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Northern Ireland Social Attitudes Survey - Press Release for Seventh Report

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Page Compiled: Martin Melaugh

PRESS RELEASE for issue Wednesday 9 September 1998


Edited by Gillian Robinson, Deirdre Heenan, Ann Marie Gray, Kate Thompson (September, 1998)
ISBN 1 84014 094 1

Published by:
Ashgate Publishing Limited
Gower House
Croft Road
Hants GU11 3HR

Contact Person for Series in General:
Gillian Robinson (Social and Community Sciences and INCORE, University of Ulster, Tel: 01504 375502)

Background: Northern Ireland Social Attitudes 1989-1996

The Northern Ireland Social Attitudes (NISA) series begun in 1989 has established a reliable source of material on changing social values in Northern Ireland, an indispensable tool for policy-makers and academics. Together with the British Social Attitudes (BSA) series, it is unique in providing information on peoples attitudes across the United Kingdom. The results are presented in an annual book the seventh of which is published today.

NISA provides unique trend data on the views of the Northern Irish public on the troubles. There is now a time series of questions which have been asked prior to, during and since the 1994-1996 ceasefire. Gallagher has monitored attitudes over the course of the series (see for example Gallagher and Dunn, 1991; Gallagher, 1993; 1995; 1996). He reports a continuing pattern of difference among Catholics and Protestants in their preferred identities, both political and national, and in their aspirations and judgements for the political and constitutional future of Northern Ireland. These findings have been widely reported in the media. Catholic and Protestant differences in attitude are also apparent regarding issues of law and order. Catholics, in stark contrast to Protestants, do not feel that they receive equal treatment from the security forces, or that security measures are applied in an impartial manner (Gallagher, 1992).

NISA has allowed academics and policy makers to investigate how people in Northern Ireland stand in relation to the rest of the United Kingdom, with regard to government policy. Whilst we find large differences between the two groups in relation to moral issues, political stance, and so forth, NISA has revealed that attitudes towards welfare are consistent across the United Kingdom. Higher poverty and unemployment levels in Northern Ireland are not reflected in differences in attitudes to the Welfare State (Wilford, 1992) or housing conditions (Melaugh, 1992) between people in Northern Ireland and people in Britain.

Furthermore the international data collected as part of the survey has allowed Northern Ireland to be placed in an international setting and the debates on religion in particular have provided interesting reading. Heath and his colleagues (1993) for example note that religiosity has similar effects on family values and attitudes towards church/state relations in twelve countries. Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Poland, which are the three most traditional or morally prescriptive of the twelve societies in their family values, are also the three with the highest degree of religiosity.

Full details on the previous reports and selected chapters are available on-line at the CAIN web site:

The Seventh Report

This book is the seventh in a series of reports which began in 1991 (Stringer and Robinson, 1991; 1992; 1993: Breen, Devine and Robinson, 1995: Breen, Devine and Dowds, 1996: Dowds, Devine and Breen, 1997). As such it provides a unique opportunity to view social attitudes in Northern Ireland and explore how these may be developing and changing. In this volume authors from Northern Ireland and beyond utilise the data from the 1996 Northern Ireland Social Attitudes (NISA) survey to provide a picture of social attitudes to various issues. It provides a measure of the feelings, attitudes and beliefs of the people of Northern Ireland to a range of issues including: community relations; housing; the countryside; the role of government; the environment; the NHS; and trust in political processes. It is hoped that their analyses will stimulate others including policy-makers; journalists; community based groups; school children and students to further analyse the data and gain a deeper understanding of social attitudes here.

Chapter 1: Community Relations in Northern Ireland: Attitudes to Contact and Integration.
Joanne Hughes and Paul Carmichael
(Public Policy, University of Ulster. Tel: 01232 368896)

The analysis of attitudes to community relations contained in the volume points to a discernible shift towards greater tolerance and mutual understanding between 1989 and 1996. Mixed schooling was the preferred choice of 62 per cent of respondents; 82 per cent of respondents expressed a preference for living in mixed neighbourhoods; and 96 per cent of respondents shared a strong preference for workplaces with a mixed religious composition. However, it remains the case, as in previous surveys, that a majority of Catholics believed that the employment chances for Protestants and Catholics were different (ie that Catholics were disadvantaged) and that Catholics perceive higher levels of discrimination than Protestants. However, the survey does confirm an optimism amongst people in Northern Ireland. Forty-six per cent of respondents believed relations between Catholics and Protestants to be better than they were five years ago and 43 per cent believed they would be better in five years time than (this compares to 21 and 25 per cent respectively in 1989).

Chapter 2: The Growth of Home Ownership: Explanations and Implications.
Deirdre Heenan
(Social and Community Sciences, University of Ulster. Tel: 01504 263004)

Data on housing tenure indicates that home ownership is by far the preferred tenure in Northern Ireland. This is attributed in part to the success of the 'Right to Buy' policy during the 1980s. The survey shows that the most powerful incentive for buying a home is economic. People strongly believe that over time buying a home works out cheaper than renting. Of course, the additional attraction of home ownership in Northern Ireland is lower house prices which have remained relatively stable. The inheritance value of home ownership is also highlighted; the second most popular reason given for buying one's own home was having something to leave to one's family.

