The Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland could intensify segregation between Catholics and Protestants, researchers at Queen's University, Belfast, fear.
Frederick Boal, emeritus professor of human geography, said the researchers initially thought there was a "wave" effect, with Catholics and Protestants fleeing to their communities after outbreaks of violence. But they discovered that segregation followed a "ratchet" effect.
"There is a little bit of a decline, and then it shoots up," Professor Boal told the Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers annual conference in the city.
"We would claim segregation in the 1990s was at a higher level than ever."
There were fundamental arguments between the two communities over national identity and sovereignty, and Professor Boal speculated that the only way to overcome these was to recognise the "equal validity" of both views.
He said he feared the Good Friday Agreement did not put aside the issue of sovereignty, but left each side still trying to push its objectives. This risked triggering more violence, he said. There had to be recognition that a British-Irish overlap was a permanent feature, he said.
The best way to reduce segregation appeared to be strong regional government with links to London and Dublin.
- Two per cent of Catholics and members of the main Protestant churches in Northern Ireland, and 5 per cent of other Christians, say they do not believe in God, according to an annual survey by Queen's and Ulster universities.