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Text: Seamus Dunn and Valerie Morgan ... Page Design: John Hughes

Protestant Alienation in Northern Ireland, A Preliminary Survey frontispiece

Protestant Alienation in Northern Ireland, A Preliminary Survey

by Seamus Dunn and Valerie Morgan
Published by the University of Ulster, Coleraine 1994
ISBN 1 85923 075 X
Paperback 23pp £4.00

Out of Print

This material is copyright of the Centre for the Study of Conflict and the author(s) and is included on the CAIN web site with the permission of the publisher. Reproduction or redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Protestant Alienation in Northern Ireland
A Preliminary Survey

by Seamus Dunn and Valerie Morgan

Centre for the Study of Conflict
University of Ulster


1. Foreword
2. Introduction
3. Methodology
4. Further Sources of Information
5. Background
6. Analysis of Interview Data
7. Consequences
8. Conclusions


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.

A second new series of reports will be published in July 1994 on topics such as Geographical Segregation, Education for Mutual Understanding, Disability, Community Development and Peace Education.

Seamus Dunn
May 1994.

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1. Foreword

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.

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2. Introduction

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.

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3. Methodology

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.

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4. Further Sources of Information

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.

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5. Background

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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6. Analysis of Interview Data

6.1 Uses and Meanings of the Word Alienation
Although most interviewees accepted that alienation was a real and widespread phenomenon - ‘an acute and accurate expression’ - there was uncertainty about the word itself. A minority felt that it was a creation of ‘hype’ emerging in part from the media and in part from the Democratic Unionist Party. One interviewee said, ‘while not inventing the idea of Protestant alienation, the media latched on to the term and in probing for evidence of the phenomenon, focused attention on it’. Another described it as a cliche. A few also distrusted the word as emotive, ill-defined and of no value as an explanatory term (comparable in this respect, one said, with ‘pan-nationalism’). One saw it as derived from ‘alien’ and therefore meaning ‘feeling foreign’ which he thought illogical. In a similar way one interviewee argued that to speak of Protestant alienation was a form of sell-out because it suggested that Protestants were a minority. Younger people interviewed claimed not to have heard the word, but were still able to make an analysis of what it might mean. Alternative words suggested included ‘insecurity’, ‘uncertainty’, ‘fearfulness’, ‘frustration’, ‘marginalisation’, ‘despair’, ‘neglect’, ‘disaffection’.

Although one interviewee traced the emergence of the feeling to what he called ‘an ethos of uncertainty’, there was no doubt that for most the emotion or feeling being described was, in the first place, ‘alienation from the British government’ (and, consequently, from the Northern Ireland administration) because of its perceived current position on Northern Ireland. There was also some alienation from indigenous Northern Ireland institutions such as the police, which arose mainly from the way such institutions had been changed by the Government. Also, although there were strong feelings expressed about Catholics, the alienation currently being expressed was not with Catholics or with Catholicism, but with Sinn Fein, the IRA and with a policy which favoured Catholics. The alienation with Britain was usually qualified in various ways such as ‘alienated, not from the British connection, but from the British administration’. The pain associated with this was described metaphorically as ‘alienated from my roots in Britain - as though from my family or my father’. Like all family quarrels it was interpreted as resulting, ‘not from ill-will, but from a lack of understanding’. If the Westminster government only understood the feelings of Protestants - if only it would listen to their story, which was not being heard, instead of the Catholics’ story which seemed to have a ready audience.

A considerable amount of discussion during interviews referred to political matters. The most constant general theme was the view that the government had a responsibility to create political stability through better security policies and through the creation of local democratic political institutions. In addition it should get rid of the Anglo Irish Agreement, ignore Dublin and Gerry Adams, and be proactive in producing plans for a settlement which respected the views of the Protestant majority and copper-fastened the Union. It should also bring strong pressure on Dublin to get rid of Articles two and Three.

