Sectarian divisions among North's children, says survey

Protestant and Catholic children in the North are living parallel and separate lives divided along sectarian lines 10 years on from the second IRA ceasefire, a survey confirmed today.

A poll of 667 children chosen randomly from 35 schools across the North showed Protestants were more likely to define themselves as British and Catholics more likely to see themselves as Irish.

Encouragingly however, around half of Catholic children and around half of Protestants were happy to be labelled as "Northern Irish".

Catholic children were also four times more likely to name Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams as a politician they knew than Protestants, who were three times more likely than Catholics to name Stormont First Minister and DUP leader Ian Paisley.

The survey also revealed Catholic boys were four times more likely to say they would befriend a child pictured in a Glasgow Celtic shirt than Protestants.

Protestant boys were three time more likely than Catholics when the same test was applied of child wearing Glasgow Rangers shirt.

The survey revealed:

* More than four-fifths of Protestant children (84%) believed Belfast was the capital of their country compared to 39% of Catholics. Less than half of Catholic children (47%) said Dublin was their capital compared to just 4% of Protestants.

* Catholic children (51%) were five times more likely to see themselves as Irish compared to Protestant children (10%). Protestant children were nearly four times more likely to see themselves as British (58%) compared to Catholic children (15%).

* However when children were asked if they were "Northern Irish", there were roughly similar results - 53% of Catholics said they were and 49% of Protestants.

* A third of Protestant boys (33%) were likely to choose a photograph of a child wearing a Rangers football shirt first as their friend compared to Catholic boys (11%). Almost two-fifths of Catholic boys (39%) chose a photograph of a child wearing a Celtic shirt as their friend compared to just 9% of Protestant boys.

* Protestant children (39%) were twice as likely to say they played hockey 'a lot' compared to Catholic children (18%) who were much more likely to say they played the Gaelic sports 'a lot' than Protestants (35% compared to 6%).

The survey also revealed that the socio-economic background of children did not effect their attitudes, with children from more deprived areas as likely as those from more affluent backgrounds to express the same views.

Boys, however, were much more likely to want to play with children from their own community and to have negative attitudes to those from the other community than girls.

Queen's University, Belfast academic Professor Paul Connolly, who designed and carried out the survey for BBC Northern Ireland's 'State of Minds' programme, said the survey showed segregation ran deep in the province with many Catholic and Protestant children tending to live parallel and separate lives.

"Our research raises fundamental questions for us as a society in terms of how we should deal with the segregation that exists," he said.

"My own view is that we shouldn't be forcing children to be the same. Children should be encouraged to have a strong sense of their own culture and identity.

"The challenge, however, is how this can be done in a positive and inclusive way?

"One way of doing this is to encourage children's sense of being Protestant or Catholic alongside also helping them to recognise that they are all part of a wider and shared identity as Northern Irish.

"Perhaps the most positive finding from our research is that many children are already beginning to think in this way."

Each child who took part in the study completed a questionnaire and then undertook individual psychological tests.

The survey was conducted in consultation with Barnardo's, Save The Children and the Northern Ireland Children's Commission.

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