Flag row hurts community relations
Published 23/05/2013 | 12:39
Community relations among teenagers in Northern Ireland were badly damaged by the Union flag crisis, sociologists have said.
The controversy created by the sectarian strife has resulted in an 11% drop in the number of 16-year-olds who believe that relations between Protestants and Catholics were better now than five years ago.
And, less than half (45%) felt the situation was likely improve in five years' time.
"The slight downturn in the perception of cross-community relations shown by the 2012 survey results is not unexpected, given the tension surrounding the flag protests, and it serves to highlight the vulnerability of the peace process," said Dr Dirk Schubotz from Queen's School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work.
Hundreds of loyalists took to the streets to protest against a decision by Belfast City Council to limit the number of days they fly the Union flag over City Hall. Some of the demonstrations escalated into disorder during which more than 100 police officers were injured.
The findings are included in the Young Life and Times (YLT) survey which was published by Queen's University and the University of Ulster as part of Community Relations Week. It also came as the First and Deputy First Ministers prepared to unveil plans for a shared future.
"On a positive note, the survey also shows that education programmes implemented in schools to encourage better understanding among young people from different backgrounds, have a positive influence on those who participate," added Dr Schubotz.
Researchers quizzed 1,210 young people aged 16 across Northern Ireland throughout November and December last year - at the height of the flag dispute.
They found that three in four teenagers believed religion would always influence how people in Northern Ireland felt about each other.
Around 70% of the teenagers had interacted with young people from across the religious divide through schools or youth groups but the study highlighted a diverse attitude towards more sharing in schools with 39% against the idea.