With regard to the extent and spread of alienation, a number of views were expressed. Some argued that alienation was common right across the social spectrum and that, although middle-class Protestants disguised it better - with politeness - it was still there. One said ‘they may appear unworried and liberal, but scratch them. Another view which generated considerable bitterness was that the middle-classes had opted out - one referred disparagingly to ‘golf and holidays in Donegal’. Two of the interviewees who were prosperous businessmen were ambivalent about their current views. One claimed that ‘some middle-class businessmen were beginning to try to understand what a United Ireland might be like with regard to business, jobs and money’. They ‘could see huge benefits from having a single unit’. It is important to point out that this was not a common view, but it did exist.

Some accepted that Catholics too feel alienation, but their alienation was from the reality of Northern Ireland as a separate entity: Protestants feel alienated from the bedrock.

6.2 Causes of Protestant Alienation.
A great many causes of alienation were identified by interviewees, ranging from the apparently trivial to the profound. Whilst it is difficult to classify these, some major themes can be identified. Underlying many of them is a sense that in some way a ‘contract’ between Britain and the Ulster Protestants had been unilaterally broken. This notion of a contract has profound resonance because of its links to religious models of ‘covenant’ which subconsciously influence the language and ideology of many Northern Ireland Protestants - a language and ideology with its roots in sixteenth and seventeenth century reformation theology.

The causes identified from a reading of the interviews are now presented with the major (usually historical) causes first, followed by a range of others.

a. Direct Rule
For some, Protestant alienation began when Direct Rule was imposed in 1972. The change was effected by a Conservative government, the traditional allies of Unionism and guarantors of the Union, and this made it particularly difficult to accept. The implication for some was that from that point there were no final, enduring guarantees for all time. For others it set alarm bells ringing in their heads and was interpreted, not as a need for change and compromise, but as a need to fight even harder to maintain the past.

The ‘seemingly relentless’ sequence of legislative and administrative changes consequent on Direct Rule added, and continues to add, to the uncertainty and insecurity. The list of items mentioned included:

  • Legislation by Orders in Council
  • A powerless form of local government
  • No role (and no form of patronage) for local politicians
  • The standing down of the B Specials and, later, the UDR
  • The Flags and Emblems Act
  • The growing use and legitimisation of the Irish language on Radio, Television and in street names.
  • Fair Employment Legislation.
  • Lack of investment in Protestant areas.
  • The District Council Community Relations scheme.
  • Population movement, the example most often cited being, from Derry city to the Waterside
  • The comparatively greater success shown by Dublin in acquiring EC money (‘The UK does not fight properly on our behalf).

One interviewee said:

It began twenty years ago, when the British government began to say one thing and to do another. The strategy was to unravel the union slowly. So the government is not believed by Protestants. Their actions undermine their words. They keep saying that they are committed to the union, but their actions are chipping away at it.

It was felt by some that those sent from Westminster to administer Northern Ireland were not always ‘the brightest and the best’, did not have the necessary intimate knowledge of local feelings and needs and did not stay long enough. This often led to policies and strategies that seemed logical from outside, but which had results unforeseen by those planning them. Some such policies, it was argued, were one-sided and unproductive in the long run. For example, the SDLP were favoured and supported because it was thought that this would isolate Sinn Fein from their community and reduce their popularity, but - as any Ulster unionist could have told them - this did not happen.

There was also a view from a number of interviewees that ministers were ‘unavailable and unapproachable’ especially for local politicians. This was contrasted with Stormont ministers in the past who were part of ‘the community’ and always available. This situation gave ‘improper influence’ to civil servants and ensured that local politicians were extremely hostile to the Northern Ireland Office. There was also reference to the ‘lack of interest in our problems shown by the poor attendance in parliament during Northern Ireland debates’.

b. The Anglo-Irish Agreement
The Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985 was for many the real moment of trauma. Most interviewees referred to it, and it was described by one as ‘a watershed’ and by another as ‘a strong significant shift which eroded our position vis-a-vis Britain’. Whatever it was intended to achieve, and however carefully it was drafted, and however many declarations were made as to its good intentions, the certainty in the minds of a great many Protestants was that it marked the beginning of the end for the Union. ‘From then on the Union was different: it could never be the same again’. ‘Northern Ireland was now semi-detached’. So Protestants were placed in the paradoxical and stressful position of seeking to retain something that they themselves believed to be gone forever. This made them frustrated, confused and angry.

