'Community Relations' by A.M. Gallagher (1993), in, Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland: The Third Report
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The following chapter has been contributed by the author A. M. Gallagher with the permission of the publishers, Blackstaff Press. 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.
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Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland:
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The Third Report, 1992-1993
In the late 1980s, government policy on community relations in Northern Ireland had three main aims: to increase the extent of contact between Catholics and Protestants; to encourage a greater mutual understanding of, and respect for, their different cultures and traditions; and to ensure that everyone might enjoy equality of opportunity and equity of treatment (CCRU, 1991).
In line with these aims, a number of programmes were introduced. In 1987, the Central Community Relations Unit (CCRU) was established to advise the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to coordinate activity within government departments and to sponsor policies designed to improve community relations. In the same year, the Department of Education introduced the Cross-community Contact Scheme. It was intended to encourage work between schools, youth clubs and community groups, across the religious divide. Protestant-Catholic contact programmes have also been encouraged under the Spirit of Enniskillen scheme, and by voluntary agencies such as the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust (McCartney, 1990) and Co-operation North (Murray and O'Neill, 1991).
The Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order (1989) gave the government a responsibility for supporting initiatives to develop integrated schools. Recognising that, for the foreseeable future, most pupils in Northern Ireland would still be educated in schools segregated by religion, the order introduced cross-curricular themes on Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU) and Cultural Heritage. A theme of cultural pluralism is also pursued through the Cultural Traditions Group, which has been established as part of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council (Hayes, 1991). In 1989, the government introduced financial support to district councils for community relations programmes.
Measures to promote equity of treatment include economic and social programmes that are targeted on areas of special need, such as the Making Belfast Work initiative, and the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act (1989). The Act requires employers to monitor the religious composition of their work forces, and to submit annual returns on it to the Fair Employment Commission (FEC). In 1991, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced that targeting social need was to be a priority for public expenditure in Northern Ireland, alongside the priorities of security and a strengthening of the economy (Brooke, 1991). The aim of the initiative is to focus government policies and programmes more sharply on areas or sections of the community that suffer the highest levels of disadvantage and deprivation. By this means, it is intended to reduce social and economic differences between Protestants and Catholics. As a part of this initiative, government departments are required to monitor the impact of their policies on each of the communities.
It will be some time before the specific impact of these programmes and initiatives can be assessed, though most are currently being evaluated. Nevertheless, the first three Social Attitudes surveys do already provide some opportunity to assess changes in perceptions of, and attitudes to, community relations. This chapter examines the evidence for change, by taking a broad look at the wide range of issues of community relations with which the first three surveys have dealt. Findings from all three surveys to date will be used.
The chapter begins by examining perceptions of the state of community
relations, and patterns of social identity and affiliation. It
looks at attitudes to, and experience of, Protestant-Catholic
contact in a number of areas of social life. The next two sections
provide a more focused examination of attitudes to specific policies
on fair employment and education; they are followed by an assessment
of perceptions of equity in public bodies, and of trust in government.
The final part of the chapter briefly examines evidence on issues
to do with justice.
In a survey in Northern Ireland carried out in 1968, just as the
present 'troubles' were beginning, Rose (1971) asked his respondents
whether they felt that relations between Protestants and Catholics
were better than, worse than, or about the same as they had been
five years previously. The question was subsequently asked in
a survey in 1986 (Smith, 1987), and in the 1989 and 1991 Social
COMPARED TO FIVE YEARS AGO
 Smith, 1987.
In 1968, a majority of respondents felt that relations between Protestants and Catholics had improved in the previous five years, a perception that was undoubtedly shattered by the rise in violence of the 1970s. By 1986, in the aftermath of the hunger-strikes, the consequent emergence of Sinn Féin as a political force and protests over the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, optimism had largely been reversed. Then, only 1 in 10 respondents believed that community relations were improving.
