Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Protestant alienation runs deep

It is in the nature of young people to be dissatisfied with what society has to offer them. Nothing can ever quite match their ideals of how the world should be run. Nevertheless, the opinions expressed by 16- to 24-year-olds in our poll published today should give us cause for concern.

This is the generation we should expect to benefit most from the peace process. They are far enough removed from the horrors of the Troubles so that violence should not colour their opinions and live in a province which has a potential for real and lasting peace.

But these young people, especially young Protestants, do not quite see things that way. A significant number of the Protestant youth – who cover all social and educational strata – are scathing in their criticism of their politicians, reflecting the general political malaise in the Protestant/unionist community.

They also feel that Catholics/nationalists have benefited most from the peace process. That feeling may well be underscored by the fact that more young Catholics feel better about the province and their politicians.

Of course, Catholics/nationalists, at least on an emotional level, feel the peace process has delivered more for them.

They see Sinn Fein as having a pivotal role in the political life of the province after generations of unionist or Westminster rule. The percentage of young Protestants out of work is higher than for Catholics – although the numbers are lower since there are more Catholics in this age bracket, again creating a feeling of alienation.

The young Protestants' views, to an extent, follow the narrative created by their politicians, who bemoan the lack of investment in unionist areas or the lack of educational achievement by young Protestant boys, but without accepting any responsibility for such outcomes.

It is clear that young Protestants need greater encouragement to see Northern Ireland in a positive light. Greater emphasis on job creation, more encouragement to work hard at school and positive cross-community co-operation to build a shared future are among the steps required, not just by politicians but also by parents and successful role models.

Perhaps that can create a change of mind.

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