Centre for the Study of Conflict
Protestant Alienation in Northern Ireland,
|4.||Further Sources of Information|
|6.||Analysis of Interview Data|
The Centre for the Study of Conflict is a research centre based in the University of Ulster. Its main work is the promotion and encouragement of research on the community conflict and to this end it concentrates on practical issues to do with institutional and community structures and change. It publishes papers and books arising out of this work including: a series of research papers particularly designed to make available research data and reports; a series of Majority-Minority reports; and a series of occasional papers by distinguished academics in the field of conflict. It has recently published a Register of Research on Northern Ireland which has been widely praised, and a termly newsletter on current research called Research Briefing.
This new series of six research reports and papers on aspects of the Northern Ireland conflict represents the results of recent work as well as a reprint of an earlier work still much in demand.
It includes the extensive evaluation work of Colin Knox and his colleagues on the Community Relations and Local Government initiative, a major experiment in the promotion and encouragement of inter-community activity through the medium of district councils; a ground-breaking report by Valerie Morgan and Grace Fraser (carried out in association with the Centre for Research on Women) called The Company We Keep: Women, Community and Organisations, on the role and influence and cross-community activities of women in small towns and rural communities; the first in a new series of reports on the concept and experience of alienation, called Protestant Alienation in Northern Ireland; the most recent Majority-Minority report (joining earlier reports on education and on employment/unemployment) this one by Martin Melaugh on Housing and Religion in Northern Ireland; a paper by Ed Cairns on Psychology and the Northern Ireland Conflict, one in the series of occasional papers written by distinguished scholars. Finally, a reprint of the much discussed report by Duncan Morrow and his colleagues on The Churches and Intercommunity Relationships first published in 1991.
Although it is difficult to be clear what precisely is meant by the word 'alienation, it is much used by both sides in Northern Ireland. The changes and vagaries of emphasis and frequency with which it appears are certainly related to levels of anxiety and uncertainty within the two communities, but there has been no attempt to probe for meaning and texture behind the often extravagant public statements.
For some time now a number of colleagues at the University of Ulster have been discussing this notion of alienation as it is used and experienced in Northern Ireland. It was agreed to plan and carry out a series of investigations of such questions as: the range of meanings attached to the word alienation; alienation as understood and experienced differentially by the two sides; perceived sources and causes of alienation; and soon. This process would involve careful planning, preparatory ground-clearing and a cumulative, incremental method whereby each stage contributes to a final and more general analysis of the ideas involved. The intention was to generate valid and reliable data as a background towards analyses and, possibly, policy formation.
For a number of reasons the notion of Protestant Alienation was very much to the forefront in public discussion when the project was being established. It was agreed therefore to carry out a small-scale, preliminary survey as a first step in a more extended process: because of the tentative nature of this process, we did not intend to publish the results. However, when the report was written it attracted some attention among the small group of academics, churchmen and civil servants who were shown a copy. Because of this it was felt that so long as those interviewed agreed, and the history, background and status of the paper as the first in a series of similar probes were made clear - then a wider circulation might benefit the future development of the overall project by generating discussion and debate. So this is the first in what we hope will be a series of reports on alienation. We are particularly anxious to make clear that no general conclusions can or should be drawn from this report, that it involved a very limited sample of 40 and that it deals with one side of the community only. It is meant as a stimulus to discussion rather than a definitive statement.
The question of 'Protestant alienation' has been referred to a great deal in recent times by Unionist politicians, senior clerics in most Protestant denominations and some newspaper commentators and academics. A Number of attempts have been made to identify possible causes and, in some cases, to allocate blame, but there has been no attempt to make an analysis based on research data. This is of particular importance because of the politically controversial nature of many of the issues raised and because a number of current developments within Northern Ireland are combining to create a heightened sense of unease and uncertainty among some sections (at least) of Protestant opinion. The report which follows is based on a preliminary, relatively small-scale, qualitative study which was carried out during the months of September, October and November 1993. We are of course aware that attitudes and perceptions can change very rapidly in Northern Ireland, and that a study like this can only present a snapshot of views and feelings during a particular period in time.
The investigation involved interviewing a sample of some 40 people from around Northern Ireland. Because of constraints on time a random sampling technique was not used. All of those interviewed were Protestants and they were chosen to be illustrative of a range of categories such as religious leaders, politicians, leaders of Protestant organisations, educationalists, business-people, and community activists.
