Journal of Global Citizenship & Equity Education, Vol 2, No 2 (2012)

When All Else Fails: The Critical Role of Civil Society in Addressing Northern Ireland’s Segmental Autonomy

Zealan Taylor Hoover


Northern Ireland remains a deeply divided society. The education system mirrors the broader societal divisions between Catholics and Protestants and the vast majority of students experience an education that remains almost wholly segregated based on religious identification. This paper places that segregation in a political context, by analyzing how the type of political system has impacted education reform as it relates to the development of an integrated education sector. Northern Ireland provides a unique opportunity to test the impact of political systems on education reform because, over the past ninety years, the state has been governed under majoritarian home rule, direct control by an external actor, and consociational home rule. Despite the deeply segmented education system, a group of parents began a concerted push for integrated education beginning in the 1970s. Over the course of three decades, their advocacy spurred substantial reform and served as the catalyst for an integrated education sector that now serves more than five percent of elementary and secondary students. The successes and failures of that movement provide strong empirical evidence that no matter the political system in place, civil society is critical to promoting integrated education reform in deeply divided societies.


Consociationalism, structuralism, constructivism, contact theory, divided society, integration

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