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This paper considers the development of voluntary action in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Drawing on research conducted during 2002–2003 at the Centre for Voluntary Action Studies at the University of Ulster and funded by the Royal Irish Academy, it is argued that the way that voluntary and community organizations developed in Ireland's two jurisdictions after the partition of the island in 1922 illuminates debates on the role of states in structuring the civic space in which voluntary action occurs. It illustrates, in particular, the interaction of state policy drivers with the cultural and ideological forces that shape voluntary action. Analysis lends support to the view that state action, together with cultural trends and social capital resources, is the crucial determinant of how the voluntary sector develops in a jurisdiction.