‘Northern Irish’ gets ‘yes’ vote from Ulster’s Nationalist and Loyalist youths
by Lise McGREEVY for Northern Ireland Foundation
11 December 2013
Against the backdrop of rioting, flag disputes, parades and violence of 2012/13, Ulster youths from both nationalist and loyalist areas now identify themselves as ‘Northern Irish … so they don’t have to associate with taking sides’. This is according to Catherine Morgan, Youth Action NI, who was responding to survey data included in the briefing paper, ‘The Long View of Community Relations in Northern Ireland: 1989-2912’, which was debated in Belfast last week.
“A lot of young people I have worked with describe themselves as Northern Irish, and have explained to me that it means they don’t have to associate with taking sides. It takes away the controversy. Although this might be less apparent if you asked for them to identify a flag that represented them,” said Catherine, who works directly with youths aged 16-25 years, from across the political divide, throughout Ireland (North and South).
“The cultural and political unrest of 2012 and 2013 has been the most difficult period of my years working in peace building with young people. Young people have grown up in segregation; it has been normal and remains unquestioned. There is an inherent suspicion and fear of ‘the other’,” Catherine added.
Surveys in Northern Ireland have been monitoring changing attitudes to equality issues and relations between the two major ethno-religious groups, during periods of conflict, peace-building and devolution, via the Northern Ireland Social Attitudes Survey (NISA) (1989-1996) and the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey (NILT) (1998-2011).
Yet Protestants and Catholics communities in Northern Ireland are not monolithic groups, and it was deemed important enough to pursue a further investigation of the annual surveys of the past 23 years.
The research paper, ‘The Long View of Community Relations in Northern Ireland: 1989-2012’, by Duncan Morrow, Gillian Robinson and Lizanne Dowds, was funded by the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.
‘The Long View’ pulled out individual stories of sections of the population over those two decades, as well as providing evidence-based recommendations for future community relations policy. It backs the view that many young people are particularly vulnerable to a rise in fear and antagonism.
Although there has been much more frustration with progress towards peace, Catherine agrees with the report’s positive statistics, which state that young people here want to move forward and work towards a more inclusive society.
According to the briefing paper, for over two decades young people have proved more responsive to changes than adults — latest figures for 2012 revealed that the percentage of young Catholics saying that they would prefer to live in a mixed-religion neighbourhood is over 60%, and for young Protestants the figure is nearer 70%.
The paper’s co-writer, Duncan Morrow, said, “This suggests that the obstacles lie in real fears and the risks which some young people run in relation to violence.”
Catherine said, “The young people that I have worked with are generally very open to learning and are happy with the idea of mixing and sharing with others, as long as it is in a safe environment. We need to switch our young people on to politics, listen to them and give them more of a say in the future policy-making procedures. Otherwise in 30 years from now there will be a new generation of young people still living segregated lives – and still thinking that this is the norm.”
Official press statement by Duncan Morrow for University of Ulster: http://news.ulster.ac.uk/releases/2013/7196.html
ARK Research Update: http://www.ark.ac.uk/publications/updates/update87.pdf
Event presentation slides by Duncan Morrow for University of Ulster: http://www.ark.ac.uk/events/longview.pdf
‘The Long View’ full research report (10MB): http://www.ark.ac.uk/pdfs/Researchreports/Longview.pdf