The research technique used was that of interviewing, using in each case the same simple structured sheet of cues: a copy of this is in Annex A. The method involved listening to the views of interviewees, who were spread as widely as possible with regard to geography and class - although, given time constraints, there was a bias towards middle-class respondents and there were unavoidable gaps. As well as individuals who had a clear perception of the existence of alienation there were also interviews with some who did not accept that this was the case.
Initially a small number of trial interviews were carried out to test the procedures. This revealed that many people were anxious about being interviewed on this topic, and that there was particular apprehension about anonymity. For this reason we have been very careful to ensure that no statements or ideas have been attributed to any individual, and that all those interviewed read the report and agreed to its publication.
The word 'alienation' was not defined in advance. Part of the exercise, it was felt, was to try to understand what people meant when they used the word, rather than begin from a dictionary or a text-book definition. We recognise that there is an enormous literature on the concept of alienation which refers to its origins in theology, philosophy, historical analyses, psychiatry, psychology, sociology, and so on. So, to seek a book definition acceptable to all would have been an impossible task and of doubtful value.
As always in writing about Northern Ireland the way language is being used must be clarified. The words Protestant and Unionist (and Catholic and Nationalist) are used exactly as the interviewees used them. In our discussions the religious terms Protestant and Catholic are used because the idea under investigation is generally described as 'Protestant alienation'. Catholic is normally used as a shorthand for Roman Catholic, and Protestant is normally used as a generic term to represent members of all the various Protestant denominations. On occasion and where it is more accurate particular denominational titles such as 'The Church of Ireland' or 'The Presbyterian Church' are used.
In writing the research report we have tried to recount what people said and what they felt, without commenting on the truth or validity or logic of the stated positions. This means that we have dealt with perceptions of reality, on the grounds that it is what people perceive to be the case that is of most importance in this kind of study.
The research had a set of restricted objectives and there was felt to be some urgency. Other possible sources, especially statistical sources, were therefore not examined. In any subsequent large-scale investigation it would be possible to analyse statistical data including social indices of various kinds (unemployment growth, school results) and data about the locations where government support and funding have been made available. Such data would test hypotheses proposed on the basis of interview/qualitative data about disparity of treatment as causes of alienation. The origins and development of the phrase 'Protestant alienation' might also be examined, for example through study of its use in literature and media sources.
Not all that long ago the word 'alienation' was used in Northern Ireland almost exclusively with reference to Catholics. The discussion here is about the social and political dynamics that have resulted in it now being used mainly by and about Protestants. This is of interest in itself; but from a policy perspective the more urgent concern is the extent to which its current application reflects, or has an impact on, community relations and, even if indirectly, the possibility of progress towards a peaceful and normal society.
In order to set the discussion in context it might be useful to begin with a very brief and simplified statement of the central cleavage within the Northern Ireland community. First, the Catholic people do not wish to live in a province where the Protestant majority has all the power: much of Catholic unease is a result of previous experience of living in such a situation. The evidence from elections and polls suggests that the constitutional arrangements preferred by Catholics - not all equal in strength - cover a wide range, from a United Ireland to Direct Rule. At one end of this spectrum of views, some Catholics have always been willing to use violence in pursuit of their cause. Catholics show what has been called 'alienation' either when there is a prospect of majority Protestant rule, or when there is (or appears to be) an absence of policies and structures which work to balance community grievances and sources of disaffection such as disproportionate unemployment, aggressive security practice, cultural neglect and so on.
Second, the Protestant people do not wish to live in a United Ireland primarily because they wish to remain a part of the United Kingdom. A secondary reason is that they do not wish to live in a country where their religious beliefs and values are, or appear to be, endangered. Within the island of Ireland as a whole they are a minority and feel that there is evidence in the constitution of the Republic and in the practices of Dublin governments that a Protestant minority status would not be valued and protected. They are deeply sensitive to any movement or development which appears to suggest change in their fundamental constitutional position. During the years 1920-1970 there was a degree of confidence and security in the existence of a parliament and administration which reflected their views, and which they felt would protect them and act as a bulwark against change. Confidence was, however, never total and so response to any perceived change was always strong and unqualified and on occasions violent.
At the same time the relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom was itself subject to stress. There was a sense of being out of tune with much that was characteristic of modern Britain, in relation to morality, social behaviour, church practice and so on. However these differences were bearable for a number of reasons, the principal one being the sense that constitutionally Britain was a Protestant society within which Ulster Protestantism could survive.
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