Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Why is it ok to have such contempt for Protestants?

This paper is, this week, running an important series focusing on Protestant working class areas and why so many of the good and decent people who live there feel alienated and left behind by 'the process'.

This is the background I come from, these are people I understand and their feeling of being let down and traduced by their leaders is something I've written about many times.

True, many of the problems working class unionists face are no different than those faced by working class people in say, the north of England or in nationalist working class areas of Northern Ireland. Deprivation and disadvantage are not exclusive.

What is different is how contemptuous - sometimes, granted, inadvertently contemptuous - so many commentators are about the Protestant poor.

There is, for example, a trite, simplistic analysis that hinges on the theory that, because the likes of the shipyard employed Protestants, Protestants didn't feel they had a need for education. (The shipyard didn't employ that many people. The work was hard graft, demanding and poorly paid. Career Utopia it wasn't.)

And the phrase now routinely parroted is that "Protestant working class parents don't value education". I cannot imagine that being said about any other group of people without it, quite rightly, causing uproar. It is a nasty, unfair slur. The Protestant working class values education every bit as much as any other section of our society. But the obstacles facing the poor have, if anything, intensified in recent years.

The reasons behind educational under-achievement are certainly a bit more complex than an entire community deciding university's not for the likes of us. Where are the politicians who should be spelling this out, fighting the corner for those parents who - like parents everywhere - just want the best for their children?

The problem is not that the Protestant working class have no aspirations. It's that all too often, they have no voice.

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