‘Just Get on with It’: A Qualitative of Study of Social Workers’ Experiences during the Political Conflict in Northern Ireland

Jim Campbell, Joe Duffy, Carole Tosone, David Falls

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This article reports on a retrospective study of social workers experiences and perception of practice during the height of the political conflict in Northern Ireland (1969-1988). The paper describes the qualitative research methodology used to access the sample, design of interview schedule and data collection. Data were analysed using an iterative process to highlight emergent themes. Interviews were carried out with 28 social workers who were employed in a range of agencies. The findings explore how social workers routinely had to negotiate access to communities in the midst of this violence, sometimes through paramilitary organisations. Respondents identified a range of coping mechanisms that they had used to make the ‘abnormal normal’. This included adopting apolitical, neutral stances, yet taking risks in the everyday tasks of meeting the needs of individuals and families. There was, however, limited evidence of employers providing support for practitioners, with peer support most prevalent and purposive forms of education and training during this period. The authors argue for greater attention to the skills and knowledge required for interventions with victims and survivors of the conflict and a more holistic approach to the analysis of social work and political conflict across international contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1314-1331
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number4
Early online date08 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The findings of this article were based on a study funded by the British Association of Social Workers (Northern Ireland) and the Northern Ireland Social Care Council.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.


  • anti-oppressive practice
  • conflict zones
  • critical social work
  • Northern Ireland
  • social work education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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