Discuss the Sociological Background to the Northern Ireland Conflict and the Extent to Which the Types of Discrimination Experienced by Catholics Have Weakened or Been Reversed in Recent Years.

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The aim of this essay is to present a sociological interpretation on the background to the Northern Ireland as not simply a religious war by looking Catholic discrimination in detail and also help develop a better understanding of how the discrimination has been reversed in recent years. Firstly, two key theorists Hewitt and O’Hearn will be discussed in relation to the conflict and the discrimination of Catholics in voting, housing and employment. Their views will then be expanded in relation to the themes of nationalism, identity, power, religion and social class. Next, the issue of gender discrimination of Catholic women will be discussed. Lastly, how the conflict of Northern Ireland has weakened in recent years will be investigated through Miller’s longlinear analysis which identifies the generational changes of social mobility in Northern Ireland. Throughout this essay theorist’s ideas and methods will also be compared and contrasted and several key concepts will be explored in relation to the Northern Ireland conflict, sociologically. The issue of Catholic discrimination in Northern Ireland has been debated by theorists, Hewitt and O’Hearn. Both theorists argue over the importance of Catholic discrimination as a factor of the Northern Ireland conflict. Hewitt (1985) argues against the conventional view supported by O’Hearn (1987) which claims Catholic discrimination (housing, voting and employment) led to the Northern Ireland conflict is wrong and instead the violence was caused by Irish nationalism. O’Hearn argues Catholic claims of discrimination were accurate. O’ Hearn rejects Hewitt’s claim that nationalism was a much stronger force in the Catholic population. O’Hearn’s research is adamant on proving discrimination was widespread in northern Irish and British policy. Hewitt understands there is a general agreement on Catholic discrimination. He isolates the issue of gerrymandering, to see if it was undemocratic and if it affected employment and housing. Much of the evidence of grievance and complaint when analysed was found to be concentrated upon housing and employment. These were the two main issues that affected the lives of ordinary men, much more than issues of voting and the gerrymandering of boundaries. Hewitt did not consider employment as a more serious problem than gerrymandering or occupation. O’Hearn (1987) states Hewitt had no justification for not considering unemployment as key to discrimination. He provides a Marxist interpretation of this. The middle class community maintain their position with a divided working class. Such unemployment could not be due to laziness on the part of Catholics, since Hewitt maintains they have a remarkably Protestant work ethic. O’Hearn argued violence was blamed on unemployment. Hewitt’s own evidence then proves this conclusion. Hewitt correlated violence to both unemployment and nationalism but chooses to conclude nationalism is the cause. On the issue of gerrymandering Hewitt and O’Hearn clash on opposite sides of the issue. According to Hewitt’s research, Protestants made up almost 60% of the marginalized and could not prove an example of discrimination against Catholics. Hewitt believed because of ignorance of fertility rate differences between Catholic and Protestants, higher Catholic fertility meant that the Catholics in the voting age population is noticeably lower. O’Hearn responded that Catholics did not suffer disproportionately. If gerrymandering was to make sure Catholics could not become a political majority, thereby controlling houses and employment. Permitting more Catholics to remain in Northern Ireland where their natural fertility rates might eventually make them a majority would then mean the purpose of the laws should be to make sure the Catholics did not have political power and did not remain in Northern Ireland. Even if 80% of those affected by marginalization were Protestant, it would be irrelevant as long as Catholics did not have power....
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