The Community Relations Council 2012 report – some initial comments

Below is the text of an article that appeared in the Belfast Telegraph yesterday (March 1).  It is about the recently-released report on the north by the Community Relations Council.  Underneath it are some initial comments by me, related to the article and report and the implications of its contents for the struggle for human emancipation on the island.

Over the next week, I hope to read the 186-page report and do something more in-depth on it:

Northern Ireland report: Statistically the future is Catholic and female

By Liam Clarke
Thursday, 1 March 2012

Catholic middle classes have been the big winners from the peace process, but they are increasingly comfortable to stay within the union, a new report has concluded.

In a bold statement the author of The Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report has declared: “Statistically the future is Catholic, the future is female.”

The report, issued by the Community Relations Council, is the first major stock-taking of the Northern Ireland peace process 14 years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed and will be seen as a warning for the future prospects of Protestant males.

Yesterday, copies of the 184-page report were given to every MLA at Stormont ahead of today’s official launch.

The report finds that 60% of entrants to higher education are Catholic and 60% are female. The workforce is also becoming increasingly female and Catholic.

It points out the highest achievers in education are Catholic girls who do not qualify for free school meals, more than 74% of them obtain two A-levels. By contrast, just 11% of poorer Protestant boys who qualify for free school meals achieve two A-levels.

The report sees the Catholic middle classes as the big winner from the peace process so far. Their income levels and educational qualifications are now marginally higher than their Protestant counterparts and their numbers look like rising to eventually create a Catholic majority.

Author Dr Paul Nolan said: “Under the age of 35, the majority population is already Catholic. Over the age of 35, the majority population continues to be Protestant but the direction is clear.”

However, he believes that increasing affluence has made middle-class Catholics more content with the status quo.

“They are doing better at school, they are getting better qualifications, they are the majority in the universities and the civil service and there is no sign that this will translate into votes for a united Ireland in a referendum” he said.

He quotes, and largely accepts, last year’s Life and Times Survey which showed 52% of Catholics respondents saying they would prefer to stay in the UK but hardly any prepared to vote for a unionist party.

“Sinn Fein challenged that figure, saying 27% of people voted for them, but you only have to look at Scotland where many more people vote for Alex Salmond, seeing him as a capable politician, than actually want full Scottish independence,” he said.

On present trends Northern Ireland will be characterised by broad support for remaining in the UK amongst both Catholics and Protestants.

However Catholics still continue to vote overwhelmingly for Sinn Fein and the SDLP, as a counterweight to unionism.

“The nature of the settlement works like a see-saw – big parties at either end produce balance,” said Dr Nolan. He is quick to point out that the future is not set in stone and that trends can change, but a direction has been established.

One table taps into various surveys to compare the number of people voting for nationalist parties, with people who considered themselves Irish and wanting a united Ireland.

“The nationalist vote, taking Sinn Fein and the SDLP together, is fairly steady,” he said.  “There was a convergence with people wanting a united Ireland about ten years ago, but now they have separated out. Feeling Irish and wanting a united Ireland both peaked in the Celtic tiger years but once the Irish banking crisis hit in people didn’t identify with Irish unity so strongly but they still continued to vote for the SDLP and Sinn Fein.”

He adds “the contradiction for Sinn Fein is that the more they succeed in terms of the equality agenda the less their followers want a united Ireland”. Each community, he argues, wants a party which will be a strong communal champion.

This continued tribal division, which is still reflected in segregated housing and schooling, carries the seeds of possible conflict in the future. The dissident republicans will continue to try to exploit communal division.

Youth unemployment, at 19%, is also identified as a threat which could lead to violence and provide recruits for paramilitaries if it is not addressed.

1 Middle-class Catholic women, the new elite?
“Statistically the future is Catholic, the future is female” is how Dr Nolan sums up the emerging trend.
Some 60% of entrants to higher education are Catholic and 60% are female and this |is showing through in the |professions. Overall the workforce is becoming increasingly female (52.4% in 2010) and increasingly Catholic.
Women are narrowing the pay gap with men. It is currently 91.9% compared to 80% |previously. However, women |actually earn more per hour than men, but take home pay is lower because more of them are in part time work.
One table shows that 74.2% of Catholic girls who are well enough off not to qualify for schools meals get 2 or more A levels. Educational achievement decreases across the gender, religious and class lines until it bottoms out with poorer |Protestant boys who don’t qualify for free school meals.
Only 11% of this group pass two or more A levels.

