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'Majority-Minority Differentials: Unemployment, Housing and Health' by Martin Melaugh

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Text: Martin Melaugh ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

The following chapter has been contributed by the author, Martin Melaugh, from the book 'Facets of the Conflict in Northern Ireland', with the permission of the editor, Seamus Dunn, and the publishers, Macmillan Press Ltd. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
The following extracts are taken from the book:

image of front cover Facets of the Conflict in Northern Ireland
edited by Seamus Dunn (1995)
ISBN 0 333 60717 1 (Hardback)
ISBN 0 333 64252 x (Paperback)
£13.99 Paperback 289pp

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This publication is copyright Macmillan Press Ltd. 1995 and is included on the CAIN site by permission of Macmillan Press Ltd, the editor and the author. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without express written permission. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.


The Contributors
List of Abbreviations
1 The Conflict as a Set of Problems
Seamus Dunn
2 Conflict in Northern Ireland: A Background Essay
John Darby

3 The Approach of Government: Community Relations and Equity
Anthony M. Gallagher
4 Local Government and Community Relations
Colin Knox and Joanne Hughes
5 Criminal Justice and Emergency Laws
Brice Dickson

6 Women and the Northern Ireland Conflict: Experiences and Responses
Valerie Morgan and Grace Fraser
7 Children and Conflict: A Psychological Perspective
Ed Cairns and Tara Cairns
8Paramilitaries, Republicans and Loyalists
Adrian Guelke
9Majority-Minority Differentials: Unemployment, Housing and Health
Martin Melaugh

10 Church and Religion in the Ulster Crisis
Duncan Morrow
11 Education and the Conflict in Northern Ireland
Alan Smith
12 Policing a Divided Society
Andrew Hamilton and Linda Moore
13 Sport, Community Relations and Community Conflict in Northern Ireland
John Sugden
14 Culture, Religion and Violence in Northern Ireland
Dominic Murray
15Institutions for Conciliation and Mediation
Derick Wilson and Jerry Tyrrell

16 Sources of Information: Books, Research, Data
Seamus Dunn, Ciaran Ó Maoláin and Sally McClean

Chapter 9

Majority-Minority Differentials:
Unemployment, Housing and Health

Martin Melaugh

Chapter Sub-headings:

Employment and Unemployment
Final Comments


Inequality between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland originates from the policy of English and Scottish settlement carried through by the British Government in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to consolidate its earlier military conquest of the Gaelic and Catholic population. Over most of the period of four centuries since that 'plantation' began, inequality between planter and Gael was created and sustained by deliberate acts of policy. (Smith and Chambers 1991: 1)
In addition to the effects of the plantation and acts of government policy other events had differing outcomes for the two peoples of the north of Ireland. The advent of the industrial revolution in Ireland and the formation of the Northern Ireland state both helped to cement the difference in the relative social and economic standing of the two main religious groups. The industrial revolution initially had the greatest impact in the north-east of the island and Protestants benefited disproportionately from the employment that it created. The Northern Ireland state was formed at a time of turmoil in the whole of Ireland and those who were 'loyal' to the new state and the union were rewarded with jobs in the civil service, public employment and the security services. The relative Protestant advantage in wealth and income brought about by these events has persisted to the present day and is likely to do so for some time to come.

The Unionist Party enjoyed 50 years of control in Northern Ireland without intervention from Westminster. During that time many aspects of the operation of the state continued to benefit Protestants more than Catholics. An element of this was a number of forms of direct and indirect discrimination. Whyte (1983) produced a list of fields where discrimination was practised and ranked them from the greatest level of discrimination to the least. These were, electoral practices, public employment, policing, private employment, public housing, and regional policy. While the extent of direct discrimination in these fields was, and remains, the subject of debate (Hewitt, 1981, 1983, 1985; O'Hearn, 1983, 1985; and Kingsley, 1989) most researchers and commentators accept that this type of discrimination was practised mainly against Catholics over an extended period of time. Perhaps the most important consequence of this was the creation of a perception among the total Catholic population of a more widespread and systematic form of direct discrimination than the currently available evidence would support. Nevertheless, the Catholic allegations of discrimination by a number of local government districts, predominantly in the south and west of the region, were substantiated in many respects by later investigations (Cameron Report, 1969). There is also evidence that Catholics, in a few areas where they were in control of a local authority, discriminated against Protestants. As Catholics were less likely to be in a position to exercise such discrimination there was less of it; this is not in any way to excuse that discrimination which was carried out.

