The Psychology of Peace and Conflict: The Troubles in Northern Ireland

Coe College May Term 2009

This Wiki site is the culmination of our studies concerning the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Here we have analyzed the psychological concepts used to facilitate peace during the history of the Conflict, and presently as efforts are made towards reconciliation.

"What circumstances tend to cause conflict or to promote peace? In this course students will study the causes and effects of violence and non-violence in contexts ranging from the interpersonal to the international. We will start on campus by examining why conflict occurs and factors that contribute to a peaceful resolution. Our study of peace and conflict at this macro-level will be heavily guided by relevant psychological research. The focus will then shift to the circumstances surrounding the conflict (known as “The Troubles”) and the conflict resolution process in Northern Ireland, which culminated with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The overarching objective for the course will be to analyze the conflict and conflict resolution process in Northern Ireland from a psychological perspective." -Dr. Sara Farrell

History of the Conflict Derry Civil Rights Marches Orange Order Marches Internment
Hunger Strikes Labor Strikes Good Friday Agreement Major IRA Bombings
UVF and UDA Actions Civil Rights Groups Direct Rule Important Agreements
RUC Actions Effects on Individuals Today Conflict Resolution Today Segregation
Page Tags Glossary of Psychology Terms Glossary of Acronyms and Abbreviations References


Where is the conflict at today? Our travels showed us that major steps have been made to work out current issues in a peaceful manner. There are still some sporadic acts of violence that are tied to groups like the RIRA. However, the major organizations do not support these extremists because there are other ways to get their voices heard now so violence is no longer necessary. We took a tour of the Falls Road in Belfast with a former member of the IRA. The next day we toured the Shankill Road with a former member of the UVF. We also walked around Free Derry Corner with a Bloody Sunday survivor. Even though it has been over thirty years this man was able to point out the locations where he watched his friends die. All of these men now believe in one thing; they believe in peace.

One of the theories in Rachel Macnair’s The Psychology of Peace, Burnout1 can explain this. For instance, it was clear that the ex-IRA volunteer, who took us on the Bloody Sunday rout, experienced burnout and left because he had enough of violence. The UVF volunteer from the Shankill burned out when his new-born son died while he was in prison. He left because he wanted peace for his family. Now they all try to educate the public about their experiences, sometimes those they educate are on the other side. Macnair would define this as working with diversity: contact.2 An example is an extreme nationalist taking an extreme loyalist around Free Derry corner recounting the eighteen-minutes of Bloody Sunday. This is very important to the peace process, but most aren’t ready for this contact.

In Belfast, the peace walls separate Falls and Shankill. Our guides for these two roads both admitted to the walls being more for peace of mind. But through groups like Healing THrough Remembering (HTR) and Corrymeela, these people can learn what Macnair calls working with diversity: interdependency.3 It was good to see so many strongly advocating for peace, but they still have a long way to go. It started as a fight for civil rights. Will it only end with a united Ireland? One thing is certain that the Northern Ireland can’t join the Republic right now according to the people we met with. The main reason for this is economics. The Republic is going through a recession and cannot support Northern Ireland, not yet anyway. But as those who grew up during the conflict work for peace, the younger generation is the one causing most of the trouble. On the Shankill road, a lot of the youths feel that they wont go anywhere in life and they turn to narcissistic/antisocial behavior.4 One boy actually wanted to be an ex-prisoner because of the reputation that came with it. Now there is a group called Alternatives to Violence that helps keeps boys like that in school while offering activities that they can do so they don’t slip into these ruts, because most of the recent violence is being done by this younger generation. Unfortunately we see this same sort of behavior in the neighborhood around our school. Lately there have been attacks on students by high school aged boys. Gangs are the goal and there is speculation that some of it may be initiation. Regardless, it shows that the conflict in Ireland and the problems that exist today are not secluded to the Emerald Isle. Bloody Sunday has the potential to happen anywhere that persecution is present. But a lot can be learned from the Ireland conflict. Resolution is still a long ways off, but there have been major improvements in the last ten years. In Derry, police officers are most likely to be seen riding on bikes instead of in armored vehicles. But total peace won’t be achieved until the walls are taken down. Not just the physical ones, but the mental barriers that keep Catholics and Protestants from socializing and forming a community together.

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