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Keywords:

  • deliberative polling;
  • deeply divided societies;
  • Northern Ireland;
  • education policy

Deeply divided societies would seem to be infertile ground for mass deliberation. ‘Enclave deliberation’, among people on the same side, may well occur. But people on opposing sides may not trust one another, they may not listen with an open mind, or they may regard the other side's arguments as insincere cover for sectional interests. Perhaps, though, we underestimate their deliberative capacities? This article examines a deliberative poll (DP) in the Omagh area of Northern Ireland, a society having only recently emerged from protracted violence, reflecting and reinforcing the deep divide between Catholics and Protestants. The topic – the future of the local schools – was one on which many of the issues were heavily impinged by the Catholic–Protestant divide. We examine the extent to which a representative sample, including both Catholics and Protestants, was able to deliberate constructively and how the experience changed their policy attitudes and their opinions of one another.