Why the old Protestant/Catholic atheist gag isn’t funny anymore

A couple of evenings ago I attended a discussion in the Old Chelsea Town Hall in London. It was an ‘election dissection’ debate with four panelists representing left and right opinions. They tried to answer why the outcome of the UK election was so surprising. They discussed the failure of Labour. They discussed the success of the Conservatives.

Northern Ireland was mentioned just once. But the speaker who mentioned it – Victor Bogdanor of King’s College – made reference to Northern Ireland’s “two communities”.

I was thinking of challenging the eminent academic – asking him why he had referred to two communities. I wanted to say that I wasn’t a member of either community. But he, like most of the British public who know anything about Northern Ireland, would take such protestations with a pinch of salt. Everybody in Northern Ireland, everybody seems to know, is a member of one tribe or another. Protestant or Catholic. Unionist or Nationalist.  Even Northern Irish atheists will be Protestant atheists or Catholic atheists. Everybody knows the old gag.

But the old gag isn’t funny anymore. On the face of it, the hard-wired structure of religious monitoring and re-designation unfairly discriminates against atheists in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland has institutionally defined itself as Protestant and Catholic and we have set up monitoring systems to ensure that everyone is force-fitted into one category or another based on our upbringing and parentage. But as an atheist, I, and many others are beginning to question whether enough is enough. Is it time to challenge the system of religious monitoring in Northern Ireland?

The Equality Commission NI provides equality data based on religious background. Should an atheist identify as belonging to neither Protestant nor Catholic communities on employment monitoring forms the employer is advised:

“If it has not been possible to make a determination of community background because, for example, the employee did not return the monitoring questionnaire or indicated that s/he was a member of neither community, you are strongly encouraged to use the fallback or residuary method of monitoring. The residuary method permits employers to use other written pieces of information provided by an employee, which can give a reasonable indication of community background. For information which can be used in applying the residuary method see Appendix 5.”

Appendix 5 lists suggested ways to forcibly fit self-declared atheists into Protestant and Catholic e.g. surname and other names; schools attended; sporting or other leisure pursuits or interests; clubs, societies or other organisations belonged to.

The Equality Commission states, “regardless of whether we practice religion, most of us in Northern Ireland are seen as either Catholic or Protestant.”

In short, the Equality Commission insists that people who have no religious faith should be defined as Protestant or Catholic whatever they claim.

So why should atheists, who do not define themselves as Protestant or Catholic or any other religion, be defined as something else because of Equality Commission rules?

This ridiculous situation is allowed to continue with no complaint. A group that has no faith is miraculously redefined as being a group with faith at every opportunity.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) conducts the 10-yearly census. Everyone who completes the census form is asked to indicate to which religion they belong.  Only people who indicate ‘No Religion’ are asked if they attended church with their parents.

NISRA uses this data to create two outputs. The first is “religion” and the second output is called “religion or religion brought up in”.

The first output for “religion” counts atheists as “no religion” but it is largely ignored in analyzing the religious make-up on Northern Ireland. Atheists will be lumped-in to the grouping “religion or religion brought up in Protestant and other Christian (including Christian Related)” if their parents brought them to church as children.

The first output doesn’t feature in the NI Assembly ‘Key Statistics from the 2011 Census’ document but the second does. The media mostly report the ‘religious background’ statistics (because they are provided with them) and often neglect to advise the reader that they are background statistics i.e. they are wrong.

This means that atheists’ census answers based on childhood church attending results in them being reported within the Protestant or Catholic populations.

It’s clearly wrong if people who want to be seen and classified as atheists are being categorized as something else. Most atheists may not see themselves (ourselves) as members of a minority group. Atheists tend not to have homogeneous views on many issues (although they tend to me much more socially liberal than those with faith).

But it could be argued that the systematic re-categorisation of Atheists is in contravention of Article 3 of the EU Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The convention states that members of minorities should have the right to choose to be treated as such and that no disadvantage shall result from that choice.

I’m an atheist. I’m not a Protestant or a Catholic. I’m not a Unionist or a Nationalist. I’ll take issue if anyone suggests otherwise.

(Many thanks to Roy Fisher for much of the background information for this post)

  • Reader

    Careful what you wish for. If proper monitoring begins, people may start to notice if atheists are over represented in the best jobs, and would want to do something about it.

