Segregation in Northern Ireland

Segregation in Northern Ireland

Segregation in Northern Ireland is a long-running issue in the political and social history of the province. It often been regarded as both a cause and effect of The Troubles between the Roman Catholic and Protestant populations of Northern Ireland.

A combination of political, religious and social differences plus the threat of intercommunal tensions and violence has led to widespread self-segregation of the two communities. Catholics and Protestants lead largely separate lives in a situation that some have dubbed "self-imposed apartheid"." [,2763,1191027,00.html Self-imposed Apartheid] ", by Mary O'Hara, published in "The Guardian" on Wednesday April 14, 2004. Accessed on Sunday, July 22nd, 2007.] The academic John Whyte argued that "the two factors which do most to divide Protestants as a whole from Catholics as a whole are endogamy and separate education". [John Whyte (1990) "Interpreting Northern Ireland", Oxford: Clarendon Press, p. 48]

Historical background

Norman control of Ireland ca. 1300.

Soon after they had conquered Britain, the Normans invaded Ireland. Gaelic lords gradually regained control of the island, until the English Crown's influence was limited to the Pale by the 15th century. The Reformation marked a watershed in the history of the British Isles as the Irish remained Roman Catholic and Henry VIII initiated the Tudor Reconquest of Ireland.

A final part of that century-long struggle was the Nine Years War (1594-1603), after which the defeated earls' lands were confiscated and given to settlers, in the Plantation of Ulster. Most of the planters came from south-west Scotland and became the Scots-Irish. Several others were to follow as attempts to convert the Irish failed, but the plantation of Ulster was to be the largest.

The Plantations had a profound impact on Ireland in several ways. The first was the destruction of the native ruling classes and their replacement by the Protestant Ascendancy, of British (mostly English) Protestant landowners. Their position was buttressed by the Penal Laws, which denied political and land-owning rights to Catholics and to some extent to Presbyterians. The dominance of this class in Irish life persisted until the late 19th century and cemented the British control over the country.

During the 17th and 18th century, it was troubled by revolts and civil wars, such as the Rebellions of 1641 and of 1798. In 1801, Ireland became a part of the United Kingdom through the Act of Union.

The following century saw an ever-increasing Irish nationalism, which in turn lead to a resurgence of interest in the Irish language, literature, history, and folklore; by that time Gaelic had died out as a spoken tongue except in isolated rural areas.

As a result of the Anglo-Irish Treaty ending the Irish War of Independence, six of Ulster's nine counties were formed into Northern Ireland with a Protestant majority.

Political discrimination

Unionist political parties, supported largely by Protestants, governed the province from its creation in 1921 through to the imposition of direct rule in the 1970s. The large Catholic minority - about 30-40% of the population during that period - faced widespread discrimination and political marginalisation.

Under successive Unionist Prime Ministers from Sir James Craig (later Lord Craigavon) onwards, the unionist establishment practised what is generally considered a policy of discrimination against the nationalist/Catholic minority.

A pattern of discrimination was established in the case of local government, where gerrymandered ward boundaries rigged local government elections to ensure unionist control of local councils with nationalist majorities. In a number of cases, most prominently those of the Corporation of Londonderry, Omagh Urban District, and Fermanagh County Council, ward boundaries were drawn to place as many Catholics as possible into wards with overwhelming nationalist majorities while other wards were created where unionists had small but secure majorities, maximising unionist representation. This process was greatly facilitated by the use of bloc voting to elect local councillors in most areas outside Belfast.

Voting arrangements which gave commercial companies votes and restricted the vote to property owners, primary tenants and their spouses also helped achieve similar ends. Disputes over local government gerrymandering were a central issue for the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in the 1960s.


Education in Northern Ireland is heavily segregated. Most state schools in Northern Ireland are predominantly Protestant, while the majority of Catholic children attend schools maintained by the Catholic Church. In all, 90 per cent of children in Northern Ireland still go to separate faith schools. [Lord Baker of Dorking, Daily Hansard, 18 July 2006 : Column 1189 [] , retrieved 22 July 2007] The consequence is, as one commentator has put it, that "the overwhelming majority of Ulster's children can go from four to 18 without having a serious conversation with a member of a rival creed." " [,,2078654,00.html Stop this Drift into Educational Apartheid] ", by Nick Cohen. Published in "The Guardian" on Sunday May 13, 2007. Accessed on July 22nd, 2007.] The prevalence of segregated education has been cited as a major factor in maintaining endogamy (marriage within one's own group) [Michael P. Hornsby-Smith, "Roman Catholics in England: Studies in Social Structure since the Second World War". Cambridge University Press, 1987. ISBN 0521303133] However, the Integrated Education movement has sought to reverse this trend by establishing non-denominational schools such as the Portadown Integrated Primary. Such schools are, however, still the exception to the general trend of segregated education.


Historically, employment in the Northern Irish economy was highly segregated, particularly at senior levels of the public sector and in certain sectors of the economy, such as shipbuilding and heavy engineering "Northern Ireland," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2007] . Emigration to seek employment was significantly more prevalent among the Catholic population. As a result, Northern Ireland's demography shifted further in favour of Protestants leaving their ascendancy seemingly impregnable by the late 1950s.

