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The following report provides an overview of reported assaults within Belfast

between 2001 and 2008 as represented by electoral ward. As I shall illustrate the

landscape of violence within Belfast is changing with the processes of social

normalisation and associated economic activity. As Belfast continues the process

from a society in tribal conflict to one with all the dysfunction of any modern

metropolis, new challenges and trends emerge. The violence of deprivation, class and

frustrated masculinity replaces the violence of tribalism. Normalisation is, however,

perhaps not the fairytale ending that one might imagine. For the landscape of violence

in Belfast to imitate that of Glasgow, Dublin or London may actually be a regression.

If this situation is to be avoided new solutions and attitudes are necessary and, as I

shall illustrate, simple preventative measures may hold innovative solutions.


It is important at the outset to gain a firm grasp of the actual phenomenon that is being

observed through the data. In this instance the data captures assaults reported to the

PSNI. The methodology for the data sample used by the PSNI follows the National

Crime Recoding Standard and as so, a wide spectrum of offences are grouped as

offences against the person. This rather broad grouping includes common assault,

assault occasioning actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm and wounding with

intent. It also should be noted that the assault data is only that which has been

reported to the PSNI. The “dark figure of crime” (Biderman 1967 p.1) should be born

in mind specifically owing to political and community confidence issues within the

policing debate in Northern Ireland. One must also question, however, the issue of

over-reporting or false reporting, in light of the Criminal Injuries Compensation

Scheme within Northern Ireland, for financial motives. In these ways the data set is

therefore limited somewhat and an analysis using an independent victim survey may

bring a more accurate picture of the phenomenon of assaults within the city.

With regard to community confidence levels the figures betray the populist concept

that improved relations with the police have led to a universal marked increase in

reporting of assaults by the Nationalist / Catholic community. Taking the averages by

segregation a mere 7.2% increase in reports of assault can be seen by predominantly

Nationalist /Catholic wards between the samples from 2000-2001 and 2007-2008.

Whilst the 7.2% increase may objectively appear to be a mark of increased confidence

it should be born in mind that for the same period an increase of 20.8% can be noted

for wards predominantly Unionist / Protestant [see appendix 4]. In light of the fact

that the average increase for Belfast as a whole in the same period is 35.5% [see

appendix 3] the conclusion can be drawn that changes in the policing arrangements

have not had a marked effect on the reporting of assaults within the Nationalist /

Catholic community.

Whilst this macro assessment may be true within a more specific examination of

individual wards increased community confidence can be noted: for example in the

same period the New Lodge ward had an increase of 48.1% indicating high levels of

increased confidence. This is offset by a ward such as Ardoyne which had an increase

of only 1.3%. Clearly local policing relationships vary producing mixed results.

Anomalies also appear within the data: for example the decrease within the Falls Park

ward of 39.3% may be attributed to the prevalence of Community Restorative Justice

initiatives within the area and increased preventative measures during the period.

Crucially this illustrates how single wards can have a significant impact upon the data

as a whole.

Most notably, assaults within the Belfast area can be viewed as an issue of place and

crime. The commercial centres and night time economy wards of the city centre

stretch out in corridors of high assault activity to the North and West of the city whose

working class residential areas appear to be most vulnerable to violence; respectively

occupying positions within the 10 worst wards for assaults. The correlation between

these areas as those also featuring most prominently in the depravation ranks

evidently points to the violence within these areas as being the violence of the

disenfranchised and dispossessed. The paradigms of the Chicago school and

specifically Shaw and McKay’s Zonal theory are surprisingly relevant within the

landscape of violence as illustrated by the data. Clearly within the data their notions

of spatial distribution of offences can be noted (Shaw and McKay 1942).

The volume of reported assault appears to be increasing phenomenally with an overall

increase of reported assaults of 35.5% from the samples 2000/2001 to 2007/2008.

Within this figure hotspots can be observed in the night time economy wards located

within the city. The wards of Shaftesbury, Botanic and Island present as hotspots for

assaults, respectively attaining the top three positions for assaults.