By 1989 and 1991, however, optimism seemed to be returning. According
to the most recent, 1991, survey, 3 in 10 respondents see community
relations as improving, and there has been a large decline in
the proportion of those who believe that community relations are
getting worse. In 1989 and 1991, respondents were also asked whether
they thought that relations between Protestants and Catholics
would be better, worse, or about the same in five years' time.
Their replies confirm a picture of rising optimism.
This picture should be seen, however, against the background of
a continued perception of religious intolerance in Northern Ireland.
Although only one-tenth of Catholics and one-fifth of Protestants
in 1989 and 1991 admit to any personal prejudice against people
of a different religion, large majorities of both groups feel
that there is prejudice against Catholics and against Protestants.
Similarly, over 80 per cent of each group say that religion will
always make a difference to the way people feel about each other
in Northern Ireland. As reported later in this chapter, the main
dimensions of identity remain as divisive as ever in Northern
Patterns of social affiliation or identity are one means of assessing divisions within a society. In Northern Ireland, the dimensions of religious affiliation, political partisanship and national identity were measured by the Social Attitudes survey.
Two striking findings from the 1989 survey are the high level
of identification with British political parties, in particular
with the Conservative Party; and the high proportion of respondents
who identify with no political party (Curtice and Gallagher, 1990).
Over the three survey years to date, however, both these patterns
of identification have declined. In 1989, 25 per cent of respondents
in Northern Ireland identified with one of the three main British
political parties, with 18 per cent identifying with the Conservative
Party. By 1991, the level of identification with British parties
has declined to 21 per cent, with Conservative support now running
at 13 per cent. There is no evidence of people increasingly turning
towards British political parties in preference to local parties.
When respondents were asked to indicate their preference for a
Northern Ireland party, however, there was some evidence of movement.
There is still a religious basis to political partisanship. Only the Alliance Party attracts a significant degree of cross-community support. Whilst the proportion of Catholics identifying with no political party has declined between 1989 and 1991, the proportion among Protestants has increased slightly, apparently at the expense of the Democratic Unionist Party.
Moxon-Browne (1991) examined survey evidence on national identity in Northern Ireland over a 20-year period. In 1968, three labels of national identity, 'British', 'Irish' and 'Ulster', appeared to be of significance. Ten years later, these had collapsed into the two primary identities of 'British' and 'Irish'. On the basis of the present survey, there is no change. Two-thirds of Protestants, but only one-tenth of Catholics, describe themselves as 'British'; by contrast, 3 in 5 Catholics, but only 1 in 50 Protestants, describe themselves as 'Irish'. Although the 'Northern Irish' label attracts some respondents from each community, their number has remained largely unchanged over a number of years: about one-quarter of Protestants and one-seventh of Catholics opt for this identity.
The 1989 and 1990 surveys produced evidence of a decline in religious
affiliation in Northern Ireland, even though religiosity is still
much higher than in Britain (T. Gallagher, 1991). In 1989, 12
per cent of respondents say that they have no religious affiliation;
in 1990, the proportion was 13 per cent. By 1991, by contrast,
the figure has declined to 8 per cent - although it is still much
higher than in the 1960s and 1970s (Rose, 1971; Moxon-Browne,
The 1989 Social Attitudes survey gives a mixed impression of attitudes to, and experience of, contact between Protestants and Catholics (Gallagher and Dunn, 1991). Although most people favour more cross-community contact in residential areas and workplaces, they suggest that cross-community contact is actually quite low in most areas of social life. There is a high level of endogamy. A majority of both Catholics and Protestants say that most or all of their relatives, friends and neighbours are of the same religion as themselves. The 1989 survey suggests that workplaces are the least segregated areas of social activity; even so, 44 per cent of Catholics and 42 per cent of Protestants say that all or most of their workmates are of the same religion as themselves. A similar homogeneity is evident in data from the monitoring returns of the FEC (FEC, 1991).
