CCRU home background on CCRU community relations equality and equity research


Karen Trew & Cate Cox
Queen's University of Belfast


Peter Ward
Research Evaluation Services


ONE Sample Characteristics
1.1. Religious and Political Background
1.2. Educational and Occupational Background
1.3. Experience of Violence
1.4. NISIS Sample Distribution and the 1991 Census
TWO Identity Preferences
2.1. Identity and Community Background
2.2. Identity and Gender
2.3. Identity and Age
2.4. Identity and Occupational group
2.5. Identity and Area
2.6. Overview: Identity choices and background characteristics
2.7. Biographical profiles
THREE Multiple Identities
3.1. Second Identity Choice
3.2. Identity Combinations
3.3. Ranking Identities
3.4. Situational Variation in Identity
3.5. Paired Choices
3.6. Summary
FOUR Dimensions of Identity
4.1. Identity Salience
4.2. Level of Cognitive Commitment
4.3. Sense of Authenticity
4.4. Collective Self-esteem
4.5. Pride in Identity
4.6. Identity and Religion
4.7. Identity and Work
4.8. Identity Profile
FIVE Relationships
5.1. Government Support
5.2. Trust
5.3. People
5.4. Confidence
5.5. Political beliefs
5.6. Support for the Irish and Northern Irish Football Teams
5.6. Summary
APPENDIX A: Technical Report
APPENDIX B: The Questionnaire
APPENDIX C: Sample Characteristics
APPENDIX D: Sample Characteristics of the non-respondents
APPENDIX E: The scales: Items and mean scores
APPENDIX F: European, British, Irish and Northern Irish: Complementary or conflicting identities Paper presented at the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Newcastle, September 1995.


This report describes some of the initial findings from a survey funded by CCRU which aimed to assess the nature and strength of socio-political identities among a representative sample of the Northern Ireland population. Previous surveys of identity in Northern Ireland have described the choice of national, political or religious labels (e.g. Moxon-Browne, 1991) but have not been concerned with how much attachment the respondents feel towards their chosen identities. Benson and Trew (1995) established the validity and reliability of a number of scales which together provide a measure the strength of attachment felt towards identity groups. These scales were used in the present study, together with questions on social and political attitudes to examine:

a. The relative importance of national, religious and political identities;
b. The choice of identities in relation to religion, gender, class and locality;
c. The strength of attachment to the most popular identities;
d. The relationship between identity preference and specific attitudinal and behavioural indices.

The questionnaire for the study, which was developed with the assistance of Dr Denny Benson from Kent State University, is included in this report as Appendix B. The survey was carried out between April and June 1995 among a sample of 982 people, drawn from the Northern Ireland Register of Electors, who were interviewed in their homes by RES interviewers. Appendix A is a technical report by Peter Ward which describes the sampling framework and interview procedure.

This report is in five sections. Section 1 describes the characteristics of the sample and how it compares with the 1991 census; Section 2 presents the findings on initial identity preferences and biographical profiles of those identifying themselves as British, Irish, Northern Irish. Catholic or Protestant; Section 3 outlines the patterns of multiple identity choices demonstrated in the survey. Profiles of the five most frequently chosen identities are constructed in Section 4 showing the strength of attachment felt towards these national and religious group identities and Section 5 presents the responses to questions of attitude and belief by those with different religious and national identities.


This report presents the findings of a survey of 982 people, drawn from the Northern Ireland register of Electors and carried out between April and June, 1995. The survey was designed to examine four major themes associated with socio-political identity. The findings of the survey are summarised in relation to each of these areas of concern after a brief overview of the sample characteristics.

The sample characteristics
See Section One and Appendices A, C & D for further details

A number of characteristics of the sample were available for comparison with the Northern Ireland Census. Comparisons on ,gender, marital status employment status, occupational class, area of residence and type of accommodation suggest that the survey sample was closely comparable to the population of Northern Ireland. Religious Community Background, based on the religion in which the respondent was brought up, was used to distinguish 'Catholic' from 'Protestant' for further analysis.

Information on contact with violence during the 'troubles' indicated that the majority of those from Catholic and Protestant community backgrounds (6 out of 10) had known someone killed or injured due to violence and 1 in 5 of both community groups reported that they had been caught up in an explosion during the troubles However, Catholics had greater experience than Protestants of intimidation, house searches and death or injury of a family member.