The assaults taking place within hotspots such as Botanic or Island are taking place

within the bubble of the night-time economy and the nightlife scene. These places are

the playgrounds of those with disposable income. These places are not the traditional

homes of the folk devil that is the proverbial council estate youth dressed in sports

attire. One must therefore consider that the assaults within these areas are not the

desperate crimes of the underclass, but the expression of the uncertainty and angst that

flows from an increasingly nervous middle class. A state of flux and malaise of

uncertainty that is endemic and carried along on a current of globalisation, uncertain

social norms, economic and family uncertainty. It is, as Jock Young so aptly puts it

“the vertigo of late Modernity” (Young 2007 p.11)

Within the night time economy the choice and availability of drugs compared to the

rising assault rate creates a correlation. In recent years, cocaine seizures by the PSNI

have risen whereas seizures of Ecstasy have plummeted. Cocaine seizures increased

by 35% in the year 2007/2008 where as Ecstasy seizures dropped by 85% for the

same year (PSNI 2009). This data set against a rising assault rate perhaps suggests

that psychoactive effect of the fashionable drugs of the moment may add to assault


The exclusion of sexual assaults and rape within the figures expressly illustrates the

inherent patriarchy within the recording of crime. There is a valid argument that rape

and sexual assault are essentially crimes of violence, control and power rather than

sexualising them by recording as sexual offences (Mooney 2000). Without this input

the existing data can be seen as inherently flawed.



The phenomenal rise in assaults within the night time economy wards illustrates quite

clearly that crime can be designed into an area. One must therefore consider that

crime can be designed out of an area also. Dispersal of revellers presents an

opportunity for the reduction of assaults. Communal entrances, vendors of fast food

after closure of clubs and communal taxi ranks present a melting pot of social

interaction that is rife for assaults.

Designing out the congregation of inebriated patrons presents an opportunity to

reduce assaults. Closure of fast food outlets before closing time, multiple entrances

/exits and staggered taxi ranks therefore present a potential solution to the assault

issue within the night time economy wards. This solution does not, however, make

economic sense and therefore is fated to never be implemented. The assault problem

is measured against the bottom line economics of business. Until the night time

economy wards have an assault problem that impacts local business these relatively

simple solutions may be ignored. Civic or altruistic interests do not concern the

business and the corporation. They are, as Joel Bakan notes “institutional

psychopaths” (Bakan 2004 p.85) and unlikely to take a course of action reducing

profit margins. The council should therefore take the lead with this initiative as

ultimately they hold the power to control business opening hours. In this respect

staggered closing times for pubs and clubs may also be beneficial.

Although not directly evidenced in the data as a motivation for assaults it would be

naïve to assume that the violence of sectarianism is not at work within the figures. Of

the 10 most prolific wards for assaults, when the night time economy is accounted for,

we see that the residential areas remaining all feature prominently as interface areas.

As Shirlow and Murtagh note regarding the sectarian conflict: “Ultimately, territorial

conflict in Northern Ireland is played out via place-centred interpretations of

struggle” (Shirlow & Murtagh 2006 p.171) In light of this it is not inconceivable that

place can be used to neutralise conflict. To this end integrated social housing may be a

tempting method of designing out the violence of segregation. Previous failures in the

integrated housing experiment may be cited as cautionary tales however one must

bear in mind that Belfast has undergone considerable transition

In conclusion it is evident that the frequency of reported assaults within Belfast varies

greatly and is deeply entwined with concepts of place and design. The concrete

jungles of interface areas and the overcrowded chip shops of the night time economy

come to the fore as criminogenic in location and design. The equation is fluid

however. Utilising a basic sense of foresight the design of places and social settings

can be moulded to reduce the rate of assaults reported or otherwise. Preventative

design, therefore, must be a priority for all seeking to impact upon the assault rate.



Bakan, Joel, 2004, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power.
London. Constable Publishing.

Biderman, Albert and Reiss, Albert, 1967, On Exploring the Dark Figure of Crime.
Philadelphia. Sage Publications.

Mooney, Jayne, 2000, Gender, Violence and the Social Order, London, Macmillan

Police Service of Northern Ireland, Drug Seizures and Arrests 2007/2008,

Central Statistics Bureau [on-line] Date
Accessed: 05/03/2010

Shaw, C.R and McKay, H.D, 1942, Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas, Chicago.
University of Chicago Press.