It also generated a sense of betrayal. Protestants were not consulted. It was done behind their backs. It involved the Dublin government for the first time in the administration of Northern Ireland. It was not simply a one-off event, but included an on-going conference which would, it was believed, mean continual iterative change.

For a number of interviewees it was the moment when, for the first time, they really believed that Britain would betray them finally into a United Ireland. One interviewee was convinced that ‘Britain will detach itself as soon as it finds a plausible way’. Some described themselves as depressed because they felt that their only choice was ‘to fight or to emigrate’. The different approaches of Dublin and London were also compared: ‘London now claims to be neutral, so they are not committed to the Protestant position. Dublin makes no pretence of neutrality and always fights for Catholics’.

Much of the discussion on the Agreement focussed on the view that it was sold as something that would end the violence. Many felt that, instead, it had made the violence worse and so had failed in its first aim. For this reason alone it ought to be abandoned. Reference was also made to its bad influence on Protestant relations with the police, as exemplified by attacks by Protestants on police homes.

c. The Hume-A dams Talks
he Hume-Adams talks were referred to by almost everyone as a general source of anger and unease. Such talks, it was argued, brought to a head an ‘embryonic sense of alienation’ in the minds of many Protestants - one interviewee said that it ‘raised concern to a fever-pitch’. The reasons given as to why this was so varied a great deal. They ranged from the view that to talk to defenders of violence is somehow unethical, to a sort of holy wrath based in a religious ideology which, often subconsciously, underlies much of this discourse. At a practical level there was particular reference to the fear that came from not knowing exactly what was going on. This led to intense speculation about the possibility that deals and plans ‘are being worked out behind our backs - like the Anglo Irish Agreement’. Some were convinced that the talks were part of a conspiracy involving Westminster, Dublin and the SDLP, and probably Sinn Fein. It was also argued that to talk to Sinn Fein allowed Protestants to draw lines ‘with a vengeance’. One clergyman said, of Protestant reaction: ‘It’s almost as if they do not want peace - or peace only on certain terms’.

There was also anger that John Hume was prepared to talk to other nationalists such as Sinn Fein, with a history of support for violence, instead of to unionists who support constitutional means.

It is clear that the position of John Hume is central to Protestant thinking. He is always referred to as a figure of power - almost superstitiously - even when the interviewee denigrates him or wishes to downplay his significance. The implication is that he is very clever, although this is not said directly; and not to be trusted, which is. He does not attract the extreme emotions of either veneration or hatred associated with, for example, Dr. Paisley; but most Protestants worry about him and about the likelihood that he will manage to achieve deals that will harm the Protestant position.

d. Government Legislation.
The lack of democratic accountability within Northern Ireland was much referred to. Legislation at Westminster used the system of Orders in Council, debates were always short and Northern Irish attempts at revision were invariably ignored. So there was no real debate and no local input. The result was a sense of alienation and powerlessness. Ministers sent to Northern Ireland were usually fair and well-meaning, but ‘the system was debilitating’.

Of all government actions the Fair Employment legislation was disliked and distrusted the most. At one end of the spectrum interviewees agreed that there had indeed been a degree of discrimination in the past, but: it was now much reduced; or it was always to a large degree structural; or it was now caused by international recession; and so on. At the other end, real disparity in the unemployment figures were denied (deliberately false statistics), or explained away (Catholics were lazy, or had large families, or preferred the dole where they were better off than if they did have a job). In general the feeling was that justice was not being done now, that current employment policy oversimplified a complex situation and was based on past rather than present sins. It was felt further that confounding variables such as geographical variability, educational levels and historical community and family associations with particular types of work were too quickly dismissed. Reading the interviews as a whole leads to an impression that Protestant views about unemployment are a powerful amalgam of anger and a sense of injustice.