  • banana man

    “I’m an atheist…well I’m a catholic atheist.” Dara O’Briain,this joke applies to me so well

  • Paddy McCann

    I think there is a real terminological problem when describing the communities in Northern Ireland. There are cultural, political and religious positions that tend to line up, but not exactly, and we lack the language to describe them properly, or at least the shorthand generally used is misleading. People of a Catholic/nationalist cultural background tend to be Catholics and tend to have nationalist political views, but it does not hold that all individuals with one of those traits will also have the other two. Yet the shorthand “Catholic” is often used to refer to people fitting in one or more of those boxes in a very general way. Likewise Protestant, unionist etc. I believe that this has a knock-on effect of causing people to identify as belonging to a religion when, in fact, they don’t – because the labels used for cultural and religious identity are the same. Having said that, the entanglement of religion with cultural identity (hardly exclusive to Northern Ireland, but particularly pronounced there) could well serve to keep religiosity relatively high.

  • barnshee

    ” Do you think we are at the point where equality monitoring can be binned?”

    No

  • Biftergreenthumb

    I put down ‘no religion’ on an equal opportunities form for my current job. A few weeks later I got a letter back telling me that even though I put ‘no religion’ for equal opportunities purposes, based on my background, I was to be considered a protestant.
    My parents aren’t religious. I wasn’t christened and have never been to a Sunday service in my life. The only times I’ve ever been to church are weddings and funeral.

    My initial reaction was anger. “You don’t tell me who I am! I tell you who I am!” But I can understand why we have these things i.e. to redress past inequalities etc

    What bothers me more than the fact that the state and other organisations pigeonhole us all as either protestant or catholic is that people have internalised these terms and call themselves one or the other even when they are explicitly atheist or at least completely secular.

    I have friends who refer to themselves as catholic or protestant even though they don’t believe in god, go to church or even got married in a church.

    Here protestant and catholic doesn’t really have anything to do with what you believe. They are just terms for the tribes people imagine themselves to belong to. As long as we keep falsely calling ourselves catholic or protestant even when we aren’t we don’t stand a chance of overcoming the sectarian divide.

    “Son, See that family over there, who don’t go church on Sundays or engage in any other religious behaviour, just like we don’t? They are different from us. But see that other family over there who don’t go church on Sundays or engage in any other religious behaviour, just like we don’t? They are the same as us”

    “Eh?”

  • HopefulPessimist

    Here Here!!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Whither Lord Summerisle?! The Pagans must speak up!

  • Newton Emerson

    There’s certainly an issue here worth addressing but the Equality Commission, like the Fair Employment Commission before it, has a good justification for ‘residual classification’ – because it’s not about you, it’s about how your employer *perceives* you.
    You can be Richard Dawkins for all the EQ cares, what it’s trying to measure and prevent is someone hiring/not hiring you because they’ve noted – perhaps even subconsciously, those ‘residual’ factors.
    As far as I remember, the FEC was more open about this than the EQ is now.

  • longupjourney

    You make many very valid points but I think that you may also guilty of falling into a different trap in pigeon holing people in your own way, and not pointing out the entirety of the picture.

    It is often assumed that the unionist vote corresponds to “Protestants”, the nationalist vote to “Catholics” and the Alliance vote to “others” because this statistical correspondence “works”, or it least it did work when we were using the 2001 census. With the 2011 census not so much.

    This leads to the lazy assumption that unionist voters are all Protestants, nationalist voters are all Catholics and that Alliance voters are all non-religious people or people who follow Islam or Chinese traditional religions. This is of course nonsense. We have opinion poll evidence that shows that as many as a fifth of current Unionist voters consider themselves to have no religion and that the majority of Alliance voters are not atheists at all but consider themselves to be either Catholic or Protestant.

    The archetypal atheist who doesn’t want to be considered to be part of a particular “community background” because of what primary school they went to is a problem, perhaps now even becoming a cliche, but is actually not the only problem with the present system. There are also other categories of people who are dodgily categorised by the present system such as:

    $People who said that they were not brought up in any religion in the census but who consider themselves to be a unionist, vote unionist and might even tick the box “I belong to the mainly Protestant community” if given an employment monitoring form. If the census is used to determine the size of the “PUL community” in their area then they don’t exist, not because they are not a member of the “PUL community” or don’t consider themselves to be so but because they are second generation “no religion” and their parents didn’t take them to church.

