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Civil Service a cold house for Protestants because of bigotry, says Orange Order

By Rebecca Black

Published 24/03/2016

Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge Drew Nelson
Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge Drew Nelson

Many Protestants working for the Northern Ireland Civil Service experience a chill factor, the Orange Order has claimed.

In a report, the institution laid a series of charges against Northern Ireland's biggest employer.

It said Protestants were under-represented in most junior ranks and that the number of Protestant civil servants had dramatically fallen over the last decade.

It also includes 25 statements by Protestant civil servants or retired Protestant civil servants detailing negative experiences in the workplace, particularly at the Social Security Agency (SSA) in Belfast city centre.

The report comes two years after two people at the SSA claimed they had received death threats for wearing poppies at work. In 2013, it was claimed a member of staff there refused to display a poppy box at the reception desk.

Among the report's findings were that Protestants were in the minority in most junior grades, while at the senior level the spread is more equally balanced.

There has also been a significant shift in workforce in the past 13 years. In 2001, there were 98,564 Protestants and 66,288 Catholics in the public sector, while in 2012 it was 93,712 Protestants and 83,416 Catholics.

And more than twice as many Protestants than Catholics left between 2010 and 2012.

The 25 statements detailing negative experiences included claims of "systematic demonisation" in the Civil Service.

One respondent said they had seen a Protestant member of staff bullied at the SSA. "I witnessed a Protestant employee being subjected to sectarian abuse, being ostracised and bullied because of her religion," the witness said.

"Daily jokes were made about 'Prods', staff flaunted clothing in green, white and gold, and tables were compiled and produced to record departmental information in these same three colours."

A woman in the Department of Social Development (DSD) told how the displaying of a poster of a GAA team in an office where Protestants were in the minority made her feel uncomfortable.

"A male colleague objected to the manager of the section about this poster but was told by another colleague not to be sensitive as it was only for a laugh," she said.

"We have a policy in DSD called Dignity at Work that states nothing should be done to make staff feel uncomfortable. Obviously this policy doesn't apply. Nothing was done about this GAA picture."

Another respondent claimed that when some staff "in a mainly Catholic/nationalist office" were being relocated to Lisburn, they "spoke openly of their disgust of having to work in a building that flew the Union flag on designated days". "I found this to be offensive and inappropriate for discussion in the workplace," they said.

"Again, while employed in a mainly Catholic/nationalist staffed office, a disused building had 'Huns out' graffiti scrawled on the wall which was visible to all staff entering the office. No attempt was made to have this graffiti removed."

Another respondent claimed Catholics were more likely to be promoted. "The competitions are steered towards making sure more Catholics get promoted than Protestants," they said. Another person claimed a proposal to back the campaign to free dissident Marian Price was raised during a union meeting.

And a statement from a student considering a career in the Civil Service said they were put off joining due to the negative experiences of friends and relatives.

The Office of the First and Deputy First Minister said: "The Civil Service has policies and processes in place to support staff and for staff to raise concerns. The Civil Service recruits and promotes on merit and is compliant with equality obligations."

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