UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Holding the police to account in a divided society : the Northern Ireland reforms McGovern, Clare Joanna


This thesis uses a case study of Northern Ireland to examine the difficulties involved in holding the police to account in a divided society. Northern Ireland is a deeply-divided society where the primary political/religious cleavage is reinforced by the fact that the two communities tend to live in distinct areas and use separate educational, social, political, cultural and economic institutions. This has led to long-standing violence and instability, particularly over the last 35 years. Since 1993 there has been a peace process, which has led to an inter-party / inter-governmental agreement on the way forward, ceasefires from the main paramilitary groups, new political institutions and the devolution of government from Westminster (although the local assembly is currently suspended). One element of the conflict has been the different attitudes of each community to the local police force (the Royal Ulster Constabulary or RUC). Unionists looked to the police for protection against an Irish Nationalist insurgency whereas Nationalists viewed the RUC as a tool of oppression. As part of the peace process an independent commission examined this issue and recommended radical change to the RUC's personnel, structure, training and operations. Police accountability was seen as particularly important - the commission made 35 recommendations in this area alone. Examination of these recommendations suggests four different approaches to accountability based on democratic, legalistic, technocratic and community based institutions respectively. This thesis assesses these four models of accountability against three criteria, drawn from the literature concerning the management of ethnic conflict and public management. Firstly, the models are evaluated for their involvement of the public in evaluation and decision-making. The second criterion is whether accountability mechanisms can be insulated from the Unionist/Nationalist conflict, or alternatively, whether they can contribute to the management of this conflict. Finally, the type of competence promoted by each model is considered -whether the police are encouraged to focus on fiscal concerns, political responsiveness, compliance with rules or longterm strategic issues. This analysis suggests that any one model of accountability operating alone has serious flaws. However, collectively, the four models meet all three criteria. This leads to the conclusion that a multi-stranded approach is required if Northern Ireland is to successfully hold its reformed police service to account.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.