The pattern of a relatively low level of actual integration, alongside support for greater integration, is confirmed by the survey conducted in 1991. For example, whilst three-quarters of Catholics and two-thirds of Protestants say that they would prefer more cross-community contact in their neighbourhood, three-fifths of Catholics and two-thirds of Protestants say that all or most of their neighbours are of the same religion as themselves.
The 1989 results were interpreted as indicating a favourable climate for initiatives to encourage greater cross-community contact in Northern Ireland. In 1991, a number of new questions were asked which more directly addressed this issue. There is a high degree of support for proactive measures on community relations. Ninety per cent or more of respondents say that government and public bodies should do more to teach Catholic and Protestant children to have greater respect for each other, and should also do more to encourage better community relations generally, and to create integrated workplaces. Similarly, 90 per cent of Catholics and 80 per cent of Protestants say that government and public bodies should do more to integrate housing.
OR MUCH MORE ACTIVE THAN NOW IN TRYING TO IMPROVE COMMUNITY RELATIONS
Respondents were asked how active they felt that the British and
Irish governments, and unionist and nationalist politicians should
be in trying to improve community relations. In each case, clear
majorities support greater action on community relations, with
the level of support being relatively low only among Protestants
on the question of more activity by the Irish government. This
is probably the result of suspicion on the part of Protestants
about the role of the Irish government in Northern Ireland's affairs.
It is noteworthy, nevertheless, that a clear majority of Protestants
support more action, even by the Irish government.
The issue of religious discrimination in employment is a long-standing one in Northern Ireland (see, for example, A.M. Gallagher, 1991; Cormack and Osborne, 1991). The Social Attitudes surveys conducted in 1989 and 1991 asked a series of questions on perceptions of discrimination in the labour market, some of which had been asked previously in Smith's (1987) survey. In addition, people's attitudes towards the religious monitoring of workforces were elicited.
Respondents were asked whether they felt that Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland had the same chance of obtaining a job or whether their chances were different. The pattern of responses is fairly consistent over time. While a majority of Catholics feel that the chances for the two groups of obtaining a job are different, a similar proportion of Protestants feel that the chances are the same.
Those who feel that the chances are different were asked which
group was more likely to obtain a job. A majority of Catholics
feel that equal opportunity does not exist in the labour market
and that they bear the brunt of disadvantage. Protestant attitudes
contrast with this view in two ways. The majority of Protestants
feel that the labour market does provide equal opportunity; the
minority of Protestants who feel that there are different chances
of obtaining a job believe that in a segregated labour market
each side looks after its own (Osborne, 1991). The increasing
proportion of Protestants who point to a relative Catholic advantage
in the labour market may mistakenly believe that the affirmative
action measures permitted under the 1989 Fair Employment Act provide
for positive discrimination in favour of Catholics only (Cassidy,
 Smith, 1987
 Smith. 1987
The questions reported on so far in this section asked about the relative chances of Protestants and Catholics in the labour market. Respondents were also asked about the two communities' employment chances separately. They were told that some people think that many employers are more likely to give jobs to Protestants than to Catholics; they were asked whether they felt that this happened a lot, a little or hardly at all. A similar question was also asked, but with the suggestion that some people think many employers are more likely to give jobs to Catholics than to Protestants.
A majority of Catholics and of Protestants think that employers
are more likely to give jobs to people who are the same religion
as themselves. The proportion saying this rose over the two survey
years. A higher proportion of Catholics than Protestants feel
that this happens a lot. In 1989, just under half of Protestants
and Catholics thought that some employers were more likely to
give jobs to their co-religionists than to people of the opposite
religion; in 1991, the proportion saying this has risen to about
There is evidence that, in the past, some people were prepared to justify differential opportunities in the labour market in Northern Ireland (Nelson, 1975). For this reason, respondents in 1991 were asked whether they believed that Protestants and Catholics who apply for the same job should have an equal chance. The results are unequivocal: 92 per cent of Catholics and 97 per cent of Protestants agree that there should be an equal chance.