    $An evangelical Christian ethnic Chinese person living in a nationalist area of Newry who does not consider themselves to be part of the “mainly Protestant community”. They might consider themselves to be part of neither community or even consider themselves to be part of the “mainly Catholic community”.

    $A Polish born person living in a unionist area of east Belfast who does not consider themselves to part of the “mainly Catholic community”. They might consider themselves to be part of neither community or even
    consider themselves to be part of the “mainly Protestant community”.

    If you aggregate up these other anomalies we are probably actually talking about a greater number of people in total than the atheists being pigeon holed not to their liking that you discuss.

  • longupjourney

    Oh and to bring out why this is a practical problem consider if we are to judge whether a business is fulfilling it’s fair employment obligations by using the “religion or religion brought up in” figure from the census for the local area and comparing it to the composition of their workforce classified by a different method. It is clear that with sufficient people falling into the three categories I described, particularly the first, an incorrect judgement could be made about whether that business is practicing discrimination.

  • Richard

    In England equality monitoring is based on how people describe themselves so if I wanted I could tick the box saying “Black-other” although that is not the way most people perceive me.

  • scepticacademic

    Nice article. I share your frustration as a fellow atheist. It’s even more annoying as a “blow-in” who has lived in Norn Iron for over 15 yrs – there are more than a handful of us in this particular category but you’d never know it from the public discourse – e.g. if you’re English, Welsh or Scottish and were Christened in an Anglican church, you are assumed to be ‘a Prod’. Some people seemed bemused by the notion of English RC.
    Things get even more complicated when the “mixed marriage” (cringe) issue is brought into the equation. In my own case, my wife practises a religion (to an extent) and I don’t, so what labels do our kids get? Even the integrated school sector (which I strongly support) has its rigid 40-40-20 recruitment criteria. When you fill out an applications for a primary school, you face the question about whether your child is RC, Protestant or Other/none, yet many children have a combination of these, in terms of their parents and ‘perceived community background’ (another cringe) – e.g. RC/None, protestant/none, RC/protestant, ‘other’/RC, etc.
    The new reality is that everybody in N Ireland is part of a minority but it seems to be taking a while for this to sink in.

  • Is the full text of Appendix 5 of the employment monitoring forms available anywhere (online)? Would be interested in reading the list. Does it advise an employer simply to make a seemingly educated guess on the basis of cultural clues?

  • longupjourney

    Agreed, the problem arises though when we try to make predictions between two different things measured in different ways. For example using the census “religion or religion brought up in” figure to predict the result of the recent North Belfast election clearly failed. The leaflet was a poor oracle.

    For the same reason using the census “religion or religion brought up in” figures to determine whether or not a North Belfast business that employs more people who ticked a “Protestant community” box than a “Catholic community” box on their application forms is discriminatory or not could lead to that business looking discriminatory when if the same question was asked on both census and application forms then they would not look that way at all.

    The difference could come down to whether we ask people with no religion what primary school they went to, what religion they were brought up in or what community they consider themselves to come from. Also do we classify Poles as “Catholic community” or as “Other”? Using a different method in some areas of Northern Ireland could lead to sizable discrepancies between the different methods, and as more people become non-religious and as immigration and “mixed marriages” increase these discrepancies are only going to get bigger with time.

  • Korhomme

    A Catholic or a Protestant atheist? Rather oddly, at first sight, there are Christian atheists.

    Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the www man who works at CERN, is a committed Unitarian. He was the guest editor around Christmas a few years ago for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. As such, he wanted his chum to do the ‘God Slot’ at 7.50 am; his friend was a minister of the Unitarian church. But the Beeb refused, as this minister was a Christian Atheist.

    As a Unitarian, it’s clearly possible to be atheist; impossible though for a trinitarian.

  • postoergopostum

    Here in Australia, at the time of the millennial census, I believe, our federal government was trying to allocate tax dollars from the education budget to a scheme that would provide state owned and operated schools with salaries and funding for school chaplains.

    One of the topics hotly debated was how was it to be decided in a secular school which denomination should provide the chaplains to which school. Some bright spark in the government pointed out that the census data would be a guide to the religious proclivities of any school’s local community.

    It would seem that despite our nation’s strong Irish heritage and ANZAC tradition there seemed little concern as to the consequences of the arbitrary recognition of religious ghettos, where none really existed.

    And so the phenomenon of registering a houshold’s religion as, “Jedi” was born.

    Here’s a couple of links;

    http://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/censushome.nsf/home/2001jedi?opendocument&navpos=320

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jedi_census_phenomenon

    Use the Force, Slugger.