The Civil Rights movement focused British and wider public opinion on the relatively poorer circumstances of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland. Under pressure from Westminster the Stormont government began to introduce a number of reforms in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some reforms required little more than political will and the introduction of new legislation, and so were implemented fairly quickly. Other difficulties, in particular the relative economic disadvantage of the Catholic community, have proved more problematic. Reforms in this area have taken longer to implement and appear to have had less impact on the situation. At the heart of the problem is a cycle of disadvantage which, while affecting the poorest sections in both communities, is particularly pervasive in the Catholic community. This cycle involves a number of interrelated elements including education, employment, income, housing, wealth, social class, and health.

Issues related to education are considered elsewhere in this book (see Chapter 11) but it is worth noting here that an important effect of the segregated education system is the marked difference in the educational attainment of Catholics and Protestants (Gallagher, 1989). According to Northern Ireland Continuous Household Survey (CHS) estimates, based on samples of the population taken during 1988 to 1991, 52 per cent of Catholics had no formal education qualifications compared to 46 per cent of Protestants (Policy Planning and Research Unit (PPRU) 1993). While differences in educational attainment do not fully explain community differentials in employment opportunities (Eversley, 1989) they are an important factor in the job prospects of each individual.


An assessment of the 1971 Census data showed that Catholics were two and a half times as likely as Protestants to be unemployed and Catholics in employment were over-represented in the semi-skilled and unskilled categories (Aunger, 1975). The 1971 Census provided data for a period when the Civil Rights movement was at its height and when allegations of discrimination in employment were widespread (Campaign for Social Justice, 1972). However, although the 1971 data showed that the occupational and industrial profiles of the two communities may have contributed to the differentials in unemployment, the data could not provide definitive answers to allegations of discrimination. Whyte's (1983) reassessment of the extent of discrimination during the Stormont years, while highlighting the likely impact of other potential explanations, did indicate that direct discrimination was an important element in the under-representation of Catholics in the workforce. In the case of public employment Whyte produced a list of demerit, with the most discriminatory first, consisting of local authorities under marginal unionist control in the west of the region, other local authorities, the Northern Ireland civil service, and the Imperial (Westminster-controlled) civil service. In the case of private employment Whyte was of the opinion that, 'in the past, discrimination caused a larger share of Catholic disadvantage than appears true today' (Whyte, 1983: 18).

In the field of employment there have been a number of policy and legislative initiatives introduced during the last 20 years. Some of the details of these changes are discussed in Chapter 3. The main statutory initiatives have been the introduction of fair employment legislation. However, the impression given by the delay in the introduction of some of the legislation is that it has been forced on a Westminster Parliament reluctant, or at best simply slow, to act. In his review of the issues involved in employment and religion in Northern Ireland, Gallagher (1991) identified three main sources of pressure on the Westminster Parliament during the 1980s. The first came as a result of evidence which showed that, in spite of the 1976 Fair Employment Act, the unemployment gap remained between Catholics and Protestants. Secondly the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights was recommending additional legislation after carrying out a review of the 1976 Act. Finally, pressure from America and the MacBride Principles campaign was seen by the British as a potential threat to US investment in Northern Ireland.

The eventual response was the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989 which introduced a number of significant changes from the previous 1976 Act. The Fair Employment Agency was replaced by the Fair Employment Commission which had more powers and resources and a Fair Employment Tribunal was set up to deal with cases of alleged discrimination. Other important changes included a requirement for employers with more than 25 employees to register with the Commission and to monitor the religious composition of their workforces; it became illegal to discriminate indirectly; and limited affirmative action policies to redress imbalances in religious composition were to be permitted.

