Social Work in Northern Ireland: Conflict and Change

By Stout, Brian | British Journal of Community Justice, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Social Work in Northern Ireland: Conflict and Change


Stout, Brian, British Journal of Community Justice


SOCIAL WORK IN NORTHERN IRELAND: CONFLICT AND CHANGE

Heenan, D. and Birrell, D. (2011) Bristol: Policy Press. pp. 192 (pbk) 23.99 [pound sterling]

ISBN 978-1847-42332-0

It is tempting to assume that a book with Northern Ireland in the title is only of interest to those who live or work in that country, but this book has much wider scope and application. It is certainly an essential text for anyone practising social work in Northern Ireland. The material covered, particularly the discussion of innovative practice in violence and civil emergencies, should be of interest to a very wide readership, including those working in community justice.

The book starts by putting the development of social work in Northern Ireland into an historical context, linking the development of social work to the formation of the Northern Ireland state, and the political and social influences from the UK, Ireland and within Northern Ireland. The strong voluntary sector and the location of probation work within the auspices of social work are characteristic features of the Northern Ireland system, but there has been a general trend to follow developments in Great Britain. Important themes for social work in Northern Ireland include those that are related to Northern Ireland's specific situation (such as sectarianism, violence devolution and cross-border work) and those that are present in most jurisdictions but have strong relevance in Northern Ireland (such as poverty, community development and organisational issues).

The two chapters on violence and sectarianism give most insight into the working lives of Northern Ireland social workers. The authors clearly explore the meaning and definition of sectarianism and the different ways it can influence individuals in social work practice. This includes implications for work with clients, relationships between staff, and legal, organisational and training issues. The advantages of linking anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive approaches to sectarianism in Northern Ireland are explored. One tangible effect of sectarianism in Northern Ireland has been the violence that the community has had to endure but, prior to this book, the impact that this violence has had on social work practice has been largely, and surprisingly, underexplored. The authors examine the nature of violence, the response to civil emergencies and mental health and trauma as related to both staff and service users. Responding to trauma is a particular contribution that social work makes and the discussion of this issue is the strongest and most fascinating part of the book. The skill and experience developed by Northern Irish social workers, and other professionals, in responding to many years of violence and trauma is invaluable and is seen both in the work of individual practitioners and in the structures that have been put in place. For example, the Northern Ireland Centre for Trauma and Transformation (NICTT) was established following the Omagh bombing. Northern Irish social work researchers have also led the way in exploring the impact of violence and trauma on professional staff and this learning and expertise has been exported around the world. …

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