  • Robin Keogh

    The question on the census forms and the religious tags associated have nothing to do with a persons actual religious belief system its simply a tool to measure the social and cultural background of individuals in the statelet. Its an important measure in terms of assessing demographic changes regionally and understanding the likely future political implications.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    That this anomaly/absurdity persists in NI reveals a great deal about us and where we still imagine ourselves to be. While the reasons for it are largely historical (overt discrimination and accepted discrimination all of which transmogrified over time), we have to continually reassess how much the legacy of our history still binds us. There is resistance to change, fear of change, a desire to put the brakes on dynamics that we can’t actually control, a powerful need to belong etc. At the same time there are counters to that. Yet we can never escape contrived and inaccurate identities and associations that are externally imposed. Gerry Kelly’s recent electoral leaflet is one example of this but so is the argument that APNI had to be ousted in East Belfast as being “agnostic” about the union is some sort of lundyism or otherness or slippery slope or threat.
    These examples illustrate how powerful assumption is and it’s the assummed connections or associations we make that often remain unchallenged, In my experience it’s evident that many individuals have to had to go through a lot of rejection (both active and passive from families and communities) in order to move towards a more neutral position. This requires will, vigilance but not a little pain. In many western societies social/identity mobility would not be considered abnormal but here the forces, while greater, are unconsciously accepted. I fancifully suggest that those who see themselves as neither CNR nor PUL might campaign for recognised status. This could also serve the purpose of promoting an attractive alternative to the same old, same old.

  • james

    *state

  • Naomi Wrong

    Media luvvies at the BBC repeatedly dubiously describing Alliance as the “cross-community Alliance party” do not help either. There is nothing preventing anyone from any part of the community voting for a Unionist party. Nationalist and constitutionally agnostic (I have no idea what Alliance actually represent) parties are the anomaly, and to be seen as to be agnostic on wanting to uphold the constitution of the jurisdiction in which you are standing would be seen as quite an extremist position in many a country.

  • eireanne

    why should people in NI be pigeon-holed one way or the other into atheist – catholic- protestant- muslim- hindu- sikh or whatever? who’s doing the pigeon-holing? A cui bono?

  • Rez™

    I will say that I was asked when I was in Belfast last year if I was Protestant or Catholic. At least I think that’s what he asked. It was at a hostel and it was 6 in the morning and the fellow was tweaking pretty severely. Oh, and Kennedy was brought up.

  • Half right, Robin.

    As Newton mentioned,

    …the Equality Commission, like the Fair Employment Commission before it, has a good justification for ‘residual classification’ – because it’s not about you, it’s about how your employer *perceives* you.

    You can be Richard Dawkins for all the EQ cares, what it’s trying to measure and prevent is someone hiring/not hiring you because they’ve noted – perhaps even subconsciously, those ‘residual’ factors.

    In other words, it’s an attempt to monitor bias according to perceived background.

    What it is definitely not is an attempt to assess demographic changes regionally and understand the likely future political implications.

    Those that attempt to use these figures, to project demographic changes and future political implications, are the ones that drag these measures into disrepute.

    Just in case anyone thought you might have learned from your mistakes…
    In other words, you’re as sectarian as those the measures are designed to monitor.

  • Zig70

    It’s getting like Pete’s posts where u miss the whole delusional Irish identity bit. Where did you miss the lesson on the republican (note the small r), sic (what ever that means) socialist utopia. It’s not about religion, it’s about those scumbags making you clean the toilets because your mammy told you, you were Irish.

  • tmitch57

    Jeff,
    I think maybe we should start referring to two and a half communities in NI in the same sense that the party system in the Republic used to be referred to as a “two and a half-party system” meaning the Labour was only half as important or influential as Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. With the rise of SF south of the border this is now an obsolete description. In NI there is the “other” category consisting of children from mixed marriages, those involved in mixed marriages or those who refuse for various reasons to identify with either the nationalist or the unionist cultural-political camps. Alliance, the political party representing this community, is obviously much less important than either SF or the DUP to about the same degree that Labour was less so than FG and FF.