Chapter 3: Attitudes to the Countryside
Sally Cook, Adrain Moore and Claire Guyer
(Environmental Studies, University of Ulster Tel: 01265 324657/ 324387)

Previous Northern Ireland Social Attitudes surveys have pointed to a lower level of concern for the countryside among the Northern Irish population as compared to people living in Britain. However, data from this survey suggests that protectionist attitudes in relation to the countryside in Northern Ireland are increasing and that in most respects the gap between Northern Ireland and Britain is slowly but surely being closed. The biggest difference in attitudes between Northern Ireland and Britain relates to the provision of new roads and the building of new housing in country areas with respondents in Northern Ireland being more in favour of these forms of countryside development. Despite the detrimental environmental impacts (such as landscape degradation and damage to wildlife habitats) which have been a consequence of Green Belt and rural housing development, only 10 per cent of Northern Irish respondents believe that new building should be stopped altogether .

Chapter 4: Role of Government
Niall O'Dochartaigh (Political Science and Sociology, National University of Ireland, Galway. Tel:00 353 91 524411 ext.3594)

Given Northern Ireland's reputation for political passion and intransigence it is perhaps ironic that men and women in Northern Ireland express low levels of interest in politics compared to people in Britain. One reason attributed to this low level of interest is the nature of politics in Northern Ireland; politics has been so mixed up with destruction and death that there has been a depoliticisation of large sections of the population. The survey data also point to low levels of understanding of politics and government with 27 per cent of respondents agreeing strongly that 'politics and government seem so complicated that a person like me cannot really understand what is going on'. The fact that there are low levels of interest in and understanding of politics does not detract from the fact that there is fundamental disagreement on the existence of the state itself. Catholic support for a united Ireland is substantial but far from overwhelming with 53 per cent of Catholics saying they would like to see the future of Northern Ireland in a united Ireland. Protestants are more in agreement on this issue with 78 per cent opposing a united Ireland. Catholic opposition to a united Ireland (13 per cent), a test of loyalty to the status quo, is weak . Those Catholics not supportive of a united Ireland and by implication not opposed to Northern Ireland remaining in the UK, show minimal levels of loyalty to the constitutional status quo.

Chapter 5: Attitudes to the National Health Service in Northern Ireland
Ann Marie Gray
(Social and Community Sciences, University of Ulster. Tel: 01232 366689 Not available until 27 August)

Attitudes to the National Health Service in Northern Ireland highlight increasing dissatisfaction with the service. The picture which emerges from this survey, undertaken in 1996, is quite different from the findings of previous surveys carried out in 1991 and 1994. In relation to the National Health Service as a whole, 37 per cent of respondents were quite/very satisfied compared with 45 percent in 1991 and 51 per cent in 1994. Respondents were most dissatisfied with in-patient and out-patient hospital services. Hospital waiting lists for non-emergency operations and staffing levels in hospitals attracted considerable criticism whereas the majority of respondents believed the quality of medical treatment and nursing care in hospitals to be satisfactory. The survey shows strong support for extra government spending on health care with 88 per cent of respondents placing health as a first or second priority for government spending which may suggest that people associate decreased levels of satisfaction with a problem of inadequate funding. Interestingly, despite obvious concerns about satisfaction and funding people expressed an overwhelming preference for health care to be provided on a universal basis and were not supportive of the suggestion that health care could/should be prioritised according to factors such as age or lifestyle.

Chapter 6: Attitudes to the Environment in Northern Ireland
Adrain Moore, Sally Cook and Claire Guyer
(Environmental Studies, University of Ulster Tel: 01265 324657/ 324387)

Attitudes towards the environment in Northern Ireland are examined and the analysis shows that in general, opinions towards most basic environmental issues are quite favourable. From the environmentalist's perspective it must be encouraging to see that more people in Northern Ireland are trying to do what is right for the environment. Public opinion in Northern Ireland is more supportive of the notion that increased government spending is necessary to protect the environment than would be the case in Britain. The vast majority of people surveyed believe that government should pass laws to make businesses protect the environment although opinion is less enthusiastic in supporting similar laws being extended to ordinary people. However, there is evidence that the more romantic notion of protecting the environment at all costs is giving way to the more practical reality that such actions have their price and the analysis shows that the public is less likely to support actions which impinge on the individual's rights to decide what to do or which have a direct financial cost.

Chapter 7: Belief and Trust in the Political Process
Martin Melaugh (CAIN Project Manager, University of Ulster Tel: 01504 375517)

People in Northern Ireland have lower levels of political efficacy and political trust than people in Britain and within Northern Ireland striking differences are apparent between the two communities. An analysis of opinions on belief and trust in the political process shows that the views of Catholics and Protestants of the working of the political process and their trust in it are widely divergent. In relation to eight out of ten items Catholics gave responses which indicated lower levels of efficacy and trust than Protestants. The most problematic item concerned trust in the police not to bend the rules in trying to get a conviction, 32 per cent of Catholics expressed trust in the police not to bend the rules compared with 55 per cent of Protestants. Significant differences are also apparent between male and female respondents. Women (91 per cent) were much more likely than men (77 per cent) to state that they found the political process so complicated that they couldn't understand what was going on and women (17 per cent) were also significantly less likely to express trust in the UK government than men (23 per cent).

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

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