Demographic change and conflict in Northern Ireland: reconciling qualitative and quantitative evidence

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Kaufmann, Eric P. (2011)

Recent large-N quantitative studies have failed to uncover a link between demographic change and conflict. This seems to refute quite powerful qualitative evidence from small-scale case studies that such a relationship exists. This article attempts to reconcile the conflicting evidence by revealing how population change—in this case a major decline in the size of the Protestant majority—matters for violent conflict, but not in a direct way. In addition, relationships differ by level of geography. In the case of Northern Ireland, no significant quantitative association exists between ethnic change and violence. This holds across both geographic units and years. However, there is a significant association between ethnic demography and Protestant mobilization into the Orange Order across counties. This in turn is related to Protestant resistance to reforms aimed at extending civil rights to the Catholic population during the Stormont period. This stance was a major factor in generating Catholic support for IRA violence. Moreover, in specific locations, a direct link between Protestant population decline relative to Catholics and loyalist violence against Catholics is evident. Hence demography matters, but in conjunction with other factors, and several steps upstream from the outbreak of violence.
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