence is only the manifestation of a conflict. The central focus has to be on the conflict, and segregation is a manifestation of that conflict, rather than a causal factor. Segregation matters, because if two communities segregate themselves off from each other, so that contact between them is limited and their knowledge of each other is severely restricted, the perceptions which are formed of each other are often erroneous and stereotyped. Each group can attribute negative - and possibly positive - characteristics to the other group which are uninformed by real contact with the other group. .

Segregation greatly affects perceptions. For example, only 9% of the Protestant community accept that the Catholic community were discriminated against. This perception is skewed by segregation. The lack of contact has meant facing the real situations can be avoided. Increasingly in a highly segregated society, perception are important and can be more important than the reality.

As a result of segregation, the two communities have little understanding of the 'other' community's starting point in any political exchange. Political exchange, and therefore change, is rendered very difficult when there is little appreciation the real perspectives and views of the 'other' community. Change can only be possible when each side has knowledge and understanding of the other side's starting point.

In conclusion, if we accept that there is a cycle of segregation, and that it is in the public interest to interrupt that cycle, the question which arises is how can this be achieved? What role can public policy play in this? Whilst it is officially neutral, public policy is, in effect, pro segregation. There is a need for a thorough review of public policy and the intended and unintended effects on segregation in community life.

Response to the presentation

This is a summary of the main points made during small group and floor discussions:

Sectarian movements of population

* People move as a result of intimidation and fear, as a result of peer pressure.

* People move because of territorial identity and symbols.

* Movement of people is due to insecurity.

* The movement of people has an effect on house prices. People moving affects the economy in the area. Areas become blighted with low house prices. There are few people who may be able to move in and take a risk.

* People dependant on public housing do not have the same options and choices as to where to live.


* Segregation solves the question and problem of security. What has happened is that people have felt they needed to live in a place where they feel safe, particularly at night time. Living in an enclosure does not mean that you can not go out of that area, it does not mean that there are not other contact points and that people do not participate in a more mixed life during day time.

* Segregation can create solidarity. This in itself is not necessarily wrong. It is only when people have a sense of solidarity that they can decide what they want to do. If a community decides to put up walls, then that creates a sense of community.

* There is also a negative side to segregation, as it creates a close community and a lack of contact points with the other community, be it Protestant or Catholic.

* Segregation has its positives, ie security. But what is the price you pay? If the two communities are to become so independent from each other then they pay a price for that segregation.

* It is very complicated to say that segregation is the cause of violence. In mixed areas people are able to target one another but also other people are able to stop violence occurring, by information and intervening.

* Because of segregation there is a need to emphasise the importance of effective communication channels between the two communities.

* The problem is not segregation. It is a political and constitutional problem.

* The conflict here is not about segregation. Segregation happens, and will happen anyway as long as people choose to live, or work amongst those they like or feel comfortable with. The problem and issue here is equality.

The relationship between segregation and political violence

* Segregation and integration should be discussed in context. The context is the political conflict primarily between the Republican movement and the British state. Segregation happened elsewhere but it is only a problem here given the political situation.

* Segregation is not the root cause of the conflict but there is a cause and effect to it. There is an inter communal conflict as well as a political one.

* We have inter communal conflict as well as the larger political conflict. None of these are mutually exclusive, there is also class segregation and how the middle class police the working class. In Ballymun, the issue there is policing.

* There are segregation issues and then there are political divisions and religious inter communal divisions on top of that.

The effects of political violence.

* Is there much known about the psychological effects of violence?.

* It has been shown that with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that if one does not have an outlet for the stress, if there is no talking, the effects of violence and of the trauma will be repressed. There is a need to talk about the effects of violence, or the effects will be hidden for over generations. We need to be more aware of all our outlets for aggression and frustration?

* There is proof that the effects of political violence impact on personal relationships and causes domestic violence.

* Communities can live here without therapy, communities have survived different experiences of violence and too much introversion is not healthy. Therapy is not necessary as we have survived, this might be different if you moved out now into an integrated area.

* Our defense/coping mechanisms are not the same in peace time as they are in war time or in countries where there is relative peace.

* If communities feel under threat in a war situation then the stress that comes out of suffering and out of inflicting suffering, then the people can deal with it. The people then understand it. The war situation gives the conflict a meaning.

* It makes a difference when coping with violence, if you feel justified in the use of political violence.

Peace and political settlement

* Is there a real mass desire for peace here? Did the cease fires come from the overwhelming majority of people or from a select few?

* Cease fires here were engineered by several key people responding to the ground swell demand for it.

* People do not know how to live with peace. They are suspicious of peace, people are looking for the catches. But there is a big desire for it now, as people get more used to it.

* The media reports locally about a possible threat to the cease-fire from splits within the UDA and Combined Loyalist Military Command is irresponsible journalism.

* The prisoners should be let out, it is not a big concessions, they are only prisoners of war.

* The ending of violence surely means that it is inevitable that real interaction will take place.

* The difference between Northern Ireland and South Africa, and the risks that were taken by both Mandela and de Klerk, are not being taken here. An end to violence is not peace. There are significant sections of the population here, who prefer the status quo to any change. The unionist parties are failing to move for change. Does anyone here, have any real sense that we are moving towards negotiations?

* There was more world pressure on South Africa.

* The tactics of parties cause despair. For example, the SDLP refusing one seat because of

the uncertainty of the future. They are waiting until they get everything, waiting for the whole picture to come into view all at once.

* If a settlement is too quickly imposed and it is the wrong one, this will risk peace.

The impact and effects of segregation to political settlements.

* The two communities are not dependant on one another. There are two sets of communication and both believe that they can stand on their own two feet. As long as they feel this, it will be hard to get a settlement.

* It is the day to day issues, the local inter community issues which can be worked on and hopefully resolved. The effects of segregation and violence have to be dealt with now and can not wait for an overall political solution.

* If the problem is the lack of political settlement and if there is to be a political and constitutional solution, there is going to have to be meaningful compromise; then there are also issues of day to day living which need to be addressed at grass roots in every locality.


* Can you legislate for people to go to school together, or to live together? Is it wise to enforce integration in both public and private spheres?

* Integration at an educational level would be the easiest way to facilitate real interaction between the two communities.

* Coercive measures to integrate should not be adopted. It is hard to integrate. It is a conscious effort.

* The balance of Protestant to Catholics is not being achieved at integrated schools, as not enough Protestants are going to them. There is a resistance within the Protestant community. There is a hard core which still wishes for specific religious education in schools.

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