Ulster University

Life and Times Survey Shows Negative Impact of Flags Protest on Community Relations

The results of the 2013 Northern Ireland Life and Times survey (NILT) conducted by ARK found that only 45 per cent of those surveyed thought that relations between Protestants and Catholics are better now than five years ago. This has fallen from the 62 per cent recorded by the survey in 2010.

The survey also found evidence of increasing levels of annoyance within both Catholic and Protestant communities regarding displays of identity such as flags, kerb painting and murals.

Professor Gillian Robinson, Director of ARK at the University of Ulster said: “This annual survey carried out by both universities is a leading, local and internationally respected source of information on changing public attitudes towards a wide range of social issues including community relations. The 2013 survey has revealed a number of interesting statistics.”

Opinions surveyed on the flying of the Union flag on public buildings show the Protestant community marginally in favour of designated days only (48 per cent). However 44 per cent of Protestants believe that the flag should be flown all year round. Although this is a minority view it runs consistently throughout the Protestant community and for those under 35 years rises to 61 per cent.

59 per cent of Catholics believe that the Union flag should be flown only on designated days from public buildings while just over a quarter (28 per cent) of Catholics believe it should not be flown from public buildings at all.

Both the Catholic and Protestant communities report more murals, kerb painting and flags on display than five years ago and they indicate increasing levels of annoyance with regard to these markers of identity.

Grainne Kelly from INCORE, a leading researcher on community relations, said: “The findings are concerning for community relations and demonstrate that the recent unrest has had a negative impact far beyond people’s attitudes to, and tolerance of, markers of identity from each community.

“In the context of the forthcoming introduction of eleven new super councils with increased decision making powers and the 2016 Northern Ireland Assembly elections, it remains to be seen how these polarised positions can be reconciled.”

The NILT Survey is an annual survey conducted by ARK at the University of Ulster and Queen's University Belfast. It records public attitudes to a wide range of social issues.

1,210 people across Northern Ireland took part in the 2013 survey which aims to provide a regular insight into the changing nature of Northern Ireland society.

Key findings of the 2013 survey:

In 2013, 27 per cent of Protestant respondents thought there were more Republican murals and flags on display than there were five years ago. This figure is up eleven percentage points on 2012. Two out of five respondents (40 per cent) thought there were more Loyalist murals and flags on display than five years previously. This figure has more than doubled since 2012. The most popular view among both Protestants (48 per cent) and Catholics (59 per cent) is that the Union flag should be flown on designated days only from all public buildings. There is some evidence of increased annoyance towards Republican markers of identity within the Protestant community in 2012 and 2013. There is clear evidence of increased annoyance towards Loyalist displays of identity within the Catholic community, from 27 per cent in 2011, to 33 per cent in 2012, and 38 per cent in 2013. Sixty one per cent of young Protestants believe that the Union flag should be flown year round on public buildings. 44 per cent of Protestants believe that the Union flag should be flown year round and although this is a minority view it runs consistently throughout the Protestant community. Just over a quarter (28%) of Catholics believe that the Union flag should not be flown at all from public buildings.
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