Shirlow, Peter and Murtagh, Brendan, 2006, Belfast: Segregation, Violence and the
City, London. Pluto Press.

Young, Jock. 2007, The Vertigo of Late Modernity. London. Sage Publications.

Appendix 1:
Table 1: Offence Against the Person Assaults by Segregation
Offences against the person – assaults 2000-2007-08
Electoral 200 200 200 200 200 200 2006- 2007
ward 0-01 1-02 2-03 3-04 4-05 5-06 07 -08
Woodvale 46 49 48 65 64 74 60 58
Upper Springfield 123 105 110 110 93 131 91 82
Crumlin 84 69 90 94 89 108 107 98
Ballymacarrett 132 133 157 106 90 110 84 99
Shankill 71 79 102 105 99 93 90 99
Whiterock 150 94 97 88 99 127 142 127
Ardoyne 145 268 183 144 156 149 151 147
New Lodge 158 243 250 236 221 241 232 234
Falls 242 277 257 234 280 259 316 287
Duncairn 242 256 322 299 234 266 315 343
Average Catholic 163. 197. 179. 162. 169. 181. 175.0 175.4
Electoral wards 6 4 4 4 8 4
Average 115. 117. 143. 133. 115. 130. 131.2 139.4
Protestant 0 2 8 8 2 2
Electoral wards
Total for 460 605 596 613 709 620 6567 6240
Belfast 5 0 1 7 8 2
Average per 90.2 118. 116. 120. 139. 121. 128.7 122.
electoral ward 6 8 3 1 6 3

Appendix 2
Table 2: Assaults 2007-2208 for the ten most deprived unionist/loyalist and
republican/nationalist communities
Electoral ward Deprivation Assaults Assaults Rank % Catholic
Rank 2007-2008 Assaults 2007-
(Belfast) 2008

Island 18 354 3 5.4

Duncairn 9 343 4 5.1
The Mount 11 165 8 4.2
Woodstock 21 112 13 5.8
Shankill 1 99 18 4.1
Crumlin 4 98 20 3.3
Blackstaff 16 93 22 4.4
Woodvale 10 58 33 2.9
Highfield 23 57 34 4.1
Glencairn 15 31 45 13.1
Average 12.8 20.0
Falls 2 287 5 96.8
New Lodge 5 234 6 97.4
Water Works 12 220 7 90.3
Ardoyne 6 147 9 99.2
Whiterock 3 127 11 99.4
Glencolin 20 113 12 98.2
Beechmount 19 95 21 92.7
Glen Road 17 88 24 97.3
Clonard 13 86 25 96.9
Upper Springfield 7 82 27 97.5
Average 10.4 14.7

Appendix 3:
Table 3: Worst 20 wards in Belfast for Assaults
Electoral ward Assaults Assaults Assaults Rank % change
2000- 2007-2008
Shaftesbury 607 1093 1 80.0
Botanic 210 498 2 137.1
Island 100 354 3 254.0
Duncairn 242 343 4 46.2
Falls 211 287 5 36.0
New Lodge 158 234 6 48.1
Water Works 175 220 7 25.7
The Mount 147 165 8 12.2
Ardoyne 145 147 9 1.3
Legoniel 60 130 10 53.8
Whiterock 97 127 11 30.9
Glencolin 131 113 12 -13.7
Woodstock 62 112 13 80.6
Chichester Park 109 110 14 0.9
Windsor 97 109 15 12.3
Falls Park 178 108 16 -39.3
Cliftonville 90 101 17 22.2
Shankill 71 99 18 39.4
Ballymacarrett 132 99 18 -25.0
Crumlin 84 98 20 16.6
Total for Sample 3106 4547 46.3%
Total for Belfast 4605 6240 35.5%

Appendix 4

Table representing average rates of recorded assault with regard to segregation




2004-05 Protestant
2003-04 Catholic Ward




0 100 200 300


Appendix 5

Table representing reported assaults within Belfast with regard to place, time
and frequency



New Lodge
Water Works
The Mount

2000- 2007-
2001 2008