Northern Ireland news

Claims of greater loyalist deprivation not supported by statistics

There has been mounting anger within unionism

CLAIMS that young people are being driven to riot due to greater deprivation in Protestant working class areas are not supported by government statistics.

Some loyalists have said in recent days that they have missed out on the gains of peace.

They have spoken about a lack of opportunity in education and employment.

Official figures show that several nationalist/republican and unionist/loyalist areas are similarly deprived.

Nisra's Multiple Deprivation Measures reports examine income, employment, health, education and crime among other factors.

A total of 890 areas across the north are ranked from 1 (most deprived) to 890 (least).

These are also given rankings in different categories including employment and education.

Its most recent report from 2017 lists areas of Strabane, Derry city and north and west Belfast as being the most deprived.

The most serious trouble last Friday was at the north Belfast interface between the loyalist Tiger's Bay and nationalist New Lodge.

Nisra figures show the New Lodge 1 ward is the 7th most deprived area in the north while the Duncairn ward, where Tiger's Bay is situated, is 49th.

New Lodge 1 is also the worst-off in terms of employment, while Duncairn is ranked 106.

The New Lodge 3 area, which takes in parts of Duncairn Gardens, is the most deprived in education, skills and training.

On either side of the Lanark Way peaceline in west Belfast, the situation is reversed.

The Shankill 1 area is ranked 28th overall and 7th in education, while Clonard 1 is 50th overall and 101st on the education table.

It has been suggested on several occasions that Protestant working class boys do worse at school.

Academics, politicians as well as bodies including the Equality Commission and Community Relations Council have all examined the issue. Little progress has been made, however.

A study in 2014 noted that Protestant boys in receipt of free school meals were close to the very bottom in terms of exam achievement. Only Roma and Traveller children got poorer results.

The actual attainment gap between Catholics and Protestants is quite small. In addition, Catholic children form the overwhelming majority of all those entitled to free school meals failing to obtain five or more GCSEs.

Professor Tony Gallagher from Queen's University Belfast said the `social gradient' of disadvantage in education placed Protestant boys from poorer households in the lowest performance position.

"But of all the background factors influencing performance, religion is much less important than gender, which is in turn much less important than social disadvantage," he added.

"In other words, educational underachievement alone cannot explain the motivation for recent events, even if the debilitating effects of poverty encourage a limited sense of hope for the future. However, combine this with fiery political rhetoric that all you hold dear is about to be removed, or debased, then this might provide a motive for action by some."

Primary school principal and political commentator Chris Donnelly said every piece of objective research conducted into relative poverty levels confirmed that working-class Catholic communities continued to predominate the most deprived areas across the north.

Similarly, year after year, it remained the case that a greater number of poor Catholic boys and girls than their Protestant counterparts leave school without basic academic qualifications, he said.

"This is beyond dispute. That is not to diminish the reality of educational underachievement amongst working class Protestant boys, who in percentage terms perform more poorly than Catholic boys. Rather it is merely to put an appropriately factual context to a narrative which, too often, ignores the stubborn and stark reality of greater Catholic inequalities in Northern Ireland," he added.

"Given these realities, it is not surprising that, just last year, it was publicly revealed that there were twice as many children from Catholic than Protestant backgrounds who had spent time in the Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre in Bangor over the previous five years."

Mr Donnelly said there was no question that disillusionment and alienation from politics could more readily translate into street violence and paramilitary activity in working class districts than more affluent regions, be they republican communities in Derry or loyalist areas of Belfast.

"But the recurring pattern of street level loyalist disorder from Drumcree through to the flags protests and most recent episodes has not been reciprocated in intensity within and across working class Catholic areas precisely because of the pivotal roles played by political and community leaders within these areas over many years.," he said.

"That continues to be the decisive difference."

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