The Geography of Conflict and Death in Belfast, Northern Ireland

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Belfast, conflict, deaths, Northern Ireland, paramilitary, segregation

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The conflict known as the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland began during the late 1960s and is defined by political and ethno-sectarian violence between state, pro-state, and anti-state forces. Reasons for the conflict are contested and complicated by social, religious, political, and cultural disputes, with much of the debate concerning the victims of violence hardened by competing propaganda-conditioning perspectives. This article introduces a database holding information on the location of individual fatalities connected with the contemporary Irish conflict. For each victim, it includes a demographic profile, home address, manner of death, and the organization responsible. Employing geographic information system (GIS) techniques, the database is used to measure, map, and analyze the spatial distribution of conflict-related deaths between 1966 and 2007 across Belfast, the capital city of Northern Ireland, with respect to levels of segregation, social and economic deprivation, and interfacing. The GIS analysis includes a kernel density estimator designed to generate smooth intensity surfaces of the conflict-related deaths by both incident and home locations. Neighborhoods with high-intensity surfaces of deaths were those with the highest levels of segregation (> 90 percent Catholic or Protestant) and deprivation, and they were located near physical barriers, the so-called peacelines, between predominantly Catholic and predominantly Protestant communities. Finally, despite the onset of peace and the formation of a power-sharing and devolved administration (the Northern Ireland Assembly), disagreements remain over the responsibility and “commemoration” of victims, sentiments that still uphold division and atavistic attitudes between spatially divided Catholic and Protestant populations.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Annals of the Association of American Geographers, v. 99, issue 5, p. 893-903