    In NI religious identity is used as a marker for ethnic identity in the same way that it is used in the former Yugoslavia. In the former Yugoslavia it was assumed that all Catholic Yugoslavs (Southern Slavs) were automatically Croats and all Orthodox Christian Yugoslavs were automatically Serbs to the point that if one converted one changed his or her ethnicity as well. There is a memoir by a Scottish soldier who after doing several tours of duty in NI eventually joined the RUC. He was a Catholic by upbringing, but because he identified with the unionist cause he ended up converting to a Protestant denomination. There may have been atheists from a unionist background who served with republican paramilitary organizations (counted on the fingers of one hand) but I doubt very much if there were any practicing Protestants who served with either the INLA or the IRA.

    Maybe the government should substitute political terms for religious ones to identify community membership. But this is not without problems either–there are cultural nationalists who want NI to remain part of the UK and cultural unionists who think that it might be better off in a united Ireland.

  • james

    Why should atheists be treated differently from the rest of us?

  • terence patrick hewett

    Except the original joke was:

    “Are ye a Protestant or a Catholic?”
    “I’m a Jew!”
    “Aye; but are ye a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew?”

    A case of atheist Mee too! Mee too?

  • Jeffrey Peel

    In my view political/cultural descriptions are little better than religious. ‘Unionist’ and ‘Nationalist’ are uni-dimensional descriptors that get us no further forward. They do not denote real political positions. I’m not that fussed about national identity. But I am fussed about political ideology. I’m socially liberal/fiscally right. Being described as Unionist or Nationalist is a pointless descriptor. Our ideological descriptors work regardless of where we live. We tend to support political parties that provide the best fit for our ideological personas.

    In Northern Ireland we’ve never achieved a political discourse that goes beyond these puny labels. It’s clear that certain political parties have a myriad of people within them that, in the real world, would have little in common. E.g. Tom Elliott and Danny Kinahan are like chalk and cheese in terms of their ideological positions. The only thing they appear to have in common is their adherence to the concept of a ‘Union’. But, clearly, if they lived in England they would be members of different political parties.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    I wrote the post to point out that force-fitting us into Green/Orange boxes was the issue. But I note that many of the comments have fixated on the fair employment element. However, there’s a greater point here. By constantly reflecting back our tribalism (via the media and civic institutions) the tribes become embedded and entrenched. For example, Alliance’s “shared future” messages have the two-tribe idea sewn into them. But the fact remains that many of us will not accept Protestant/Catholic/Unionist/Nationalist categorisation. Some 16% or so of those who completed the Census indicated that they had no religion or refused to answer. And ever-growing numbers here are not voting because they literally have no-one to vote for. Once again NI had the lowest turnout in the general election. It used to have the highest turnout when the constitutional status of the place was in question. Now that the constitutional question is settled, we need to start working to undermine a political taxonomy that is simply not fit for purpose.

    Unless we start making it clear that there’s more to this place than these pitiful tribal descriptors we have no hope of moving forward.

  • Pete

    Yeah, in other countries, voting for a party on the basis that they want to maintain the current constitutional status wouldn’t be branded ‘sectarian’.

    And yet the Alliance Party supporters would have you believe that voting for someone on that basis is a ‘sectarian’ reason for voting for someone.

  • Pete

    Being agnostic on the union is not something I can get behind. In NI, where lots of our politicians don’t even want our country to exist, it is entirely logical for a pro-union individual to vote for a unionist politician, to help keep stability here. I work for the NHS, I want stability, I want NI to stay in the UK, what would happen to the health system if we left? It annoys me when the Alliance Party seems to view being unionist as shameful or sectarian.

  • tmitch57

    In order to get the type of politics that you desire a much bigger share of the electorate would have to vote for non-sectarian parties such as Alliance, the Greens, and the Conservatives. Together these three parties poll only about ten-twelve percent of the vote. Only when people start voting in large numbers for non-border issue parties will there be movement among the unionists and the nationalists.

  • Roy Fisher

    This is the full list of Appendix 5:
    Surname and other names;
    Address;
    Schools attended (whether in Northern Ireland or elsewhere);
    Sporting or other leisure pursuits or interests;
    Any course of work undertaken for any recognised award, examination or qualification;
    Clubs, societies or other organisations belonged to;
    The occupation as a clergyman of a particular denomination or as a teacher in a particular school of any referee given by the individual when s/he applied for employment.