2 Crime here is falling, unlike other post-conflict zones
The level of shootings and bombings fell by over a quarter in 2011 compared to 2010 and there was only one death that was attributed to terrorism, the murder of PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr.
Injuries also fell from 116 to 80 and the number of victims of paramilitary assaults was down from 94 to 73.
This is part of a 10-year trend — the number of security-related incidents is now the lowest since records began in 1969.
On the other hand, the police seized more firearms and explosives than 2010.
We also fare well on ordinary crime.
The risk of being a victim of crime here is 14.3% compared to 21.5% in England and Wales.
We are bucking the trend for post-conflict societies. In places like Kosovo, Guatemala and South Africa crime increased following a peace settlement.
Domestic violence also rose in these societies, but here the level is consistently lower than other UK regions.

3 No change to the tradition of voting along tribal lines
Religion still dominates voting behaviour and no significant new party has emerged since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.
Political stability rests on equilibrium between the two tribal blocks — Dr Nolan compares it to two sides of a see-saw in rough balance. The DUP only managed to attract 2% of its transfers from Catholics, and Sinn Fein only got 2.2% of its transfers from Protestants.
Since 1998 the number of peace walls has increased from 22 to 48, or 88, depending on how they are counted. Displaying flags in the marching season has continued and still excites passions. Last year the flying of the Union flag near a Catholic church in Ballyclare led to violence between loyalists and the PSNI, who removed it.
Some 90% of social housing is still segregated and only 6.5% of children attend integrated schools.

5 Political institutions appear secure as consensus grows
We have agreed the rules of the political game.
All five main political parties are now prepared to work within an agreed political framework.
The main features are a power-sharing Assembly, an Irish dimension with cross-|border bodies and acceptance that Irish unity can only come about by consent.
Each of the five main political parties in Northern Ireland emphasises different aspects of the package but none of them are trying to dismantle the package altogether.
Consensus has improved since the 1998 referendum when 29% of the population voted against the Good Friday Agreement and Protestant opinion was only marginally in favour, with 57% voting Yes.
The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey shows that the existing arrangement is the preference of the majority of |respondents, not just as a |temporary solution but as a long-term policy.

6 Dissidents and rogue loyalist hotheads remain a threat
Both dissident republicans and loyalists who have turned to crime look likely to continue to operate.
The dissidents have a far lower capacity than the IRA enjoyed at any point in their campaign but they have no political exit strategy. Their strategy is to show that the Agreement has not brought peace, to drive Catholics out of the police, to gain legitimacy as an unofficial ‘communal police force’ through punishment attacks, to exploit situations of tension like the marching season, to force a return of the British Army and eventually to bomb Britain.
The report notes that their efforts so far have “resulted in an outcome opposite to that intended: instead of disrupting the political accord, the violence has served to consolidate the consensus”.
The report fears the loyalist command structures are “loose and baggy” which may allow younger elements to assert themselves violently, as they did last June in east Belfast.

My comments:

Without wanting to be glib, it makes the need for socialist-republicanism greater than ever.

It’s also an indication of how flexible capitalism can be.  In 1968, when the RUC were batoning peaceful civil rights protesters off the street, who would have recognised that the specifically *Orange* state was not set in stone and could be dumped – although the dumping was also the result of a long (armed) struggle – and replaced by new arrangements which gave full scope for Catholic advancement?

As Marx noted in the Communist Manifesto of the dramatic changes that capitalism can bring about: “All that is solid melts into air”.

The only thing that is not up for being negotiated away is the wage-labour/capital relationship, but that can be protected by any number of different types of political arrangements.  Generally, the preferred political arrangements by the British ruling class, and their cousins in the six counties, are those most likely to create stability.  For a century or more those arrangements were Orange supremacy.  Now, the arrangements are power-sharing, with the opposition being incorporated into a reworked and reformed six-county state.

