Gender, Decision-Making and the Northern Ireland Senior Civil Service
: A Feminist Institutional Analysis of Elite Bureaucracy in Transition

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The gender outcomes associated with post-conflict power-sharing arrangements contrast starkly with the socially transformative promise of the framework peace agreements which produce them. Scholarship which has sought to analyse the gendered nature of the attrition which occurs in the implementation of peace agreements has largely focused on complexities of post-conflict power-sharing institutions and the role of elite political actors. This thesis embarks on a new research trajectory and refocuses the gender lens toward the bureaucratic axis of the core executive and in particular, the role of the elite bureaucrat in determining gender outcomes in transitions from conflict.
Parallel research in the nascent field of post-conflict public administration indicates that the complexity of power-sharing institutional arrangements may provide increased opportunity structures for the use of bureaucratic discretion and further cautions that failure to attend to bureaucratic values in transition may result in those values functioning in tension to those of the new socio-political order. Using a Northern Ireland case study, this dissertation employs a
Feminist Institutionalist conceptual framework to consider the relationship between bureaucratic values in transition and the gendered nature of the implementation gap which has occurred between institutional design and delivery in post Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland. Working with a qualitative, multi-method approach, it draws on interviews with senior civil servants augmented by transcripts of evidence to the Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry. It triangulates these accounts with the analysis of NICS policy documents and human resources data provided for this research.
The thesis excavates the informal rules which imbue senior civil service values, culture and practice. In doing so, it finds the combination and interaction of gendered institutional legacies (old informal rules) and adaptative strategies to manage power-sharing (new informal rules) functioning to inhibit and suppress new formal provisions for gender equality and socially transformative policy in Northern Ireland's post-conflict institutional arrangements.
By shedding light on the causal processes, which operate at the level of informal institutions and which intervene between institutional design and delivery, this research helps to explain why formal gender equality provisions in peace agreements may fail to translate into tangible outcomes for women in the post-conflict dispensation. As such this thesis makes key contributions to feminist institutional theory, post-conflict public administration and academic work on gender equality in Northern Ireland. It further offers a suite of recommendations for policy, practice and further research.
Date of AwardJul 2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorKarl O'Connor (Supervisor), Cathy Gormley-Heenan (Supervisor) & Catherine O'Rourke (Supervisor)


  • Gender
  • Feminist Institutionalism
  • Representative Bureaucracy
  • Bureaucratic Discretion
  • Informal rules
  • Public Administration
  • Power-Sharing

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