Riots

NORTHERN IRELAND: WIDESPREAD DEPRIVATION IN THE AREAS THAT SUFFERED MOST IN ‘THE TROUBLES’

The parts of Northern Ireland that experienced the most violence during ‘The Troubles’ are far more likely to be economically deprived today, with under-achieving schools, fewer job opportunities and greater risk of sectarian violence. That is the central finding of research by Neil Ferguson and Maren Michaelsen, presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2013 annual conference.

Their study shows that the areas of Northern Ireland that experienced the most violence between the late 1960s and the mid-1990s are generally far poorer today, with levels of deprivation around 25% higher than parts that suffered little or no violence. They analyse the impact of this deprivation on the lives of the post-conflict generation.

Looking at the achievement of 7-11 year olds in Northern Ireland’s primary schools, the research shows that a 1% increase in deprivation reduces the probability of achieving the minimum standard by 5 percentage points. It also finds that high rates of psychological and physical ill health and a high crime rate are the biggest causes of children’s poor school performance.

The authors claim that the poor schooling has significant knock-on effects for the children in later life, adding: ‘We suggest that this lack of opportunity maintains the preconditions for civil unrest, particularly because those involved are predominantly young people and because they mostly occur in relatively deprived areas.’

The researchers argue that these findings have profound implications for policy, noting:

‘That the areas most affected by a conflict that ended almost two decades ago remain the most deprived today suggests significant failures from successive governments to deal with the legacy of conflict.

‘Direct deterrence policies may successfully minimise the impacts of street disturbances but that they also singularly fail to deal with the underlying causes.’

The authors conclude:

‘Despite almost 20 years of relative peace since the paramilitary ceasefires of 1994, many scars of ‘The Troubles’ remain visible in daily life. While the recent riots are an obvious example, the Protestant and Catholic communities remain divided, often physically, with education also, largely, split along religious lines.

‘Several other long-term effects of the conflict are less visible, however, yet are no less influential in creating the atmosphere that leads to frequent and prolonged rioting’.

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In December 2012 and January 2013, Loyalists in Northern Ireland staged a series of demonstrations, protesting the city council’s decision to restrict the flying of the Union Flag on Belfast City Hall. Despite being billed as peaceful demonstrations, violent spillovers quickly followed.

These riots were merely the latest realisation of the sectarian tension that has remained prevalent in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. This study links the occurrence and frequency of such riots to the long-term legacy of ‘The Troubles’.

Despite almost 20 years of relative peace since the paramilitary ceasefires of 1994, many scars of ‘The Troubles’ remain visible in daily life. While the recent riots are an obvious example, the Protestant and Catholic communities remain divided, often physically, with education also, largely, split along religious lines.

Several other long-term effects of the conflict are less visible, however, yet are no less influential in creating the atmosphere that leads to frequent and prolonged rioting. This study, for example, shows a strong link between historical violence and contemporary deprivation.

Areas that experienced the greatest incidence of violence suffer a level of contemporary deprivation approximately 25% greater than the areas that suffered little, or no, violence. Based on this background, the researchers analyse the impact of this deprivation on the life outcomes of the post-conflict generation.

They identify the direct, negative effect of exposure to deprivation on key stage II achievement in Northern Ireland’s primary schools and show that a 1% increase in deprivation reduces the probability of achieving the minimum standard level 4 pass by 5 percentage points. They find that high rates of psychological and physical health and a high crime rate most significantly affect children’s school performance.

Drawing on the strong relationship between school achievement and later life outcomes evident in the economic literature, the researchers assume that such effects of deprivation have significant connotations for Northern Ireland’s children’s life opportunities. They suggest that this lack of opportunity maintains the preconditions for civil unrest, particularly because those involved are predominantly young people and because they mostly occur in relatively deprived areas.

That the areas most affected by a conflict that ended almost two decades ago remain the most deprived today suggests significant failures from successive governments to deal with the legacy of conflict. When coupled with the remaining sectarian divisions in Northern Ireland and the impact of deprivation on the life opportunities exposed to it, continued street disturbances seem likely to remain a pertinent symbol of such continued failures of policy.

It follows, therefore, that the direct deterrence policies hitherto followed may successfully minimise the impacts of realised street disturbances but that they also singularly fail to deal with the underlying causes. The researchers, therefore, suggest that new policy interventions, focused on reducing regional social inequalities, need to be followed to end Northern Ireland’s continuing intercommunity violence.

ENDS


Notes for editors:

‘The Legacy of Conflict: Regional Deprivation and School Performance in Northern Ireland’ by Neil Ferguson and Maren Michaelsen

Contact:

RES media consultant Romesh Vaitilingam:
+44 (0) 7768 661095
romesh@vaitilingam.com
@econromesh

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