Values and Violence in Northern Irland

Led by Christine Fjeldstad Johannesen
Jan 2005 - Jun 2005

Christine F. Johannesen: Attitudes toward Politial Violence: The Case of Northern Ireland, MA- thesis in political science, NTNU.
Supervisor: Ola Listhaug, NTNU/CSCW

The armed conflict in Northern Ireland is a special case in a European post-World War Two context. Since the “Troubles” started in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s, more than 3500 people have been killed, including members of the British army, Northern Irish Security Forces, Catholic civilians, Protestant civilians and Nationalist and Loyalist paramilitaries. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 has not yet succeeded in putting an end to the violence.

After the end of the Second World War, there have been few incidents of violent conflict in Western Europe, a development that has often been explained with high level of socio-economic development and democratic regimes. But although armed conflict has been absent in most European countries, civil war is by far the most common form of warfare today. Studies that have tried to track the causes of domestic conflicts have concluded that socio-economic level and a county’s political regime are more important in predicting domestic conflict than ethnic or religious heterogeneity (Ellingsen 2000).

Northern Ireland is both enjoying a relative high level of socio economic development and has had democratic institutions for a long time, so what is it that makes the Northern Ireland case so special? Factors as religious division along socio-economic lines are often used as explanatory variables; the Catholics being the under-dogs since the establishment of the Northern Ireland state in the early 1920s. But few countries in the world are homogenous, so this alone cannot explain why Northern Ireland has experienced violent conflict while other multi ethnic or multi religious communities manage to solve their differences peacefully. Although the violent conflict in Northern Ireland has lasted for more than 30 years, the great majority of the Northern Irish population wants to put an end to the violence. The question that comes into mind when establishing the contours of the conflict in Northern Ireland is therefore; why has the conflict lasted for so long, if the majority of the population wants peace?

The paper will be an empirical analysis of the popular support for political violence in Northern Ireland at three points in time; 1968 – the year the ‘Troubles’ started; 1998 – the year of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement; and 2003 – five years after the peace agreement. The paper will consist of three main parts:

1.      Historical part

In order to understand the origin and the seriousness of the Northern Ireland conflict, an overview of the conflict is needed. The focus will be on the period leading up to the ‘Troubles’, the ‘Troubles’ and on the Good Friday Agreement.

2.      Theoretical part

There are a lot of theories that explain the outbreak of political violence, and this section will use some of them and see whether these can contribute in explaining the political violence in Northern Ireland and the popular support for it. Scholars such as Gurr and Collier will be employed, but also less general theories about popular support for political violence in the Northern Irish case.

3.      Empirical part (values)

The empirical part will consist of three separate analyses of three points in time: 1968, 1998 and 2003. For the 1968 analysis, data from the Northern Ireland Loyalty Study will be used. The study asks different questions for Protestants and Catholics, so the analysis will be divided into two parts; one within the Protestant community and one within the Catholic. The data for the 1998 and 2003 analyses are from Northern Ireland Life and Time Survey (NILT), where the same questions are asked in the two datasets. Comparison over time is therefore possible. Also these analyses will consist of two parts, since the questionnaire distinguish between support for loyalist and republican violence. The idea of comparing 1998 with 2003 is to see whether the support for violence has decreased after the peace treaty.

The thesis was completed in the spring of 2005.



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