Young 'friendly across religions'
An increasing number of teenagers in Northern Ireland have friendships across the religious divide, a research study has said.
Only a minority of young people have no acquaintances from other religious or ethnic backgrounds, added the university Young Life and Times Survey (YLT).
Dr Paula Devine, from Queen's University, said: "The YLT survey found that friendship patterns among 16-year-olds are wider than ever before, encompassing both religious and ethnic diversity."
They found 12% of young people never socialise with those from a different community and 16% do not associate with other ethnicities.
Dr Devine added: "The comments made by young people in the survey suggest a blurring of the traditional us and them categories. Whether someone is like us or them is not purely based on their religious or ethnic background but on other factors such as personality."
Key findings in the report, No More Us And Them For 16-18-year-olds?, include that cross-community friendship was more common in 2011 than in 2003. In 2011, 22% of YLT respondents had no friends from the other main religious community, compared with 33% in 2003.
It was also found that in 2011, 26% said that all their friends were of the same race or ethnic group, compared with 48% in 2006. This suggests that young people are mixing more with people from different ethnic backgrounds.
Around four in 10 respondents feel favourable towards people from other religious communities or ethnic backgrounds, and around one half feel neither favourable nor unfavourable. There has been little change in these overall attitudes in recent years.
A total of 1,434 teenagers across Northern Ireland completed the survey undertaken by researchers from Queen's University and the University of Ulster. Participants in 2011 are the first born after the 1994 paramilitary ceasefires.
Professor Gillian Robinson, director of the Ark centre at the University of Ulster and report co-author, said: "While the survey shows that an us and them mentality is still evident to some degree, the main finding is that Northern Ireland today is a much more diverse society and 16-year-olds' experiences and views reflect this."