The relative importance of national religious and political identities
See Sections Two and Four and Appendix F for further details

Respondents were asked to select one identity from a list of 11 which best described how they saw themselves. The predominant identifications were confined to national (British, Irish, Northern Irish. Ulster) and religious (Protestant, Catholic) identities with political identities (Nationalist, Unionist, Republican, Loyalist) in common with the European identity attracting no more than 3% of the first preferences. A similar pattern of identity choices was observed in the selection by respondents of the second best description of themselves. The most popular identity combinations, which were selected by 50 or more of the sample were British-Protestant, Catholic-Irish, British-Northern Irish, Protestant-British and Irish-Catholic.

Three additional approaches were employed to explore identity choices. The result of asking respondents to rank the list of 11 socio-political identities in order of acceptability confirmed the importance of national and religious identities as self-descriptors. In the second task, which was designed to assess whether there was any situational variation in identification, there was some evidence of slight variation in respondents' acceptance of either an Irish or British identification. In the third task, in which respondents were asked to choose between the three national identities (British, Irish, Northern Irish) and the European identity in paired comparisons, there was a strong rejection of the Irish identity by Protestants and the British Identity by Catholics but the Northern Irish identity was an acceptable alternative for most of the respondents.

The choices of identities in relation to religion, gender, class and locality
See Section Two for further details

The first preference identity choices of the sample population were strongly associated with community background. Almost half of the sample from a Protestant background identified themselves as British and a similar proportion of the sample from a Catholic background identified themselves as Catholic. Other identity labels were far less attractive as self-descriptors, but either the Irish or Northern Irish identity labels were selected as self-descriptive by just over a third of the Catholic sample. A similar percentage of the Protestants selected either the Protestant or Northern Irish labels as the best descriptor of their identity. The political identity labels were selected as first preference identities by only a very small number of the sample.

Overall, age, gender, occupational group and area of residence are associated with some variation in the relative attraction of the socio-political identity labels. However, these characteristics are associated with rather minor variations in the relative attraction in identities rather than the substantial differences observed in the identity choices of those from Protestant and Catholic community backgrounds.

Further analysis focussed on those who chose one of the identities (British. Irish, Northern Irish, Protestant and Catholic) which were selected by 50 or more of the respondents. The people who identified themselves as Irish or Catholic were distributed in similar areas of the province with Some 4 out of 10 living in the west of the region. However, the age distribution and occupational background of those who selected the Irish and Catholic identities did differ. A relatively high percentage(47%) of those with an Irish identity were in professional or managerial occupations and almost half(49%) of the group were aged 25-44 years old with only 6% aged 65 or over. In contrast, those who identified themselves as Catholic were predominantly engaged in manual and there were a relatively high proportion of older and younger respondents choosing this identity.

The British identity was predominantly chosen by those from Protestant background but 8.5% of the British were from a Catholic background. The age distributions of the Protestant and British identities were similar with just over half of those choosing each identity being 45 years or older. Two -thirds of the British but just over half of those with Protestant identification lived in the east of the province . Three out of five of those who identified themselves as Protestant were in skilled, non-skilled or partly-skilled manual occupations whereas approximately half of the British were employed in manual occupations. It seems that in both the Catholic and Protestant communities there is a tendency for the religious identities (Protestant or Catholic) to be selected by those from manual occupational groups while the national identities (British or Irish) were chosen by proportionally more people with non-manual occupations.

Unlike the other identities the Northern Irish identity included both Catholic and Protestant respondents in proportion to their representation in the sample. Of those who ascribed to the Northern Irish Identity, 63% were from a Protestant and 37% from a Catholic Community background. In comparison, 60% of the sample was from a Protestant community background and 40% a Catholic background. Some sixty per cent of the .Vorthern Irish, in common with the two -thirds of British lived in the eastern part of the province. 47% of the Northern Irish were aged 25-44 which was a high percentage compared with 38% in the sample overall, but the proportion of the Northern Irish who were in the youngest age band was proportionate to the representation of this age group in the sample. Half of those who had a Northern Irish identity were categorised as members of a professional or managerial occupational group.