Part of the importance of tackling employment differentials, and especially those that occur as a result of discriminatory practices, lies in the wider economic and social repercussions that arise. As will be seen below, a number of these differences remain evident to this day. While there are some differences between the two communities in terms of economic activity rates the main difference is in the proportion which are unemployed. The Catholic population has consistently suffered from higher levels of unemployment. The differences in male unemployment have been, and are, particularly pronounced. The 1991 Census found that Catholic male unemployment was 28.4 per cent compared to 13.9 per cent for Protestants and other categories. In the case of females the equivalent rates were 14.5 per cent for Catholics and 8.8 per cent for Protestants. Evidence from other sources has shown similar results. In the 1992 Northern Ireland Labour Force Survey the unemployment level among economically Catholic males was 24 per cent compared with a figure of 10 per cent for Protestant males (PPRU, 1993). This relative level of difference in male unemployment has remained almost constant over the past two decades. Smith and Chambers, for example, concluded that during the period 1971 to 1985 'Catholic men were about two and a half times as likely as Protestant men to be unemployed' (1991: 195). Data from the 1983-84 Continuous Household Survey (PPRU, 1985) show that, while the overall rate of unemployment was higher than at present, the relative standing of Catholic men 35 per cent and Protestant men 15 per cent, was roughly similar to that found earlier by Smith and Chambers and also similar to the most recently available data.

In addition to differences in the access to employment, there are also differences in the type of employment undertaken by the two Communities. The 1991 Census provides details of the major occupation groups by religion. According to the data, Catholics form 31.1 per cent of the total employed population aged 16-64 years. This figure can be used as the base for examining over- or under-representation in various occupation groups. In the case of professional occupations, craft and related occupations, plant and machine operatives, and also those on an employment or training scheme, Catholics are over-represented. In all other occupation groups, for example managers and administrators, clerical and secretarial, personal and protective, sales, and 'other' occupations, Protestants are over-represented.

Average income levels in Northern Ireland tend to be lower than in Britain. For example, in 1990 the average gross weekly household income in Northern Ireland was £256.59 compared to £335.67 in the UK as a whole (PPRU, 1992). Part of the explanation is due to higher unemployment rates in Northern Ireland, but wage rates for manual employment also tend to be lower in the region than for comparable work in Britain.

Given that Catholics tend to experience higher levels of unemployment it is not surprising to find that they are more likely to be dependent on state benefits. A survey based on data collected during the years 1988-91 found that 30 per cent of Catholic families were in receipt of Income Support compared to 16 per cent of Protestant families (PPRU, 1993). Partly as a result of this, and partly because of the less skilled occupations that Catholics tend to be employed in, income levels in Catholic households are lower on average than in Protestant households. Table 9.1 provides details from the Northern Ireland Continuous Household Survey of total gross household income by religion. Although the information covers only the period of the late 1980s and early 1990s it is clear that there has been a narrowing of the gap between Catholic and Protestant households. Nevertheless, differences in income levels remain a feature of Northern Ireland society. It should also be noted that because of religious and cultural reasons the average family size of Catholic households is larger than Protestant households so the lower household income has to cover the expenditure of more household members.

Also of note are the area differences in household income across Northern Ireland. In 1987, for example, the average gross weekly household income in the east of the region was £235.09 while in the west the equivalent figure was £174.52. By 1990 there had been a considerable change in the figures, which for that year were £265.63 and £257.17 respectively (PPRU, 1992).

Table 9.1 Total gross household income from all sources,
1986-87 and 1988-91, by religion

CHS 1986-87
CHS 1988-91
Total gross income
Less than £2000
£15000 and over

Source: Policy Planning and Research Unit (1993).

The differing average income levels between the two main religious groups also mean differing levels of expenditure. In 1989 the average weekly household expenditure among a sample of Catholic households was £186.69 compared to a figure of £208.01 in Protestant households (PPRU, 1992). According to the survey details Catholic households spent more on average than Protestant households on food; clothing and footwear; fuel, light and power; household services; alcoholic drink; and tobacco. In Protestant households more money was spent on motoring expenditure; housing; leisure goods; household goods; leisure services; and fares and other travel costs. The patterns of household income and expenditure are also reflected in ownership of consumer durables. Table 9.2 provides details from the CHS of the ownership of the main consumer durables by religion for the years 1983-84 and 1988-91 (PPRU, 1985, 1993). With the exception of the three most commonly owned items, namely a television, a refrigerator, and a washing machine, there are significant differences between the two main religions with Catholics being less likely to own each of the items on the list. Given the lower level of income and the larger average household size, Catholic households spend a larger proportion of their disposable income on items such as food and clothing. This inevitably reduces the amount that can be spent on durable goods.

