Belfast Telegraph

Facilities not 'shared and open' to both Protestants and Catholics, say 28% of Northern Ireland public


Professor John Brewer said the 28% figure points to an
Professor John Brewer said the 28% figure points to an "enduring problem" in Northern Ireland
Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

Some 28% of people in Northern Ireland think facilities in their area are not “shared and open” to both Protestants and Catholics, according to new statistics.

One academic said the figure pointed to an “enduring problem” in Northern Ireland society.

Queen’s University academic John Brewer, a professor in post-conflict studies, said it was to be commended that three-quarters of people felt facilities were shared and open to both religions.

“I think this 28% will be made up of two kinds of people,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“On the one hand there will be those arguing for equality having not experienced it, while on the other hand there will be those who don’t want equality and are quite happy with having swimming pools, libraries and parks just for ‘their people’.”

The figures are contained in a 2018 Northern Ireland Life and Times (NILT) survey of 1,200 people. The report provides a snapshot of the attitudes and beliefs of people in Northern Ireland on a range of societal issues.

Slightly more Protestants (74%) than Catholics (71%) felt facilities such as leisure centres, parks and libraries in their community were “shared and open”.

Almost two-thirds (67%) of those between the ages of 25 and 34 thought facilities were shared, while 75% of those aged between 35 and 49 thought it the case they welcomed both traditions.

John Brewer said the figures did not reveal the underlying reasons behind those beliefs.

“It is surprising that younger people, those aged 25 to 34, reported feeling the most inequality. You would think that, having not really experienced the worst of the Troubles, they would feel things are better. It is a puzzle.

“What I suspect is that this is down to expectations. Having been born after the Good Friday Agreement or just before it, younger people have an expectation of an equal and shared society, after all the war is over, in their eyes.

“Unfortunately these expectations are not being met by the reality of Northern Ireland today.”

On the one hand will be those arguing for equality having not experienced it, while on the other hand will be those who don't want equality and are quite happy with having swimming pools, libraries and parks just for 'their people'. Professor John Brewer

Published each year, the main purpose of the NILT survey is to monitor the progress of Stormont’s Together: Building a United Community strategy, which was published in 2013.

The strategy seeks to build a shared society in Northern Ireland and improve community relations through a range of housing, education and cultural initiatives.

It also aims to tackle issues such as flags, community tensions and the removal of interface barriers, so-called ‘peace walls’.

When compared to the 2015 NILT survey, the new figures show an increase of 7% in the number of males (74%) who believe facilities in their area are shared and open, and an identical increase in the number of Catholics who believe this is the case.

Martin McDonald, chair of the Community Relations Council, said everyone in Northern Ireland has a responsibility to effect a "major cultural change on how we value good relations and sharing spaces".

"It is a precious gift to be valued and sustained. It is not just the groups we fund who can effect positive change. We all must play our part in our everyday actions and habits," he said.

"The extraordinary efforts made by groups and agencies working to develop good relations should be built upon by the ordinary daily behaviour of us all."

Earlier this year, Ulster University published a report entitled: Sectarianism in Northern Ireland: A Review, which stated the problem “shows no sign of going away”.

The report, compiled by Professor Duncan Morrow and members of the Sir George Quigley Fund Committee, said sectarianism was about more than just religion, but rather an “inter-group struggle for power, in which religion and politics have played a consistent part”.

It recommended a series of measures to tackle the problem, including the introduction of a “shared education” curriculum, a shared sports anthem for Northern Ireland and the establishment of a dedicated government department to tackle sectarianism.

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