How far do the experiences of policing In Northern Ireland between 1969-2001 provide valuable insights for the contemporary policing of deeply divided societies?

  • Noel Martin

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis explores how far the experiences of policing in post-1969 Northern Ireland provide valuable insights into contemporary policing in deeply divided societies and countries emerging from violent conflict. It does so by systematically examining the Northern Irish experience and comparing it with one other major case study, that of Afghanistan.

Can the policing experience in Northern Ireland highlight essential values that would be beneficial in other settings? Central to the argument of the thesis is the claim that policing in divided societies cannot be effective without legitimacy. A central pillar of successful policing, legitimacy relies on four elements evident from the experience of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland, namely the importance of:
4.Community Policing.
The above themes are the crux of my thesis. The elements are interlinked and as they dovetail into each other it will become apparent that each is dependent on the other.

The thesis engages with a wide range of secondary and primary sources, the latter including archival materials, contemporary newspapers, governmental reports, parliamentary debates, semi-structured interviews and participant memoirs. The thesis demonstrates the importance in Northern Ireland of police legitimacy within a divided society and also the inherited challenge after 1969 to achieve legitimacy amid inter-community mistrust and enmity.

Chapter one: provides Irish historical background, beginning with legacy problems caused by the partition of Ireland in 1921; these problems became amplified across generations, with enduring mistrust between communities in Northern Ireland’s deeply divided society.

Chapter two: examines the formation of the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the challenges that they faced in policing a divided community and the dual policing role of the RUC and the support given by the USC, until disbandment in 1970. The chapter touches on the emergence of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) and the start of what later became known as the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’.

Chapter three: discusses several significant reports, commissioned in 1969, by the Westminster and Stormont governments and other significant reports, as Northern Ireland moved toward a peaceful solution to its political problems.

Chapter Four: compares the common law, statute law and emergency legislation that provided the powers to enable the police to protect them and the public.

Chapter Five: combines the findings of previous chapters, in a discussion and consideration of policing developments in Northern Ireland from 1969 until members of the RUC were incorporated into Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in 2001. The chapter summarises the fundamental assertions, the key objective (legitimacy) and the four principal themes underpinning it.

Chapter six: assesses the degree to which the pattern of effective policing in Northern Ireland set out in the thesis might be of value for other divided societies, through comparison with one other major case study: that of Afghanistan during 2001-21.

It is argued that, while police legitimacy was substantially secured as part of the wider politics of peace in Northern Ireland, the challenges around legitimacy in early-twenty-first-century Afghanistan demonstrates why legitimacy is vital and how difficult it is to achieve in such settings.
Date of AwardDec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorRichard English (Supervisor) & Margaret O'Callaghan (Supervisor)


  • Northern Ireland
  • Unionists
  • nationalists
  • republicans
  • RUC
  • emergency legislation
  • Legitimacy
  • accountability
  • better leadership
  • community relations
  • Afghanistan

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