  • tmitch57

    John Alderdice, the former leader of Alliance at the time of the GFA, used to speak about being raised in a manse. John Cushnahn, an Alliance leader in the 1980s, was a fluent Irish speaker. Many of Alliance’s members and voters do identify religiously as either Protestant or Catholic. What unites them and separates them from unionists and nationalists is that they consider the constitutional status of the province/Six Counties to be less important than how well the place is run and the policies involved in running the place. But Alliance also has a large contingent of members who do not identify with either of the two main political communities because they come from mixed marriages, are involved in mixed marriages or are completely secular.

  • npbinni
  • USA

    What?

  • npbinni

    This is one of my favourite Christopher Hitchens quotes. Relates somewhat to the current thread…

    Rev Marilyn Sewell: “Mr. Hitchens, the religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement — that Jesus died for our sins, for example. Do you make a distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?”

    Hitchens: “Well, I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”

    More…
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ben-stevens/the-gospel-according-to-christopher_b_2231094.html

  • Jeffrey Peel

    We also have a very high percentage of the electorate that bothers to register but refuses to vote. Nearly 50%.

  • Granni Trixie

    Surely current obligations on employers to capture stats in relation to employees perceived religious/cultural background goes back to the Fair Employment Agency/Commission. The rationale presumably was to establish a baseline of evidence from which to measure “progress” in terms of identifying to rectify situations where there was not a level playing field for all sections of the community.

    I believe that however blunt this intervention is it was necessary. The question now arises: is this collecting of rough data still a necessary evil and may it infact be counterproductive Personally I feel that the jury’s still out on that one.

  • Granni Trixie

    Jeffrey

    I agree with Haddon and Boyle (“The Choice”;1993) who argued that essentially NI was faced with the choice of sharing or separation, a deceptively simple yet profoundly accurate idea. From the vantage point of today we can see that this is what distinguishes political parties from each other – whether to prop up an infrastructure which supports separation or put resources into one which supports sharing.

    So whilst like you I would like to see tribal categories done away with as a norm in NI sadly pretending that sectarianism is not embedded in our culture is counter productive – you have to identify a problem to take action to resolve it.

    It follows therefore that I believe that APNI is right to promote sharing as a concept and practice.

  • Martin Ellacott

    What a bunch of crap…..religion as been a thorn in the side of Ireland for hundreds of years. Throw out religion and embrace atheism.

  • Roy Fisher

    The Equality Commission (EC) is very much part of this argument. In 2013 the EC monitored 510,984 workers (28% of the population recorded in 2011). NISRA uses the EC guidance Jeff quoted “regardless of whether we practice religion, most of us in Northern Ireland are seen as either Catholic or Protestant.” to allow the practice of recording religious background for the entire population (1,810,863 from census 2011) – clearly this is not for employment equality. While I accept the aim of the EC was to protect people from discrimination, the flaw is it forces a religious label on people who have chosen to exit religion (which we have a right to do), and by doing so are making assumptions of their own about political leanings. I would like to see the Equality Commission provide the option to be part of neither community, in fact I think it is necessary to create a less sectarian society. This should follow through to the Census statistics and help the media report accurate figures. As Jeff says, NISRA analyses and promotes religious background to a greater extent than religion. The NI Assembly defense for this in the document Jeff mentions was “The data cited in the Northern Ireland Assembly Research Paper, entitled “Census 2011: Key Statistics at Assembly Area Level” uses the second output from NISRA (i.e. religion or religion brought up in). The main reason for using this output, rather than the first, is because it provides a measure of community background for those respondents who state they have no religion.” Basically they want to know my tribe because I told them I have no religion.

  • Roy Fisher

    From conversations I’ve had with NISRA, ethnic diversity has been an increasing concern for continuing with the current system, but given the religious/political divide is largely amongst one ethnicity it’s not currently a realistic option to monitor by ethnicity.

  • Roy Fisher

    I’ve found EC & NISRA resistant to change, but I think/hope it will have to eventually.

  • Roy Fisher

    It is complicated because we have a different society (mentality even) to a lot of other parts of Europe and I’m really not sure how to best monitor – but I’ve asked the Council of Europe and our MEPs to consider if EC and NISRA are currently breaching FCNM Article 3 (cited by Jeff).

  • Roy Fisher

    I haven’t seen research on that but I can see how you could be proved right. Though it would require monitoring which covers the whole workforce.

  • Roy Fisher

    Only employers with 11 or more staff working 16 hours or more per week in NI have to register with EC.

  • Roy Fisher

    There are multiple reasons for some industries employing more migrants than others. Whether it’s factory work, agriculture, hospitality or health. I wouldn’t be an advocate for “gotcha” moments regarding complex issues like the employment and treatment of migrants.