The survey findings point to a perception in Northern Ireland that the labour market does not provide equal opportunities (even though this view is held to a different extent by Protestants and Catholics), and a consensus that each group should have the same chance of obtaining a job.
The Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act (1989) introduced a series of measures designed to combat discrimination in employment and to promote equal opportunity. There is now a statutory obligation on all but the smallest employers to monitor the religious composition of their workforces and submit annual monitoring returns to the FEC. At the time of the 1989 Social Attitudes survey, the measure was still under consideration by Parliament. Nevertheless, respondents that year were asked whether they supported or opposed a fair employment law which would require employers to keep records of their employees' religion and ensure that there was no discrimination. In 1991, the same question was asked, but this time referring to the Fair Employment Act.
In 1989, two-thirds of Catholics supported introduction of a fair
employment law incorporating religious monitoring, whilst one-half
of Protestants opposed it. By 1991, support for statutory monitoring
has strengthened among Catholics: not only has the proportion
expressing support for the law increased, but the proportion of
those expressing strong support has risen from 47 per cent in
1989 to 67 per cent in 1991. Protestant opinion also shows considerably
more support for statutory monitoring than in 1989, with the balance
of opinion shifting clearly from opposition to support.
REQUIRING EMPLOYERS TO MONITOR EMPLOYEES' RELIGION
The Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order (1989) incorporated many of the measures that had recently been established in England and Wales, such as a common curriculum and delegation of financial management to schools. There were also a number of different emphases, to take account of issues peculiar to the situation in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland reform committed the government to support initiatives to develop integrated schools, and made it possible for a denominational school to adopt integrated status through a parental vote. In addition, the proposed common curriculum includes two compulsory cross-curricular themes, each of which has a community relations dimension and is intended to reflect the cultural pluralism of Northern Ireland society.
In 1989 and 1991, two sets of questions on educational issues were asked: on mixed or integrated schools and on a plural curriculum. We have already seen that practically all respondents agree that government and public bodies should do more to teach Protestant and Catholic children to have greater respect for one another. Similarly, when asked whether they preferred more mixing or more separation in schools, a clear majority favour more mixing. Furthermore, two-thirds of Catholics and three-fifths of Protestants (according to both the 1989 and the 1991 findings) feel that the government should encourage mixed schooling. By contrast, about one-third feel that things should be left as they are; 5 per cent or fewer of Catholics and 9 per cent or fewer of Protestants feel that the government should discourage mixed schooling.
When respondents were asked whether they would prefer to send their children to a mixed-religion school or one with only pupils of their own religion, a more complex picture emerges. There is support for integration from about half of both Protestants and Catholics. The proportion who support the principle of integrated education is somewhat higher than the proportion who would opt to send their own children to an integrated school.
Other questions on educational issues focused on the level of
support for a plural curriculum in schools. Respondents were asked
whether they agreed that all pupils in post-primary (that is,
secondary and grammar) schools should have to study Irish as well
as British history, Catholic and Protestant religious beliefs
and the Irish language and culture. The same questions had been
asked in 1989.
Most respondents agree that history teaching should reflect the overlap of interests found in Northern Ireland. A clear majority of both Catholics and Protestants agree that all post-primary pupils should be taught the history of Northern Ireland. Most agree also that they should be taught the history of Britain and of the Republic of Ireland. But more Protestants than Catholics support the teaching of British history, and more Catholics than Protestants support the teaching of the history of the Irish Republic. For each of these three parts of the history curriculum, the level of support by both religious groups has risen between 1989 and 1991.
With regard to the teaching of religious beliefs, the level of support by both Protestants and Catholics has risen since 1989. However, only a minority of Protestants agree that all post-primary pupils should be taught Catholic religious beliefs. Nevertheless, the proportion of Protestants who disagree that Catholic religious beliefs should be taught to all post-primary school pupils has fallen from 52 per cent in 1989 to 42 per cent in 1991.