Table 9.2 Household ownership of consumer durables, 1983-84 and 1988-91,
by religion CHS 1983-84 CHS 1988-91

CHS 1983-84
CHS 1988-91
Consumer durable
Colour television
Washing machine
Central heating
Car or van

Source: Policy Planning and Research Unit (1985, 1993).

Secure and well-paid employment is important to people for a variety of reasons including such non-financial ones as self-fulfilment and self-esteem. However, an adequate income is desirable not only because of the lifestyle it allows but also because of the opportunity it brings for wealth creation and asset acquisition. The single most important asset that a majority of people are likely to possess is their home. The decision on whether to purchase or rent a dwelling depends on economic, personal and cultural factors. Households that are unable to afford to purchase a dwelling, or who do not wish to rent in the private sector, will look for accommodation within the public rented sector. In general, housing in Northern Ireland has suffered from problems of insufficient supply, poor quality, and unfit condition for much of this century. In the 1960s allegations of discrimination in the allocation of new and existing public sector housing were at their height. The issue of public sector housing proved to be very controversial in the 1960s and early 1970s and was one of the factors that led to broad support for the Civil Rights movement among the Catholic community.


Many historians and commentators view 5 October 1968 as the beginning of the current troubles in Northern Ireland. On the afternoon of that day the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) moved to break up a civil rights demonstration in the Waterside area of Derry. The resulting violence had the effect of directing media attention to a situation which had largely gone unreported for decades and in addition it also increased the support for the civil rights movement.

Derry in 1968 was a city where a Catholic nationalist majority were subject to decisions taken by a local authority which was in control of the Protestant unionist minority. The city had a history of high unemployment, a housing shortage coupled with poor conditions, and a lack of regional investment in the area by the Stormont government. While the whole of Derry was suffering from a relatively poor economic situation in relation to the rest of Northern Ireland, there were also differentials between the Catholic and Protestant populations of the city.

The Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) was one of a number of groups organised to campaign on single issues. While these groups focused on matters of concern to the total population of the city, the question of discrimination against the Catholic majority in the city was also a factor in the actions of the groups. It was the DHAC which approached the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) and persuaded it to give its support to a march planned for 5 October (Purdie, 1990). So it was the issue of housing in Derry that provided one of the sparks that began the present round of troubles. Indeed it was allegations of housing discrimination in Dungannon that had earlier given rise to the Campaign for Social Justice which in turn lead to the formation of the NICRA (McCluskey, 1989).

Some of the characteristics of housing in Northern Ireland are distinct from those in Britain. An important aspect of this is the high level of religious segregation in the region (Boal, 1982). The extent of residential segregation has not been constant but has increased during periods of political and civil unrest Some of the largest population movements of recent times were a result of riots and intimidation in Belfast during the summers of 1969 and 1971 (Darby and Morris, 1974). The result has been that much of the urban working-class population of Northern Ireland lives in areas surrounded by their 'own kind'.

As housing is relatively durable the size and condition of the housing stock in the late 1960s and early 1970s was determined by the cumulative effect of decisions and actions taken since the turn of the century. While other cities in the United Kingdom had undertaken schemes, before the First World War, to clear the worst of their slums, many of the housing authorities in Northern Ireland were slower to act (Brett, 1986). With the partition of the island in 1920 the Stormont parliament came into being but local authorities retained control of many housing functions. The period 1919-39 saw a marked increase in house-building activity in Britain; however there was no corresponding housing boom in Northern Ireland. In addition to the relatively small number built, the quality of those dwellings which were completed was also lower than in Britain. Many of the houses were built to a smaller size, lacked one or more basic amenities and, if situated in a rural area, they often lacked mains services of water, electricity and sewerage. The destruction and damage of domestic property during the Second World War added to housing shortages in the region and a number of housing initiatives were introduced. The main one was the 1945 Housing Act which provided for the establishment of the Northern Ireland Housing Trust (NIHT) as a public housing authority funded by government. The Act also increased the level of subsidies to local authorities to try and encourage more new housing. Despite these initiatives the level of new building was not sufficient to meet the demand, which was increasing due to obsolete stock and changes in population structure.