There is also a very clear perception that reverse discrimination and quotas are being used, and that this always favours Catholics. One interviewee said, ‘This practice of positive discrimination has a particularly bad effect on unemployed Protestants who feel that the Catholics are now getting all the (few) available jobs.’ There is little escape from this turn of mind. One interviewee said: ‘I tried three times and failed to get a job because of Catholics and fair Employment. I then got one on the fourth attempt, but this was only because they were getting embarrassed at always appointing Catholics’.

Employment was linked by one interviewee to issues of constitutional stability when he argued that there were links between certain (unspecified) jobs and the maintenance of the Union. Catholics, he felt, should not be given jobs in such sensitive areas.

Allied to the issue of employment legislation was government investment, in the form of initiatives and community development projects. One interviewee said that the key indicators of Protestant alienation were ‘lack of influence and lack of investment’. There was a clear view that Government investment was heavily biased in the direction of Catholic areas because of a mistaken government perception that this is where the real need lies. Another argued that the movement to Derry of bodies such as ‘Teachers Pensions and Salaries Branch’ and the NIES added to the view that the ‘Catholic West’ was favoured. The unequal development of road systems was another example. In this connection one interviewee argued that there were now in fact only two ‘real Protestant areas left in Northern Ireland, that is North Down and the North Coast’.

It was accepted by many that disproportionate investment in Catholic areas could, at least in part, be blamed on Protestants themselves. ‘Catholics are very good at begging. Protestants have never learnt how to do this’ was one comment. Another less emotive version was that Protestants do not have the structures at community level which the Catholic church provides for Catholics. The government, it was felt, ought to assist and support Protestants in developing community structures and in learning about and applying the strategies needed in seeking funding. It was also felt that the government had a responsibility to be fair irrespective of whether the two communities had equal competence in working the system.

There was also a suggestion that Catholic community leaders, ‘usually priests and therefore respectable in the eyes of government’, were unfairly contrasted with Protestant community leaders ‘who were not quite respectable and therefore not to be trusted’. This was seen as undermining responsible and constructive local leadership and ‘giving influence to more violent elements’. The role of Protestant churches in providing local community leadership was contrasted with that of the Catholic church. Protestant clergy were not perceived as very valuable here as ‘they do not have the history or the structures’, and because of the different nature of their relationships to their congregations: their own definition of their responsibilities focused chiefly, even exclusively, on the spiritual needs of their communities.

Some argued that there was nothing the Protestant communities could do to persuade government of the validity of their needs. For some government policy was based on a need to ‘give credit to John Hume and the SDLP to counteract Sinn Fein ... government policy is to direct investment into nationalist areas, even if this means neglecting Protestant areas’. One interviewee compared the Waterside in Derry with the Cityside in terms of investment and development: ‘one is highly favoured and the other is neglected. The contrast is startling’. A particular manifestation of this was described as ‘the transfer of old established businesses in the city centre’ either into Catholic hands or to the Waterside. A number of interviewees expressed the view that the Catholic Church covertly funded the purchase of Protestant property on behalf of Catholics.

With regard to education it was claimed that ‘many Protestants regret having given over control of their schools to the government’. They are angry because Catholic schools are still owned by the church but have received 100 per cent funding. In addition changes in the structure of School Boards of management means that Protestants have less say in running their schools, whereas Catholic control is secure. Many expressed general support for the underlying principles of current curriculum policies related to EMU and Cultural Traditions. For a few there was an expression of annoyance at what they saw as the implication that the Protestant schools in the past had been rife with bigotry and anti-Catholicism. ‘Why are we always the ones who get the blame, Catholics schools do their share of brainwashing’.