The trends confirm that SF will be the party of the Catholic section of the six-county population, and it is well on the way to winning over the SDLP’s middle class base.  Who knows, the Shinners could even end up as *the* party of the aspiring bourgeois Catholics – they are already well down that road! – and the SDLP could even end up as the party of the Catholic workers.  I’m not suggesting the latter is on the cards, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility either.  The SDLP may already be marginally to the left of SF in the north on economic issues.

While the Catholic working class haven’t gotten much out of the new dispensation it seems the biggest losers are the Protestant working class.  I don’t feel especially sorry for them – if you follow the British state and your own exploiters what should you expect other than to get screwed over?!

On the other hand, it seems to me to make it more important – and more possible – for socialist-republicans to reach out to Protestant workers.  This can’t be done on a nationalist political basis, any more than it can be done on a gas-and-water socialist basis; but it can be done on a socialist-republican basis as socialist-republicanism is both in their new material interests and is the only stance that is genuinely revolutionary in the Irish context.

The only way a united Ireland makes any sense, especially now, is if it is a socialist united Ireland, or workers’ republic (or whatever the choice of terms might be that reflects the workers taking power nationally – ie across the partition lines of religion and across the partition lines of the border between the six and twenty-six).


See my follow-up iece on socio-economic indicators from the report, here.

See Liam O’Ruairc on the changing nature of six-county society, here.


Posted on March 2, 2012, in Civil rights movement, Democratic rights - general, Economy and workers' resistance, Irish politics today, Political education and theory, Provos - then and now, Repression and resistance in the six counties today, six counties, Unionism, loyalism, sectarianism, Women. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Phil, the tables on pp.110-111 are very interesting
    The section on policing as well

  2. I’ve only had the chance to read the opening pages so far, but it looks very interesting. I see that the median Catholic wage, for instance, is now higher than the median Protestant wage. Also more Catholics than Protestants in the civil service. So we’re dealing with some significant changes since the days of the old ‘Orange State’ and they can’t just be dismissed as cosmetic.

    My view, however, is that the national question remains because the national question is about all-island sovereignty and independence, not the position of Catholics in six counties of Ireland. However, the changes in the six counties do mean different tactics and a different strategy will have to be thought about as to how to advance the national and class question/s.


  3. Agreed.
    Of particular interest are the following charts

    NI economy compared to rest of UK
    Chart 18, p.33

    Breakdown of population by age and religion
    Chart 11, p.30

    Link between religion and national identity
    Chart 153 et 155, p.139

    Religious breakdown of school population
    Chart 14, p.31

    Religious breakdown of higher education
    Chart 109-111, p.107

    Catholics from economically deprived background have one chance out of five to go to university compared to one in ten for a Protestant from similar background

    Demographic, economic and educational breakdown of population by religion
    Charts 121-124, p.111

    Poverty of Protestants and Catholics
    Chart 79, p.89

    Workers by religion 1992-2010
    Chart 115, p.110

    Rate of economic activity by religion 1992-2010
    Chart 116, p.110

    Proportion of Protestants working or economically active 1992-2010
    Chart 117, p.110

    Proportion of Catholics working or economically active 1992-2010
    Chart 118, p.110

    Religious breakdown in term of position
    Chart 119, p.110

    Religious breakdown in terms of economic sector
    Chart 120, p.110

    Rate of economic inactivity by religion
    Chart 128-129, p.111

    Poverty by religion
    Chart 131, p.111

    Position on constitutional future 1999-2011
    Chart 150- 151, p.138

    Growth of nationalist population, but decrease in nationalist votes

    Link between identity, reunification and votes
    Chart 156, p.142

    Proportion of police relative to population in the British isles
    Chart 47, p.57

    Proportion of Catholics and Protestants leaving the police
    Chart 53, p.57

    Proportion of Catholics in the police compared to that in the prisons

  4. Sein Fein Better Not sell us Out on the Good Friday Agreement With Brits

  5. I think they already did. Long ago.

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