On the issue of teaching the Irish language and culture, however,
Protestant opposition remains strong: only 18 per cent agree that
they should be taught to all post-primary pupils.
The 1990 Social Attitudes survey asked a number of questions on issues to do with justice and security (A.M. Gallagher, 1992; T. Gallagher, 1991; Brewer, 1992; Geary and Morison, 1992). A selection of these questions was asked again in 1991. The results serve to confirm the broad patterns identified in 1990. Catholics continue to feel that security measures are applied too rigorously (with the exception of controls on Protestant marches and demonstrations), whilst Protestants feel that they are not applied rigorously enough. Three-quarters of Catholics agree that the UDR should be abolished, whilst over 80 per cent of Protestants disagree. A similar polarity in perceptions between Protestants and Catholics was found when people were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the suggestion that 'the police and army get away with offences they commit': 70 per cent of Catholics agree with this statement, whilst a little over 60 per cent of Protestants disagree.
This broad correspondence of findings between the two survey years
is found also in the case of answers to questions specifically
about the RUC. In 1990, 63 per cent of Catholics and 53 per cent
of Protestants agreed that it would be better for Northern Ireland
if there were more Catholics in the RUC. By 1991, the level of
agreement has risen slightly, to 67 per cent of Catholics and
57 per cent of Protestants. On the other hand, according to the
1991 survey, fewer feel that the RUC does a good job in controlling
crime, whether this is sectarian or non-sectarian. Nevertheless,
70 per cent or more of Catholics and 90 per cent or more of Protestants
do think that the RUC does a good job in controlling non-sectarian
By contrast, whilst four-fifths of Protestants feel that the RUC
does a good job in controlling sectarian crime, only half of Catholics
share that belief.
In the 1991 survey, attitudes were elicited on the practices of a number of governmental and public bodies, and several other social institutions. The responses present a picture of perceived fairness and confidence, broadly consistent with the answers given in 1989.
Respondents were asked how much trust they would place in government to act in the best interest of Northern Ireland. Three scenarios were presented. They dealt with: trust in a British government, of any party, under the current system of direct rule; trust in a Stormont government under self-rule; trust in an Irish government, if there was a united Ireland.
A majority of Protestants place trust only in a Stormont government. But whilst in 1989 only one-third of Protestants would trust a British government, this proportion has risen to 40 per cent. By contrast, Catholics appear to place relatively little trust in any government. In 1991, for example, only one in five Catholics would trust a British government, only one in three would trust a Stormont government and fewer than half would trust even an Irish government to act in their best interests.
Two of the main findings of 1989, that there was no consensus around political arrangements and that there was general Catholic alienation from or disenchantment with the range of possible arrangements, remained valid in 1991. This conclusion is confirmed by people's views on which government they would side with if there was an argument between the British and Irish governments. Eighty per cent or more of Protestants say that they would take the British government's side, in comparison with only one-tenth of Catholics. Only 36 per cent of Catholics say that they would take the Irish government's side.
Respondents were asked whether they felt that a number of public institutions treated Protestants and Catholics fairly, or whether one group received better treatment than the other. There is a striking consistency in the responses in 1989 and 1991. Whilst a majority of Protestants feel that all these institutions provide equal treatment, there is a wider range of opinion among Catholics, their views effectively separating the institutions into three sets.
First, a clear majority of Catholics say that the National Health
Service, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and government
programmes for the unemployed provide equal treatment. In addition,
three-quarters of Catholics say that the courts provide equal
treatment when dealing with nonterrorist offences. By and large,
this perception of equal treatment is shared by Protestants.
Second, views among Catholics are more mixed when they relate to the way in which the courts deal with terrorist offences, and to how Stormont and local district councils deal with job applicants. In each of these cases, as many as one-half of Catholics say that equal treatment is provided, but about one-third say that these institutions treat Protestants better.