There were some concerns however about how education policies are being implemented. Some argued that the whole EMU/Cultural Heritage business was about Catholic EMU and Catholic culture,

because ‘Catholics are more into that; they are more energetic about local history and Irish literature and ecumenical things’. For some it was a political change with a hidden agenda. Finance was also mentioned and there was a perception that, because Catholics made a lot of noise about being financially disadvantaged in the past, they were now getting more than their share. A Protestant primary teacher said, ‘The Catholic Primary school is just down the road and we can see what is happening. You should see their resources compared to us. Computers and materials everywhere’. Similar views were held about the Integrated schools who were now ‘first on every queue’.

There were few comments about the fairness of housing policy except in relation to the change in the religious composition of certain areas and estates. Many ‘old Protestant areas’ had become Catholic and this was resented. One man said ‘the RVH used to be our hospital’. There was also a view that the housing executive was starved of money.

It was widely believed that every move made by the government was intended to placate Catholics - ‘the government bends over backwards to mollify Catholics’. This was usually seen as a concession (even a betrayal by Protestants, especially working-class Protestants), resulting from violence and/or complaints and not as a response to genuine wrongs. The feeling was that the wheel has gone round completely: Protestants are now the downtrodden. But no-one has any sympathy for their position. When (some said if) the Catholics were downtrodden, they had everyone’s sympathy. When Catholics complain of injustice, this is believed and understood; when Protestants complain of injustice, this is interpreted as sectarian.

e. Security Issues
The mental adjustments demanded by changes in the role of the security forces were seen as difficult to achieve. Protestants were always the defenders of law and order, and the supporters of the police, and yet they were treated worse than, or at best no better than, Catholics. One interviewee said ‘I find it difficult to come to terms with the idea of a non-aligned police force.’ Attacks on police by Protestants still caused shockwaves, but the root cause of the attacks was seen as government policies and decisions. ‘After the Anglo Irish Agreement the police were described as Haughey’s police’.

Parades and marches were also seen as danger-points with regard to confronting the police, but some interviewees were adamant that they had the right to march anywhere in Northern Ireland and that to concede on this would be very dangerous.

However, the police were still generally seen as ‘ours’ rather then ‘theirs’: this was much less the case with the Army which was seen as from outside and ‘not close to us’. There seemed, in some cases, to be an element of anti-British sentiment in this distinction. There was also a view that Protestants were more likely to be ‘informers’ against their own paramilitaries and that there were consequently disproportionately more Protestants in jail.

With regard to security generally, many felt that security policies were too soft. ‘The police are being held back for political reasons’. There was a widespread conviction that things could be made harder for the terrorists. It was also widely believed ‘that the police know who the terrorists are and are unable to lift them. Something should be done about that’. The areas around the border were referred to and the view that Protestants there were always in grave danger and were being abandoned and not properly protected (One interviewee used the word ‘pogrom’ but no-one used the phrase ‘ethnic cleansing’).

There was also a degree of bitterness caused by the view that violence was seen to be successful. One said ‘violence is the only thing that seems to work. Politics is useless, and our politicians, democratically elected, are powerless and humiliated.’

F. Media and the Lack of International Support
Some of those interviewed perceived the media as biased, unsupportive and often wrong in its facts. For this reason it was thought that the sympathies of the international world are (and always were) with the Catholics. A few suggested that much of this was caused by the way some Protestant political leaders dealt with the media. They compared this with John Hume. ‘He knows everyone in the USA from Clinton down, and is deeply influential in the EC. He is thought of by all as a world statesman. No-one in the Protestant political world can begin to compete with him’. In contrast, Protestant political leaders were thought by some to present a picture that was negative and oppositional. ‘Unionists are not good with the media. They tend to keep their counsel’. One interviewee said that ‘Journalists are often harangued by Unionists and even physically attacked by their supporters’. ‘The other side presents its case as reasonable in a polite and facilitating manner’. ‘Ulstermen are poked fun at and ridiculed’. It was felt by many that a combination of international lack of sympathy and a bad media image adds to feelings of uncertainty, neglect and frustration.

