The ‘Good Relations’ Agenda and The Changing Context of the Prison Officer in Northern IrelandThe Development of a Pilot Project

Derick Wilson, Tracy Irwin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


In 2005 the Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service stated his vision of promoting ‘citizenship’ by developing the civic role of the Prison Service in particular through educational work and processes with prisoners.Citizenship carries with it the notion of being equal and different to others within an agreed legal and societal order. Northern Ireland is a contested society where deterrence of one tradition by the other and vice versa has been a dominant dynamic. Such a society reveals the importance of securing agreed law and order systems, addressing and establishing equal treatment and equality of opportunity in employment and establishing equal and different citizenship as the basis for all to live and work together. (Wright). Contested societies remind us that homogeneity cannot be protected by force, rather being at ease with difference is the goal. In the face of sectarian and racial attacks enabling people to be at ease with difference is a major social challenge, particularly in a society with an increasingly diverse population. However models around being at ease with diversity are few and far between. Small local experiments are needed to generate more models that help grow new practices and structures. We need new knowledge that will, in part, come from ‘good relations’ (Section 75 (2) NI Act 1998) practice that is committed to engaging in forward looking, imaginative projects.Racism, homophobia, sectarianism, sexism and growing attacks on those with a learning disability and the aged are inter-linked. They are interlinked by the same powerful dynamics of unease with difference. In a contested society good relations practice is the insistence that people are acknowledged as being equal and different citizens. The different religious beliefs, political opinions and racialised group identities associated with people are not reasons for them to be abused or attacked. Learning in relationships in an ethnic frontier , tends to be, at best, guarded and conditional. The structuring of relationships within the historical and communal rivalries of such an area, and the patterns of silence, avoidance and politeness often accompanying them, have a deep impact on how people meet and engage with one another, if they choose to meet at all. Promoting citizenship as a central vision for a prison system in a contested society is an essential starting point. Central to this society moving forward is the securing of an agreed law and order system and the actions of prison staff promoting good relations are central to this. In addition, recent research by Dunford et al on the growth of high skill economies, point to the need to reduce high levels of social inequality and promote high levels of ease with different others.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnknown Host Publication
PublisherCommonwealth of Learning
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 16 Jul 2008
EventAccess to Learning and Development - Institute of Education, London
Duration: 16 Jul 2008 → …


ConferenceAccess to Learning and Development
Period16/07/08 → …

Bibliographical note

Reference text: 1 Irwin, T. (2007) Unlocking Potential: An Exploration of Learning in Prison, BERA Annual Conference, University of Warwick, September.
2See Wright, F. 1987, Northern Ireland-A Comparative Analysis, Gill and Macmillan
3See Eyben, Morrow & Wilson, 1997, A Worthwhile Venture?-Practically Investing in Equity, Diversity and Interdependence in Northern Ireland, University of Ulster.
4See Dunford, European Urban and Regional Studies 12(2): 151–178 Copyright © 2005 SAGE Publications10.1177/0969776405053742 London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi,
5The work of this programme is now incorporated in the developmental practice of the UNESCO Centre, University of Ulster since September 2006.
6 IRISH PROBATION JOURNAL Volume 4, Number 1, September 2007
Probation Practice and Citizenship, Good Relations and the Emerging European Intercultural Agenda, Dr Derick Wilson
7See ‘Investing in Trust Building and Good Relations in a Public Sector Organisation’ Eyben, Morrow &Wilson @


  • Prison Officer
  • Education
  • Good Relations
  • Equality
  • Diversity


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