Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Vital Signs: Major quality of life study paints a fascinating picture of Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland survey has painted a fascinating snapshot of life here
Northern Ireland survey has painted a fascinating snapshot of life here

Almost a fifth of people in Northern Ireland do not possess a passport – and only 7% have lived outside the region at any stage in their lives.

These startling figures have emerged from a major new international research programme geared towards monitoring the quality of life in our communities.

The Vital Signs initiative, which has been driven by the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (CFNI) over the past year, is being launched in various parts of the UK today.

The study focused on themes such as crime and safety, housing, education and skills, environment, health and well-being and economic performance.

It forms part of a UK-wide community philanthropy guide to the vitality and aspirations of communities, and the Northern Ireland survey has painted a fascinating snapshot of life here.

The first tranche of research data has been simplified for easier analysis on the basis that Northern Ireland is a village of 100 people.

In that case, 59 of the hundred would hold British passports, with 21 others possessing Irish ones – and 19 without any at all.

Although that latter figure would suggest a rather high degree of insularity here, it pales in comparison with the United States, where 70% of citizens don't have passports.

New-look Irish passports include verses in Ulster Scots

With the survey also revealing that 93 of the 100 have never lived anywhere else, it raises questions over whether disillusionment with Northern Ireland is more mythical than factual.

The Vital Signs' imagined 100-strong village would also have 45 Catholics, 48 people brought up in Protestant or other Christian religions, and six with no religious background.

And although the main language is overwhelmingly English, the survey suggests that 11 of the 'villagers' would have some ability in Irish, with nine familiar with Ulster Scots.

Of the 49 males and 51 females, the majority (59) are between 16 and 60 years old.

The research suggests that it's a reasonably healthy place too, with 79 people without a limiting long-term illness or disability. Nine people consider their day-to-day activities are limited a little by a long-term illness or disability, and 12 whose day-to-day activities are limited a lot.

Meanwhile, it also emerged that 36 people live in rural areas, with the rest in "more urban places".

Eight community foundations are involved in Vital Signs UK, a worldwide initiative to help kick-start a discussion about how community philanthropy can help improve local quality of life.

The statistics published on Monday are only a fraction of the huge amount of data compiled over the last 12 months, which will be released in stages.

But the CFNI is confident that when all the information is published, it will paint an in-depth and accurate picture of what living here is all about.

Its director, Dr Avila Kilmurray, said: "Vital Signs Northern Ireland tells the stories of how local communities have come together to work through challenging issues in innovating and compelling ways.

"A series of case studies has been compiled on each of the themes, highlighting the experiences of groups and individuals who have pioneered local projects that have had a real impact on the local communities.

"These stories will be of interest to other communities right across Northern Ireland who are facing these very same issues."

The CFNI said the report is based on census and other administrative data.

A spokeswoman for Northern Ireland's Rural Development Council said the survey provided a "useful snapshot of what matters, helping to inform policy, decision-makers, communities, individuals and businesses".

A massive majority shall not be moved

Analysis by Claire McNeilly

It is often said that the world is a village – but what if Northern Ireland was one?

And what if it only had 100 people?

That's the simple premise being used to boil down the huge amount of data which comprises Northern Ireland's contribution to the Vital Signs UK initiative.

So, is it a village we like living in?

Well, the early indications are that it is – 93% of us are more than content to stay here, with one in every five of us not even bothering to get a passport.

Too often we get the impression that Northern Ireland is an unhappy place to live, its airports thronged with people desperate to get away from the place and bereft of others coming in.

But we learned recently that the negative publicity generated by street riots has done little or nothing to put people off paying the province a visit.

The religious breakdown is predictable enough and shows that we're heading towards a 50-50 society and it's good to see that most of us are apparently in good health – with just five 'villagers' believing they're not in such good shape.

It's notable that there's only one Pole living in the village; I expect they will have a few more compatriots by the time the next survey comes along in 2014 (the CFNI says it hopes to conduct this study on an annual basis).

But these are just first impressions based on a fraction of the data available.

No doubt when the lid is fully lifted, we'll discover that our 'village' has a few unsavoury characters and some disturbing social trends.

We don't know yet, either, how our small part of the world compares with others in the UK but that picture will ultimately emerge as the ambitious research project reveals itself.

At the moment though, the vital signs are encouraging.

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