A 1987 survey found that 80 per cent of the workforces surveyed were described by respondents as consisting of a majority of one denomination; 20 per cent were overwhelmingly unidenominational, with 95-100 per cent Catholic or Protestant employees. However, large organisations were much less likely to be segregated, and the level of segregation has decreased over the years.Claire Mitchell, "Religion, Identity And Politics in Northern Ireland: Boundaries of Belonging and Belief", p. 63. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd, 2006. ISBN 0754641554]

The British government has introduced numerous laws and regulations since the mid-1990s to prohibit discrimination on religious grounds, with the Fair Employment Commission (originally the Fair Employment Agency) exercising statutory powers to investigate allegations of discriminatory practices in Northern Ireland business and organisations. This has had a significant impact on the level of segregation in the workplace; John Whyte concludes that the result is that "segregation at work is one of the least acute forms of segregation in Northern Ireland." [John Whyte, "Interpreting Northern Ireland", p. 37. Clarendon Press, 1990. ISBN 0198278489]


Public housing is overwhelmingly segregated between the two communities. Intercommunal tensions have forced substantial numbers of people to move from mixed areas into areas inhabited exclusively by one denomination, thus increasing the degree of polarisation and segregation. The extent of self-segregation grew very rapidly with the outbreak of the Troubles. In 1969, 69 per cent of Protestants and 56 per cent of Catholics lived in streets where they were in their own majority; as the result of large-scale flight from mixed areas between 1969 and 1971 following outbreaks of violence, the respective proportions had by 1972 increased to 99 per cent of Protestants and 75 per cent of Catholics. [Frank Wright, "Northern Ireland: A Comparative Analysis", p. 205. Rowman & Littlefield, 1988. ISBN 0717114287] In Belfast, the 1970s were a time of rising residential segregation. [Paul Doherty and Michael A. Poole (1997) [ Ethnic residential segregation in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1971-1991] , "Geographical Review" 87(4), pp. 520-536] It was estimated in 2004 that 92.5% of public housing in Northern Ireland was divided along religious lines, with the figure rising to 98% in Belfast." [,2763,1191027,00.html Self-imposed Apartheid] ", by Mary O'Hara, published in "The Guardian" on Wednesday April 14, 2004. Accessed on Sunday, July 22nd, 2007.] Self-segregation is a continuing process, despite the Northern Ireland peace process. It was estimated in 2005 that more than 1,400 people a year were being forced to move as a consequence of intimidation. [Neil Jarman, Institute for Conflict Research, March 2005]

In response to intercommunal violence, the British Army constructed a number of high walls euphemistically called "peace lines" to separate rival neighbourhoods. These have multiplied over the years and now number forty separate barriers, mostly located in Belfast. Despite the moves towards peace between Northern Ireland's political parties and most of its paramilitary groups, the construction of "peace lines" has actually increased during the ongoing peace process; the number of "peace lines" doubled in the ten years between 1995 and 2005.New Statesman, 28 November 2005, [] retrieved 22 July 2007]

The effective segregation of the two communities significantly affects the usage of local services in "interface areas" where sectarian neighbourhoods adjoin. Surveys in 2005 of 9,000 residents of interface areas found that 75% refused to use the closest facilities because of location, while 82% routinely travelled to "safer" areas to access facilities even if the journey time was longer. 60% refused to shop in areas dominated by the other community, with many fearing ostracism by their own community if they violated an unofficial "de facto" boycott of their sectarian opposite numbers.


In contrast with both the Republic of Ireland and most parts of Great Britain, where intermarriage between Protestants and Catholics is common, intermarriage in Northern Ireland is rare. From 1970 through to the 1990s, only 5 per cent of marriages were recorded as crossing community divides. [Edward Moxon-Browne, 1991, " [ National Identity in Northern Ireland] ", in Peter Stringer and Gillian Robinson (eds.), 1991, Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland: The First Report, Blackstaff Press: Belfast] This figure remained largely constant throughout the Troubles, though it has risen to between 8 and 12 per cent according to the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey in 2003, 2004 and 2005. [ARK, [ If married or living as married...Is your husband/wife/partner the same religion as you? 2003] ] [ARK, [ If married or living as married...Is your husband/wife/partner the same religion as you? 2004] ] [ARK, [ If married or living as married...Is your husband/wife/partner the same religion as you? 2005] ] Younger people are also more likely to be married to someone of a different religion to themselves than older people. However, the data hide considerable regional variation across Northern Ireland. [Valerie Morgan, Marie Smyth, Gillian Robinson and Grace Fraser (1996), " [ Mixed Marriages in Northern Ireland] ", Coleraine: University of Ulster]

External links

Anti-discrimination legislation

From 1970 onwards, the British government took repeated action to legislate against discrimination in Northern Ireland. It passed a series of statutes aimed at prohibiting discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of religion. This resulted in the curious anomaly of people in Northern Ireland being protected against religious discrimination, while people in the mainland had no such protection.

The main pieces of equality legislation in Northern Ireland are:
* [ Equal Pay Act (Northern Ireland) 1970] *
* [ Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976] *
* [ Disability Discrimination Act 1995] *
* [ Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997] *
* [ Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998] *
* [ Northern Ireland Act 1998]
* [ Equality (Disability, etc.) (Northern Ireland) Order 2000]
* [ Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003]
* [ Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Order 2005]
* [ Disability Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 2006]
* [ Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006]
* [ The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006]

* "As amended." [" [ Equality Law] ", Equality Commission Northern Ireland]


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