The findings are based on information from the 2007 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey conducted by ARK, a joint research initiative by Queen’s University and the University of Ulster.
The research, which explored the extent to which people feel an attachment or loyalty to national and religious group labels, such as Irish, British, Catholic or Protestant, found that while the national and religious identities that have underpinned difference and division in Northern Ireland still remain, an increasing number of people are moving away from the traditional labels of ‘Irish Catholic’ and ‘British Protestant’.
Professor Orla Muldoon, the author of the report from University of Limerick said: "As you might expect, Catholics in Northern Ireland are more likely to describe themselves as being Irish, while Protestants are more likely to describe themselves as British. Almost two thirds (59 per cent) of those who responded to the survey identified themselves as British Protestants or Irish Catholics.
“There was, however, an increase in the number of people who identified themselves as being ‘Northern Irish’, with around one in four (25 per cent) opting for this label, compared to around one fifth (20 per cent) in previous surveys.
“Within this group, around one third described themselves as being equally British and Irish. They did not see Britishness or Irishness as being mutually exclusive and rejected the notion that these identities are ‘opposites’. This indicates a shift away from the traditional national and religious identities that underpinned the Troubles."
Researchers also presented the 1179 people who took part in the research with emblems or historical images that might be viewed differently by people with different identities, and gauged their responses to these images. Professor Muldoon continued:
“Emotional responses to iconic images, such as flags and emblems, were stronger among respondents with traditional identities. Those who described themselves as Irish Catholic said they were more likely to feel uneasy or annoyed when presented with an image of a Union Jack or a photo of a news presenter wearing a poppy. British Protestants, however, were more uneasy or annoyed when presented with an Irish Tricolour or an Irish language letterhead.
“While this research has confirmed that national and religious identity in Northern Ireland are often interlinked, it has also highlighted that an increasing number of people are moving away from the traditional labels that have for so long been used by the majority of people here to describe themselves. We hope to use the information gathered in future research to establish the extent to which this positive trend will continue."
The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The report, and all the findings from the 2007 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, are available online at www.ark.ac.uk
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