As the private rented sector declined, due mainly to declining profits and slum clearance in the urban areas, the public rented sector began to account for a larger share of the total housing stock. The public rented sector was divided between the local council housing and the housing built by the NIHT. The fact that there were a large number of local housing authorities during this period may even have had an adverse effect on the overall provision of public housing. In 1971 there were 61 housing authorities in Northern Ireland a system of provision which had a number of defects:

There are far too many small councils. Twenty-seven local authority areas have a population of under 10,000, only five, including Londonderry have a population of over 40,000. The consequences of this for housing provision and for other services are fairly clear in terms of insufficient population size, low rate receipts, inability to employ professional staffs, limited planning and development schemes, few economies of scale, and resultant inequality in standards between councils. (Birrell etal., 1971: 10)
It was in the early 1970s that comprehensive evidence started to become available on the overall condition of the housing stock and also information on the housing characteristics of Catholic and Protestant households. There have been and remain a number of marked tenure differences between the two religious communities. The 1971 Census showed that Catholics were less likely than Protestants to be owner occupiers or private renters and more likely to be in public rented accommodation. Even though there have been a number of important changes in the overall tenure mix, the most significant being the decline in the level of the private rented sector, there remain important tenure differences between the two religious groups. Catholics continue to be less likely to be owner occupiers and more likely to be public renters than Protestants.

Catholic households are on average larger than Protestant households reflecting larger family sizes among Catholics, which in turn are a result of cultural and religious factors. The larger household size is also reflected in the level of overcrowding which tends to be higher in Catholic households. Although Catholics tended to have larger families they were more likely, on average, to live in dwellings with fewer rooms than Protestants (Northern Ireland General Register Office, 1975); in more recent years this differential has declined (Registrar General Northern Ireland, 1993).

In addition to differentials in tenure and overcrowding there is evidence to suggest that the quality of dwellings inhabited by Catholic households were of lower quality than those of Protestant households (Northern Ireland General Register Office, 1975). The 1971 Census provided details of the level of amenities (hot water supply, fixed bath or shower, and inside toilet) broken down by religion. The data show that there were important differences in the level of amenities in the dwellings of the two communities in 1971. In each case the availability of exclusive use of amenities in Catholic households was substantially lower than in Protestant households. For example, 63.6 per cent of Catholic dwellings had exclusive use of all three amenities while the figure for Protestant dwellings was 72.0 per cent. Data at a district council area level was also available in the 1971 Census reports, but a breakdown by district and religion was not published. However, there were strong associations between the level of amenities in each of the 26 district councils and the proportion of Catholics living in those areas. Although highly suggestive of the fact that at an area level Catholic households were more likely to lack basic amenities, this type of association is not conclusive.

Unpublished data from the 1971 Census on amenity provision by district council and by religion were made available to the author.[1] A summary of part of this information is presented in Figure 9.1. The proportion of Catholic and Protestant households that had exclusive use of all three basic amenities was calculated for each of the 26 district councils. These data were then graphed on the basis of a ranking from the highest Protestant district council to the lowest. The first thing that is clear from the figure is the large difference in amenity provision in dwellings in the Greater Belfast area and those in the rest of the region, particularly in the west and south. Among Protestant households there was a 40 per cent difference between the district council area with the highest level of amenity provision and that with the lowest. Among Catholic households this difference was 60 per cent. So the main differential in amenity provision was an area one. However, it is also clear from the figure that in all but four of the district council areas, Catholic households were more likely than Protestant households to live in dwellings lacking amenities. It is worth noting that a number of those areas where the provision and condition of housing were poorest, were the same areas where the Civil Rights movement had active support.

Figure 9.1: Percentage of Catholic and Protestant households with exclusive use of hot water,
fixed bath and inside toilet, district council areas, 1972

figure 9.1

At the time of the 1971 Census there was a close association between the provision of amenities in a dwelling and its physical condition. The differentials in amenity provision shown in Figure 9.1 therefore give an indication of associated differentials in housing conditions at that time. While the NIHE has carried out House Condition Surveys in 1974, 1979, 1984, 1987 and 1991, it was only the most recent one which included the religion of the household as a variable. Information on religion and house condition is scheduled to be published in the second report of the 1991 HCS which is due out in 1994.

