Breaking the Cycle of Violence: Elections in Northern Ireland, 2005


For decades in Northern Ireland's second-largest city, Derry/Londonderry, violence and voting went hand in hand.  The 1921 partition of Ireland that created the British-controlled territory of Northern Ireland created tensions that resurfaced every Election Day as police removed ballot boxes from some polling places.  Throwing stones and gasoline bombs, groups of Catholic nationalists demonstrated their opposition to the presence of British-linked, predominantly Protestant police.  The repeated violence triggered an uproar by members of the broader nationalist community, some of whom were prevented or deterred from voting as a result.  After particularly violent election cycles in 2003 and 2004, police and electoral officials sought a way to quell the disturbances.  The success of any changes involving the police role required cooperation by diverse groups with widely varying interests: political parties, community activists, electoral officials and the police.  In early 2005, a long bargaining process produced an agreement to remove the police from the polling stations and turn over security functions to the local community and political parties.  In the two elections between 2005 and 2010, police reported no incidents of violence. 

Michael Scharff drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Derry/Londonderry and Belfast, Northern Ireland, in September 2010. Case published December 2010.

Associated Interview(s):  Tony O'Doherty, Charles O'Donnell, Barney O'Hagan

Northern Ireland
Election Violence
Focus Area(s)
Accountable Policing
Reducing Divisive Effects of Competition
Critical Tasks
Election security
Poll worker management
Core Challenge
Dispute resolution (compliance)
Country of Reform
Northern Ireland
Case Studies
Michael Scharff