Third, the Catholic perception of the security forces is that they treat Protestants better. It is only in the case of the UDR, however, that a clear majority of Catholics (62 per cent) say that Protestants are treated better. Whilst a little under 20 per cent of Protestants agree that the RUC and army treat Protestants better, as many as 30 per cent think this of the UDR.
In 1991, some new questions were asked about people's confidence
in a number of social institutions, such as the churches and the
business community. For the present analysis, the responses to
these questions were scored on a five-point scale: 'no confidence
at all' scoring 0; 'very little confidence' 1; some confidence'
2; 'a great deal of confidence' 3; and 'complete confidence' 4.
Average scores of confidence in each of six social institutions
Protestants and Catholics express the highest degree of confidence
in the churches and religious organisations, followed by schools
and the educational system. (There are, of course, parallel school
systems in Northern Ireland for the two religious communities.)
It is interesting that people express greatest confidence in the
two main social institutions that underpin the division of Northern
Ireland society. With the exception of these, Catholics express
less confidence generally than do Protestants. This provides further
confirmation of the Catholic alienation that has already been
referred to. The relatively low confidence in the Westminster
parliament among both Catholics and Protestants, and in the civil
service among Protestants, is noteworthy.
This chapter has examined some evidence on attitudes to community relations in Northern Ireland over a three-year period. There has been an increase in community relations policy and activity; new legislation on fair employment and education; and the establishment of bodies, within and outside government, to sponsor and coordinate policies on community relations. The Social Attitudes survey provides an opportunity to assess some of the impact of this increased activity.
The climate for community relations initiatives in Northern Ireland continues to be positive. Perceptions of the state of relations between Protestants and Catholics are increasingly optimistic. A majority of the sample support measures to increase the level of contact between Protestants and Catholics, and say specifically that politicians and governments, both North and South, should do more to promote community relations.
There is support for particular measures that have been put into place in recent years. Two years after the 1989 Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act, a majority of Protestants and Catholics say that they support its principle of religious monitoring. This represents an increase in support since 1989 and, among Protestants, a change in opinion. There is also evidence of increasing support for a plural curriculum in schools, particularly in the teaching of history.
Nevertheless, although most of the sample say that they favour contact between Protestants and Catholics, they also indicate that they have relatively little contact with people of the opposite religion. While most people say that the government should encourage mixed schools in Northern Ireland, a significantly smaller proportion indicate that they would send their children to such schools (although this still amounts to up to half of the sample). On the issue of a plural curriculum, there is evidence of Protestant reluctance to see the teaching of Catholic religious beliefs to all pupils, and continued Protestant opposition to the compulsory teaching of Irish language and culture. The widely differing views of Protestants and Catholics in 1990 on the impartiality of the security forces and security policy are confirmed by the 1991 survey.
There continues to be a deep cleavage in Northern Ireland society, centred around religion. The division has its impact on social, political and national identities. There is no evidence of it being diluted by a swing in political partisanship towards British political parties. Indeed, people in Northern Ireland are still politically alienated, even though this shows itself rather differently in the two communities. Among Protestants, the alienation is from Westminster, although in a 'crunch' situation most Protestants would line up with the British in preference to the Irish government. Among Catholics, on the other hand, there is continued evidence of political alienation from all the governmental arrangements that seem to lie within the realms of possibility. For both groups, this pattern of alienation is most starkly illustrated by the finding that, amongst all institutions, it is the churches and the schools that win the greatest confidence. Depending on one's viewpoint, these institutions represent either the underpinning of a segregated society or the consequences of segregation.
The findings of the first three Social Attitudes surveys in Northern
Ireland portray a somewhat paradoxical picture. On the one hand,
initiatives in community relations can be seen to have had a positive
impact, in terms both of particular measures and of the broad
climate of opinion. On the other hand, a deep division continues
to exist in Northern Ireland society. While the surveys demonstrate
that positive change is possible, they also remind us of the extent
of the problem that remains to be addressed.
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Part 3: perceptions and views, Policy Studies Institute,
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