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Mass cards, GAA talk, mention of child's confirmation and ashes spark fear in Orange Order civil service workers, report claims

By Jonny Bell

Published 23/03/2016

Orange Order Grand Secretary Drew Nelson
Orange Order Grand Secretary Drew Nelson

A report by the Orange Order claims Mass cards, talk of GAA games, mention of a child's confirmation and ashes on people's foreheads sparks fears in the workplace among some of its members in the Civil Service.

The report, 'Fairness and Fear: An Investigation of the treatment of Protestants in the Northern Ireland Civil Service' was produced over a two-year period by the Order after complaints from its members over the years.

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It says complaints include outright discrimination and claims of a prevailing nationalist ethos in some departments.

The information in the report came from responses to Freedom of Information requests and statements made by 25 individual members across five departments.

Grand Secretary of the Orange Lodge, Drew Nelson spoke about the report on the Stephen Nolan radio show on Wednesday morning.

Mr Nelson said those 25 people who contributed were not all members of the Orange Order, but were from the wider Protestant community.

He cited a 2013 government report which found there were 300 less Protestants than Catholics in the civil service, out of a workforce of close to 25,000.

He said: "I know and accept that the civil service has been disproportionately Protestant in the past.

"What we have discovered is there is a long term trend of less and less Protestants and more and more Catholics."

"The two words that came up again and again in our report were 'unfairness and fear' - we only put those words on the report at the end.

"People feel they are treated unfairly and they are fearful and afraid to make a complaint."

Some of the complaints said Roman Catholic members of staff deemed it acceptable to display mass cards at their desks,

"That's the perception of that person," he continued.

"The difficulty here is that it is a display of an item which is associated with one section of the community.

"If one of our members put on their desk an Orange Order sympathy card - which we do sell - they would be pulled up - in fact I have no doubt about they would be pulled up."

Respondents said talk of GAA games was common place on a Monday and this was "unfair".

It said that colleagues often discussed religion, children's confirmations and came into the office with ashes on their forehead

Drew Nelson said this combined created a "cold house" environment and sparked fear among workers that they could be ostracised and victimised.

He said: "The issue is people in the Catholic community feel free to talk about it.

"There is nothing offensive in talking about a child's confirmation.

"A cold house arises when the ethos of conversation becomes overwhelming emanating from one side of the community.

"Our members are telling me that they would be afraid, they would be ostracised, possibly victimised if they went in on a Monday morning and started talking about an Orange Order parade.

"The Orange Order is considered a similar organisation to the GAA and that's the difficulty here.

"This is reflecting the ethos in parts of the civil service, not the whole civil service.

"It creates a cold house."

Mr Nelson also claimed the circulation of an Irish language magazine in the civil service was "a major breach" of the civil service's own dignity at work policy.

"That is material that should not be circulated and our members do not want it," he said.

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