Faced with evidence of serious housing shortages and a housing stock which was in a very poor condition, the Westminster government initially pressured Stormont to introduce a number of housing reforms and later took direct control of them in 1972. One of the most important measures taken was the establishment of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE). In addition to taking on responsibility for the entire public sector housing stock the NIHE was to be the conduit by which problems in the other housing sectors were addressed. The very fact that decisions regarding the allocation of public rented accommodation were taken out of the hands of local councillors helped to reduce the extent of allegations of discrimination. In addition a points system based on housing need was introduced and, after a period of rationalisation, a standard system of rents was implemented across the entire stock. Both measures helped increase confidence in the fairness of the NIHE. The essential ingredient was the financial commitment given to the various housing programmes that were introduced in the 1970s and 1980s. For much of this period per capita government expenditure on housing in Northern Ireland has been substantially greater than that provided in Britain (Singleton, 1986).

The second report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR) included an assessment of the impact of public housing provision on the two communities (SACHR, 1990). This assessment was based on a report into public housing in the region carried out by the Policy Studies Institute (PSI) (Smith and Chambers, 1989). The first of the main findings of the report was that there was no evidence of direct or indirect discrimination by NIHE against applicants or tenants. A number of differences did appear in the analysis of the data and the first of these was the fact that those on the waiting list expressing a preference to live on a Catholic estate had a lower chance of being rehoused than those wishing to live on a Protestant estate. The report also noted a number of distinct differences in the state of repair and dwelling standard of Catholic and Protestant estates. In some areas Catholic households were worse off, in others it was Protestant households.

As indicated above there are a number of remaining housing issues which have a differential impact on the two communities. There remains for example an unfitness problem among private sector housing in the rural areas of the west of the region. As there is a higher proportion of Catholics living in these areas unfitness is likely to have a disproportionate effect on them. Other problems include general disrepair among the housing stock, a number of problem estates, and housing shortages in key areas such as West Belfast.


Investigations into differences in health between groups of people in Britain have tended, in the past, to look for explanations based on social class, lifestyle and diet (Townsend and Davidson, 1982). In more recent years there has been more concentration on specific aspects of deprivation as measured by indicators such as unemployment, access to a car, and so on (Townsend Phillimore and Beattie, 1988). Although the whole issue of health is very complex and dependent on the interaction of many variables, it is clear that there is an important association between health and aspects of deprivation. Evidence considered earlier points to the fact that Catholics have, in general, been in an inferior economic position in comparison to Protestants, and that this has been true for some considerable time. Given this information, and the evidence on the relationship between deprivation and health, it would be reasonable to assume that the overall of the Catholic community is likely to be less good than that of the Protestant community.

While not explicitly including religion as a variable there has been one report on deprivation and health in Northern Ireland. This report was commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) which asked the Policy Research Institute (PRI) and the Northern Ireland Regional Research Laboratory (NIRRL) to replicate the Townsend, Phillimore and Beattie (1988) study on deprivation and health. The Northern Ireland report was submitted to the DHSS in 1990 (PRI and NIRRL, 1990). The report looked at associations between a number of indicators of health and deprivation at ward level in the region. As in the Townsend study, a strong significant association was found between deprivation and health. A cursory inspection of those wards with the highest level of ill health shows that they include many inner city rural areas in Belfast and Derry. Even though a religion variable was absent from the study it would appear that Catholic wards are over-represented among those with the highest levels of ill health. This is only a tentative assertion and would require the inclusion of ward level information on religion.

Campbell (1993) points out that while research in the other areas of inequality in Northern Ireland, such as unemployment, has been the subject of numerous reports, the topic of health has received less attention. In an attempt to redress this research imbalance Campbell and Stevenson (1993) prepared a report for the DHSS (NI) based on a secondary analysis of CHS data and data from the Northern Ireland Social Attitudes Survey. The study concluded that: 'In all aspects of lifestyle investigated Catholics were found to be more likely to engage in behaviour which could adversely affect their health' (Campbell and Stevenson, 1993). This included aspects such as smoking, drinking, diet and exercise. The study found few differences in the level of self-reported health status.