g. The High Profile of Nationalist/Catholic Culture
The point about media and international perceptions of Protestants was further supported by the belief that one of the two cultures in Northern Ireland is better presented publicly. The result is that Protestant culture is thought of as less exciting and less complex. Aspects of Catholic culture such as traditional music, the Irish language, Gaelic Games and Irish literature are seen as part of a fashionable world-wide (Celtic) phenomenon which fills the TV screens and generates wide international interest. A greater number of books and films and videos are available and these tend to get used by the media and within education. ‘Protestants have not yet learned how to put their case, since this sort of public relations advocacy is not part of their tradition’. ‘For example, Ulster Television nowadays shows far less of the Twelfth of July Parades than it does of Gaelic Football’. Another pointed to the fact that ‘The Northern Ireland Tourist Board now uses a shamrock instead of the Red Hand of Ulster’.

h. The Protestant Split
The Democratic Unionist Party/Official Unionist Party split was also referred to with some bitterness. This weakened the Protestant cause by publicly presenting alternative approaches and attitudes to fundamental issues, where unity would have produced a greater impact and have ensured a greater influence. It also meant public squabbling and acrimony, and this gave the impression of serious division even when the argument was on a trivial matter. This division encouraged nationalists generally, and the IRA in particular: but it also on occasions angered the Protestant paramilitaries who expressed a lack of respect for politicians, and were encouraged to see a role for themselves.

This political division was mirrored by religious division - one interviewee called it fragmentation - so that there was a diversity of opinion and an uncertainty as to who spoke for Protestants. Whatever the reality, to many Protestants it seemed that Catholics, through their leaders, spoke with one voice. Protestants had no such single or assured representative voice. In addition, Dr. Paisley had always encouraged the feeling that the traditional Protestant Churches were not to be trusted, and this added to the feelings of uncertainty and confusion. One interviewee said, ‘Everybody was a Lundy in Paisley’s view’.

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7. Consequences

The essential point about perceived Protestant alienation is that it has important implications for community well-being and therefore for government actions and policies. A range of possible consequences of alienation were referred to by interviewees, and an analysis of these may give some indications of possible action and policy development.

First there is the issue of growing Protestant violence and the possibility that the much-heralded ‘Protestant backlash’ has now arrived. If this escalates and becomes even more widespread, it leads to a consideration of the reality of some sort of ‘civil war’. Many interviewees saw the upsurge of Protestant violence as a symptom of Protestant alienation, a clear signal that there was deep frustration.

A considerable minority of those interviewed agreed that many Protestants are now (privately) less likely to condemn violence; or, to put it another way, some are more willing to condone violence, to find reasons that might be used to excuse it: ‘If it wasn’t him it was his brother’; ‘it was a well-known Republican area’; ‘Everyone knows who they are, and if the security forces wont do the job, then someone needs to protect us’.

This change in the reaction to violence, it was argued, comes from feelings of fear, isolation and betrayal. ‘England does not want us: the South does not want us: we have no options, and that is why we will not give in easily. Violence may be the only way’. This was also referred to as involving ‘a loss of confidence in themselves and in government’. Protestants no longer felt competent to deal with things affecting their own communities through constitutional channels. It was also felt that the two communities were drifting apart both physically and psychologically. The ghettoisation of Belfast and Derry was mentioned.

The failure of talks between politicians also led to feelings of anger and frustration. The failures were invariably blamed on John Hume ‘who seems to have a veto. All the other parties agreed. He did not want a within Northern Ireland settlement’. As a result of beliefs such as these, there was little enthusiasm for further talks.

Another outcome of alienation mentioned fairly often was the emigration of ‘the best of the young’, and in particular those going to university. One consequence was that ‘Queen’s is now a Catholic university’. It was felt that Protestant parents often encouraged their children to go to University in Great Britain, and, since they rarely came back, the heart of the Protestant population was being damaged. This tendency was blamed in part on the violence and in part on the economic situation. In addition some of the young people interviewed wished to leave, and one described Northern Ireland as ‘insular and introspective’.

