Belfast Telegraph

Sectarian assumptions revealed

Some young people in Northern Ireland identified each other's religion by whether they carried certain shopping bags or went to the cinema on particular nights, research showed.

One of the main youth organisations working in disadvantaged communities has released evidence of the unchallenged assumptions dividing a number of Catholics and Protestants.

Some Catholic children would not wear Reebok trainers because they bore the Union flag. Others believed Protestants carried Tesco bags in Enniskillen in Co Fermanagh on Thursday nights.

Among some Protestant youths in Kilkeel in Co Down the belief was that Catholics went to the now-closed cinema in the town on Tuesday nights, according to a senior figure at the Youth Action Northern Ireland group.

Assistant director Martin McMullan said: "Some young people are not thinking about or questioning the conflict, young people are feeling defeatist about it, 'that is the way it is and there is nothing you can do about it'."

He said some took the long way home when out to avoid mixing with members of the other religion living in clearly delineated areas and added many had a very good idea of the boundaries between Catholic and Protestant-inhabited houses.

He gave an illustration of the level of sectarianism among a representative few.

"In Enniskillen if you carry a Tesco bag on a Thursday you are identified as a Protestant.

"In Kilkeel Catholics went to the cinema on a Tuesday night."

He said those from mixed marriages or who went to religiously-integrated schools were most likely to leave Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland's powersharing government has a programme supported by the Coalition which aims to build a united community through overhauling some of the most deprived areas like north Belfast.

But research for the Commission for Victims and Survivors has illustrated the legacy of decades of violence for thousands affected by the 30-year conflict as well as future generations.

The Troubles are directly associated with nearly half the cases of severe mental health issues in Northern Ireland, research by the Commission revealed. It hosted a conference to discuss its findings.

Piecemeal funding of support organisations will not properly address the impact of the conflict, an expert who helped victims of the Omagh bomb said.

David Bolton runs the Initiative for Conflict Related Trauma and has worked closely with survivors and relatives of the 1998 Real IRA attack which killed 29 people.

He said: "The scale of the task has become clear today, we cannot deliver on the expectations of what we have with piecemeal, short-term funding, we need a very structural funding."

The commission study found that while almost 30% of the population suffered mental health problems, nearly half directly related to the violence. The legacy of the conflict was also connected to suicidal behaviour - which was likely to be transmitted to future generations, it said.

The Stormont House Agreement between the five political parties and the British and Irish governments envisaged a mental trauma service to be established within the NHS but working closely with central government's Victims and Survivors Service.

The accord has been jeopardised by a dispute over welfare reform between the two largest Stormont parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Mr Bolton said: "It is important that the statutory sector recognises that the voluntary sector has special practices that they can tap into.

"We need to think about how we develop policy, that policy needs to be reviewed, we need to be thinking about our new laws and asking are these supporting efforts to rebuild this community and addressing the impact of the Troubles."

John Beggs, secretary to the commission, said it was engaged in the establishment of the regional trauma service and would be working closely with the new head of the Children's Commission.

He said membership numbers of the victims' forum was quite low and they wanted to bring in some younger people to give it a bit of energy.

"We also need to look at how we can build up guidance around how parents and victims and survivors can explain their stories to their kids."

The report made 12 recommendations on policy, services and research to meet the needs of those affected for future support.

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