Religious divisions rife in NI

April 16, 2004

Almost half of young people living in Catholic areas and a third from Protestant areas in Northern Ireland have no friends from the other religious community, a poll of more than 900 16-year-olds reveals.

Research by Queen's University Belfast highlights the reality of the lack of contact between Protestant and Catholic youngsters six years after the Good Friday agreement was signed.

The findings underline the increasing extent of de facto segregation in the province, with two-thirds of the teenagers living in either predominantly Protestant or Catholic areas. A third expected community relations to improve in the next five years, and one in eight said they did not identify themselves as belonging to a particular religion.

Some 59 per cent said their religious identity was important (even if they did not go to church), while a similar number said their national identity, British and Irish, was, for the most part, important.

The findings were issued to coincide with community relations week in Northern Ireland, but researchers Paula Devine and Dirk Schubotz emphasised that while many respondents "do not say that they feel favourably towards the other religious community, very few feel overtly negative".

Catholics generally felt more favourable about Protestants (45 per cent) than vice versa (38 per cent). Respondents from the Protestant community were, however, slightly more likely to report having cross-community contact (83 per cent) than Catholics (76 per cent). Young women were more likely to have had cross-community contact (82 per cent) than men (75 per cent).

There were considerable differences between young people with different national identities.

Those who said they were Northern Irish were most confident (42 per cent) that relations between Catholics and Protestants would be better in five years' time. Young people who identified themselves as Irish, British or from Ulster felt that relations would remain about the same.

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