Northern Ireland

Principal Investigators: Mark Cummings, Ph.D.; Professor Ed Cairns, University of Ulster; Professor Marcie Goeke-Morey, Catholic University of America; Dr. Pete Shirlow, Queen’s University, Belfast; Dr. Alice Schermerhorn, Indiana University; and Christine Merrilees, University of Notre Dame

The Northern Ireland Project is a longitudinal study of relations between political violence and the well-being of children living in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Utilizing an ecological, process-oriented model, the study seeks to better understand the pathways between political and sectarian community violence and ordinary crime, family functioning, and adolescents’ adjustment within a comprehensive theoretical framework.

Despite the 1998 Belfast agreement, post-accord conflict and tension remain a continuing occurrence, especially among interfaced communities, which are two segregated communities (one Catholic and one Protestant) living in adjacent neighborhoods. Although Northern Ireland has made positive steps towards a sustained peace, children and families continue to live in segregated spaces and sectarian antisocial behavior has taken a new form in these communities, with expressions of sectarianism and antisocial behavior often perpetrated by youth.

This study seeks to identify multiple processes within the overlapping contexts of the social ecology of communities and families living within a community that has experienced protracted political conflict. The goal is to provide better bases for understanding of intergroup conflict and underlying interpersonal and psychological processes, including protective and positive influences. This study aims to advance knowledge of social ecological influences associated with political violence and tension and their implications for the children, including possible bases for understanding any renewed conflict in the future, or alternatively, bases for the stabilization of peace processes over the long-term (Shirlow & Murtagh, 2006). The study provides a template for studying the effects of political violence on children and the family in other communities that have experienced ethnic conflict around the world (Cummings, Goeke-Morey, Schermerhorn, Merrilees, and Cairns, 2009).

The Northern Ireland Project includes three distinct phases. In the first phase, focus groups were conducted as a means of providing a basis for understanding how community and elements of the community such as community violence and crime are experienced in Belfast. These focus groups were also used to develop culturally informed measures of child exposure to sectarian and ordinary (non-sectarian) crime, and a measure of child security in the community.

The second phase of the study included a pilot test of the measures of community violence and child, during which the measures were further refined to be used in the larger study.
The final phase of the study includes a large-scale interview with mothers and children and adolescents across 18 different neighborhoods in Belfast. The first wave of data collection included interviews with 700 mothers and children. The third phase is currently in its third wave of data collection with these same families.

For additional information, please contact Mark Cummings.

The Northern Ireland Project