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Sectarianism alive and well, statistics suggest


Professor John Brewer
Professor John Brewer
Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

Nearly 30% of people in Northern Ireland think public facilities in their areas are not shared and open to both Protestants and Catholics, according to new statistics.

One academic said the figure of 28% pointed to an "enduring problem" in our still divided society.

However, Queen's University Belfast professor John Brewer - an expert in post-conflict studies - also conceded 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 this newspaper yesterday.

"On the one hand, there will be those arguing for equality, having not experienced it.

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 Northern Ireland Life and Times (NILT) survey of 1,200 people, which provides a snapshot of the attitudes of locals towards social 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.

Professor 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," he added.

"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 society. After all, the war is over, in their eyes.

"Unfortunately, these expectations are not being met by the reality of Northern Ireland today."

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 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.

Earlier this year, Ulster University published a report which suggested that the problem of sectarianism "shows no sign of going away".

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