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Sectarianism still prevalent in segregated communities

New research by Queen’s University has highlighted the prevalence of segregation and sectarianism amongst young people in some of Northern Ireland’s most deprived communities.

The Facts, Fears and Feelings project explores the impact of sectarianism in everyday life for over 100 young people aged 16-35, in some of the most segregated communities in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry.

Through their involvement in the study, some of the young people went on to develop the Cut It Out! Stand Together Against Sectarianism campaign. This unique initiative involved the distribution of over 3,000 badges and ads on over 50 cross-town buses in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry, asking people to take a stand against sectarianism.

Dr Rosellen Roche, a social anthropologist from Queen’s School of History and Anthropology, conducted the research and headed the project. Dr Roche said: “This report discusses in detail the attitudes and experiences of young people living in deprived and segregated areas in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry. The young people involved, who are mostly out-of-school, seeking work and attempting to gain qualifications, represent a contingent that can often be ignored in research.

"This study does not claim to represent feelings in Northern Ireland as a whole, nor does it present a ‘cure’ for sectarianism and segregation. It does, however, illustrate how personalised sectarianism can be, how it can seep down through generations and how young people, like those involved in this project, are grappling with it in contemporary, post-Agreement Northern Ireland.”

The research involved young people in areas such as New Lodge and Glenbryn in Belfast, and the Fountain and Creggan in Derry/Londonderry.

The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley, said: “Northern Ireland has been shaped and defined by a long history of conflict. Our children have suffered the effects and consequences in many ways.

“The impact of the conflict on Northern Ireland’s children has not yet been fully acknowledged. It is, however, widely recognized that more than a generation of our young people have been directly and indirectly exposed to sectarianism, violence, conflict and hostility. I hope this study goes a long way to identifying how we, as a society, can address these issues.”

The key findings in the research are:

• Two thirds of young people in the study discussed their hopes for a better, more integrated Northern Ireland.

• One out of four have maintained meaningful cross-community relationships.

• Almost two thirds were so isolated from the other community that they felt completely untouched by sectarianism. This is expressed in the findings as living in a type of 'cocoon'.

• Three out of four expressed fear of the other community or of entering areas where people from the other tradition live.

• One third have been involved in violent skirmishes.

• One third talked about their parents or grandparents having negative views of the other community.

Dr Roche continued: “Almost two thirds of the young people we worked with were so isolated from the other community that they actually felt completely untouched by sectarianism. It was only when this was discussed that they began to realise how isolated they were. They live in a kind of 'cocoon' within their own communities, with little reason for mixing or mingling across the divide.

"Friendships were almost exclusively maintained within their own areas and, worryingly, camaraderie was sometimes expressed through violent means, such as rioting and street fighting. All participants discussed these fights and approximately one third of our participants were involved in violent skirmishes as a victim, perpetrator or both.

Family and Community Influences
“Parents and grandparents have a strong influence over the young people’s opinions and prejudices. One third of participants talked openly about their parents or grandparents having negative views of the other community. They often excused this on the basis that they consider their elders to be victims of conflict, who are therefore entitled to be prejudiced.

"Community influences also held sway over young people involved in the study. Fears or concerns of disapproval regarding cross-community relationships or friendships were important.

Cross-community friendships
“While many of the young people we spoke to discussed having had some limited contact with people from another tradition, usually through cross-community projects at school, only one quarter had maintained any lasting or meaningful relationships.

“Many of the young people who have maintained cross-community relationships do so through texting and social networking websites, which allow them to chat freely with friends from other areas. The friendship-building potential of this technology should be harnessed to promote integration.

Stand Together Campaign
“While the prevalence of segregation and sectarianism in these areas is worrying, many of the young people in the study recognised that this should not be the norm. Two out of three discussed their hopes for a ‘better’ Northern Ireland, where they could mix more freely with people from other traditions. Some of the participants were so keen to see this happen that they developed the Cut It Out! Stand Together Against Sectarianism campaign.

“While Northern Ireland is en route for positive change, this study shows that division, segregation and sectarianism are still prevalent in the lives of many young people in urban areas.

“How Northern Ireland tackles these issues in the coming decades will set the bar for other societies seeking peaceful resolutions to conflict. As academics, policy makers, volunteers and political leaders, it is our job to listen to the young people, to gage what really should be done and to help to put community mechanisms in place that will mix young people consistently across the divide.”

The research was conducted by the School of History and Anthropology at Queen’s and was funded by the European Union’s Programme for Peace and Reconciliation, as administered by the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council.


1. The Facts, Fears and Feelings project involved over 130 people aged 16-35 in areas of Belfast and Derry/Londonderry who were out-of-school, seeking work and attempting to gain qualification. 111 young people were involved in detailed conversations with the researcher. With approximately 25 per cent of young people aged 19 in Northern Ireland lacking basic qualifications, and with this number remaining basically the same over a decade, this is an important cohort to work with. The areas involved in the research are listed on page 26 of the report.

2. This research was carried out using ethnographic methods. Young people were involved in detailed conversations about their lifeways and how sectarianism affects their lives. Individual and group discussions took a semi-structured approach. In addition, a selection of questions on the topic of 'community relations' and sectarianism were asked of all participants, allowing for some comparative and cumulative detail in the findings.

Lisa Mitchell | alfa
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