Beyond contact : young people and dialogue in Northern Ireland

Degree Name

MA in International and Intercultural Management

First Advisor

John Ungerleider


The question I address in this capstone is: how does the Spirit of Enniskillen help prepare young people to actively contribute to a peaceful society in Northern Ireland, addressing themes of both community relations and citizenship? The Spirit of Enniskillen (SOE) runs an eight-month program for 16-18 year-olds from across Northern Ireland that encourages dialogue among groups that would not normally come together to discuss difficult topics. The vast majority of the young people are Protestant or Catholic but there are also youth from mixed families or from other religions. This paper evaluates the best practices of the SOE program within the shifting context of community relations work in Northern Ireland. The theoretical framework is intergroup contact theory, which proposes conditions under which positive constructive intergroup contact can take place, positive and constructive in the sense that individuals from both sides leave the contact experience with more understanding and a more positive view of the opposite group as well as of individuals in that group. The majority of the data collection was done in October when I carried out a series of focus groups with participants of the 2000 program. I have drawn heavily from the transcripts of those meetings as well as from participant reports from the same year. My findings suggest that participants in Spirit of Enniskillen programs are clearly benefiting from positive intergroup contact. The program meets all of the favorable conditions stated for positive intergroup contact. In addition, it pays special attention to the skills needed to maintain and promote peaceful contact between the two sides and to provide continued support to alumni.

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