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8. Conclusions

This report provides evidence that there exists among Protestants in Northern Ireland a genuine and widespread feeling of unease and uncertainty which is described in public as ‘Protestant alienation’. In essence this sense of alienation reflects a perception that, within Northern Ireland, the social and constitutional bulwarks and defences for Protestants are being steadily and persistently eroded. Some of these feelings are the consequences of ‘normal’ social change no different from change happening elsewhere in the world. But some are substantive in the sense that they are caused by the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland, and by the social and political readjustments consequent upon twenty-five years of violent conflict. Some of those interviewed agreed that it was possible to understand the reasons for - and even the inevitability of - many of the changes, while still suffering a sense of loss, hurt and depression. One said, ‘Protestants are suspicious of change, frightened of the unknown. They constantly test the small print, looking for the hidden agenda. They do not appreciate that all change brings with it a cost’.

The report makes clear that alienation is profoundly dysfunctional and a barrier to confidence and clear thinking: it therefore raises issues of a policy nature with both political and socio-economic dimensions. The political dimensions (such as political talks, Dublin-London relationships, security policy) can be seen in the responses to questions about peace and the cessation of violence. For Protestants these were rarely discussed as first priorities. Obviously no-one was opposed to peace; but there was anxiety and an almost paradoxical nervousness about what peace might mean and about the further changes that might have to accompany it. Even when some sort of accommodation within Northern Ireland between the two communities was supported, there were two coexisting concerns: first a fear that the results would compromise, reduce or put in jeopardy the essential Britishness of Protestants; and second, a determination that such an accommodation would not be bought by murder and violence. In other words, anything resembling a United Ireland was not an acceptable alternative to violence. The view was described by one as meaning ‘better dead than red’.

The political implications of this understanding of Protestant thinking requires a great deal of further analysis and thought. One consequence of such an understanding is that attempts to find working arrangements for the future should try to be clear about the things that are non-negotiable. For such arrangements to approach acceptability they must not only have respect for the essential (nonnegotiable) matters, but - and of equal importance - they must be presented in a way that takes account of the way perceptions are influenced by suspicions and fears.

Another issue is to do with openness and secrecy. Some Protestants believe that more openness and a more public debate would help to reassure the Protestants that they are involved in the thinking and planning and negotiation of their own future. There is a current argument that a degree of secrecy is necessary if any progress is to be made. But the negative side-effects of that in terms of suspicion and anger may be overwhelmingly counterproductive.

The socio-economic dimension arises from concerns about and perceptions of discrimination, bias and unfair treatment as between the two communities, and also to the absence - for historical reasons - of skilled local leadership within Protestant communities. Both reality and perception have implications for policy determination, and for the creation of procedures designed to create stability and reassurance and build up confidence in the institutions of society.

The central issues appear to be employment and investment, and how these are allocated and distributed. There is a view that Protestant communities are disadvantaged in respect of government investment, grants and projects, that they are poorly served in terms of local leadership and are not skilled in interfacing with government in respect of promoting local investment and resource provision. A facet of this is the alienation and resentment caused by disbelief in, and consequent anger about, official statistics with regard to such matters as comparative unemployment levels. There is a view that government statistics are politically biased and, partly as a result, alternative statistics are sometimes published by Protestant leaders which help to generate disaffection with current policies.

It is also believed that Catholic and Protestant communities differ in their internal social and other structures, and therefore have different needs and problems and that these demand different approaches from government. In particular there was much reference to the issue of community leadership in Protestant areas, as compared with Catholic areas.

All these matters suggest that, in a society as divided and insecure as Northern Ireland, with a propensity to violence, it is important to monitor community disaffection (on both sides), to try to be clear about causes and to produce policies which are designed - as far as possible - to anticipate difficulties and to promote public confidence.

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