It is often difficult to disentangle the numerous variables which have an influence on the health of a particular group of people. For the Catholic community, issues of social class, income, and deprivation are all important factors in explaining differentials in health. Also of importance are issues related to lifestyle such as diet, exercise, smoking and drinking. These factors are often considered individualistic in nature. However, strong cultural and group pressures probably account for some of the observed differences in, for example, smoking and drinking habits.


Perhaps the greatest period of Catholic disadvantage occurred in Ireland as a result of the 'penal laws' which spanned a period of 134 years. When the Northern Ireland state was established Catholics in the region were already at an economic and social disadvantage in comparison to Protestants. While the whole population of Northern Ireland benefited from the improving standard of living that was occurring in industrialised countries, the 50 years of Stormont rule did little to improve the relative standing of Catholics.

In the last two decades efforts have been made to address some of the causes of disadvantage and these initiatives have met with some success. However, it is clear from recent evidence considered above that a number of economic and social differentials remain. Perhaps the central area of concern is the persistent differences in employment and unemployment. Given the general nature of the Northern Ireland economy it would require a huge government-sponsored programme of private and public investment to achieve economic parity with Britain. For many reasons, not least the current difficulties facing the UK economy, this is not going to occur. In the absence of major investment or an unprecedented upturn in the economy, unemployment levels will remain high and Catholics are likely to remain disproportionately affected. Positive discrimination has been ruled out as a potential approach to this problem. However, it would seem that affirmative action is not sufficiently strong enough in the present circumstances to achieve the desired outcome.

This chapter has dealt solely with the differences that exist in the material and social conditions of the Catholic and Protestant communities. It should be remembered that in Northern Ireland there are other differentials which cut across religious denomination. Among these are economic and social differentials between men and women, the upper and the lower social classes, the young and the old, and those in good physical and mental health and those in poor health.

[1] The author would like to acknowledge the assistance of Dr John Power, School of Geosciences, The Queen's University of Belfast, in providing tables of the breakdown of dwelling amenities by household religion and by district council area.


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Policy Planning and Research Unit (1992) Family Expenditure Survey Report for 1987-1990. No. 2/92. Belfast, Department of Finance and Personnel.

Policy Planning and Research Unit (1993) Continuous Household Survey -Religion 1988-1990/91. No. 1/93. Belfast, Department of Finance and Personnel.

Policy Research Institute and Northern Ireland Regional Research

Laboratory (1990) Spatial and Social Variations in the Distribution of Health Indicators in Northern Ireland. Queen's University Belfast and University of Ulster.

Purdie, B. (1990) Politics in the Streets. Belfast, Blackstaff Press.

Registrar General Northern Ireland, Department of Health and Social Services (1993) The Northern Ireland Census 1991 Religion Report. Belfast, HMSO.

Singleton, D. (1986) 'Northern Ireland Housing: Number One Priority but for How Much Longer?' in Aspects of Housing Policy and Practice in Northern Ireland 1 984-1 986, ed. by D. Singleton. Belfast, Department of Town and Country Planning, Queen's University Belfast.

Smith, D.J. and G. Chambers (1989) Equality and Inequality in Northern Ireland 4: Public Housing. Policy Studies Institute Occasional Paper 47. London, Policy Studies Institute.

Smith, D. J. and G. Chambers (1991) Inequality in Northern Ireland. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (1990) Religious and Political Discrimination and Equality of Opportunity in Northern Ireland, Second Report. London, HMSO, Cmnd 1107.

Townsend, P. and N. Davidson, eds (1982) Inequalities in Health: The Black Report. Harmondsworth, Penguin.

Townsend, P., P. Phillimore and A. Beattie (1988) Health and Deprivation: Inequality and the North. London, Croom Helm.

Whyte, J. (1983) How Much Discrimination was there under the Unionist Regime, 1921-1968?' in Contemporary Irish Studies, ed. by T. Gallagher and J. O'Connell. Manchester, Manchester University Press.

CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within the University of Ulster.

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