The strength of attachment to the most popular identities
See Section Four and Appendix E for further details

The level of attachment felt to the chosen socio-political identities was measured by the following scales and indices:

  • Identity salience is a measure of the importance of the identity to the individual (e.g. For me being this identity is an important part of who I am)

  • Cognitive Commitment is a measure of the degree to which a person feels rewarded for identifying themselves with a particular identity (e.g. I get praised for being this identity)

  • Sense of Authenticity is a measure of the consistency between a persons values and the identity (e.g. Being this identity is consistent with my important values)

  • Collective Self-esteem is a measure of the evaluation of the identity (e.g. In general others respect this group)

  • Pride was measured by a single question (How proud are you to be……)

In general those who selected Irish as their first preference identity were very positive in evaluating what being Irish signified for them. They had the highest mean scores on the identity Salience and the Authenticity scales which indicates that they felt that being Irish was important to them and reflected core aspects of their value system. The high Collective Self-esteem score which the Irish identity received signified that this identity was valued very positively. Most of those who identified themselves as Irish felt 'very proud' or 'proud' to be Irish . However, as with all the socio-political identities, the Irish felt that they were not particularly rewarded by others or in terms of personal satisfaction for being Irish. Religion was less important for the Irish than for other identity groups but a higher percentage of those who identified themselves as Irish than any other of the identity groups considered that their social activities and sporting interests had been affected by their national identity.

The British were predominantly from a Protestant community background but 8.5% of the British were Catholic and separate scale scores were calculated for the Catholic British and the Protestant British. In general, although those from a Protestant community background tended to less attached to socio-political identities than those from a Catholic background, the British identity was the most positively valued identity for Protestants. In contrast, those from a Catholic community background were less attached to being British and evaluated their identity less positively than other groups. Overall, the British Catholics had the lowest mean score on measures of Authenticity, Identity Salience and Cognitive Commitment. Only 22 % of this group were very proud to be British compared with 51% of the British Protestants.

The Northern Irish identity was the third most popular identity choice for both Protestants and Catholics. Protestant and Catholic did not differ significantly in their evaluations of the Northern Irish identity. There was relatively low Cognitive Commitment to the identity suggesting that the Northern Irish did not feel rewarded for holding this identity and although the Collective self-esteem scores were high for all identities the Northern Irish identity was not evaluated as highly as other identities and people tended to be 'Quite proud' rather than 'Very proud' to be Northern Irish. Some 30% of the Northern Irish considered that being Northern Irish had affected their working life to some extent and a similar proportion considered that it was important to people where they worked that they were Northern Irish.

Those who identified themselves as Catholic had the highest mean score on the Cognitive Commitment scale and also on the Collective Self-esteem scale. They had the second highest score on the Identity Salience scale and the scale which measured Authenticity of an identity or the extent to which the identity reflects core aspects of their sense of self. Over half of those who identified themselves as Catholic were very proud of their identity. It would seem that identification as Catholic was rewarding for many of those holding this identity and that for a high proportion of this group the choice of identity reflected the strong attachment they felt to their religion as signified by their rating as very important aspect of their life.

Those who identified themselves as A Protestant generally saw this identity in less positive terms than the Protestants who identified themselves as British but more positively than those who identified themselves as Northern Irish. However, over half of the Protestants were 'Very proud' of this identity. Only 27% of those identified as Protestant considered that religion was very important in their life which would suggest that the majority of those choosing this identity were not identifying themselves in terms of a strong and pervasive religious belief.

The relationship between identity preferences and specific attitudinal, political and behavioural indices
See Section Five for further details

Major differences in political attitudes and beliefs were found between the Catholic, Irish and the Protestant, British especially on issues which relate to the Governments in Westminster and London. There were also some unexpected findings. Six out of 10 of the sample considered that in general people in the Republic were 'about the same' as people in Northern Ireland and a similar percentage of the sample considered-that people in England were much 'different' to people in Northern Ireland Those who identified themselves as Northern Irish and Protestant were most likely to see the English as different. In general, the Northern Irish were intermediate between the Catholic, Irish and Protestant. British. On some issues this would seem to be a reflection of the combination of the diverse opinions of the Northern Irish Catholic and Protestant, but on other issues it would seem that those with a Northern Irish identity were more flexible than those with more traditional socio-political identities.

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