  • Granni Trixie

    From the ‘inside’ of APNI I do not share your perception that we view ‘being unionist’ as shameful. Why would we when many of our activists and voters consider themselves ‘unionist’ ……and nationalist,agnostic,humanist etc.

    Nothing sectarian either about being unionist (nationalist etc). What can be sectarian however is in how some political parties play to this identity to arouse fear of ‘others’. Bear in mind that we live in a society in NI where religion tends to get subsumed into orange and green tribal identities. For instance although i am content with the status quo I certainly do not feel (as a nominal Catholic) to be included in “the unionist family” and I do not believe this is my Problem but a problem for any party which wishes to broaden its voter base.

    Sorry to bring up the past but in 1962 the reason Bob Cooper left the Unionist Party was following his plea to fellow unionists that Catholics be allowed to play a part in the party, it fell on deaf ears.
    I am against political pacts in NI. I see them as a backward step and long for political elections when policies are the differentiating factors on which people vote.

  • Roy Fisher

    I understand your argument. Though having never felt I’ve lost out due to free movement I’ve never had a personal reason to address it. From what I’ve read and seen though, free movement and employment is really only an issue while migrants will do work others won’t or while employers pay less for their work. It’s certainly a different discussion than the post above.

  • Roy Fisher

    As you say it uses religion (sometimes forcing it where there is no religion) – that’s the point Jeff was making. We have a right to exit.

  • Robin Keogh

    You know nothing about me but yet u cannot help yourself to label me sectarian without a screed of evidence to support the assertion. If you think the ‘ powers that be’ do not use the religious identification stats to ascertain the potential future political inclination of the populace in the six counties you are absolutely deluding yourself.

  • Pete

    I agree broadly with your post, but being pro union is a perfectly valid policy IMO. In most countries it wouldn’t be an issue, but as I said above, when so many politicians here want to alter the current constitutional scenario, I think it’s perfectly OK for people to vote to try to stop that. A prounion policy is no less valid than a policy on the EU etc.

    In Scotland, people may vote for the SNP to push for independence. Nothing wrong with that. Equally, nothing wrong with people here voting for a unionist to try to keep our position in the UK secure.

    I certainly agree that the unionist parties are awful at attracting people from a Catholic background.

  • Roy Fisher

    I know Jeff’s opinion on this post as we’ve discussed it and I gave him some of the detail for it (as he says at the end of the post). We didn’t discuss other forms of monitoring (as that’s not the subject of the post) so I couldn’t tell you how he’d feel about it. We have differing political leanings but agree on the above.

  • Roy Fisher

    If Richard Dawkins came to work here (in a company of 11 or more people) he would be monitored as a Protestant due to being English or his Anglican start in life. I find that absurd.
    He is a British citizen who now says there could be worse than a monarchy, but has been an advocate of a republic in the past, and I can’t see him being discriminated against for his ‘religion’ (maybe his lack of).
    The monitoring is only part of the Equality Commission’s involvement though, it is their guidance which NISRA uses to carry out the background questioning on the census, thus rewinding dissent and assuming religions to people who lawfully don’t answer the religion question (and Jedi Knights of course). I’ve written more on why the Equality Comm is part of this above, if you’re interested.

  • Roy Fisher

    OFMDFM has oversight of the EC and DFP oversees NISRA, Jeff is aware of that and doesn’t claim differently. It is EC guidance which runs through the retention of background religion – the post doesn’t call for the EC to change the law.

  • Roy Fisher

    You may want to re-read my last post, I didn’t say the EC could change the law. You’re trying to make the article about something it is not again. From previous posts you know I’ve contacted Council of Europe and three MEPs, I showed you a response from the Assembly and told you of discussions with NISRA and EC. I have also asked my six MLAs and several political parties to look at this, as far as I’m concerned Jeff has successfully raised awareness and debate. You should write your own article if you want to address other issues.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Jeff you are probably too haute to appreciate discrimination on the basis of community background rather than feeling discriminated against because your self-identity is something that doesn’t conform to these backgrounds.

    Could you not be glad you are not attracting unwanted attention.

  • LordSummerisle

    So important to get the right labels dear sweet Jeff. How about I am a human being.

  • Kevin Breslin

    How can you discriminate what people discriminate over? YOU may be not that fussed about national identity, political ideology, or puny labels … but discriminators are. Why do you think your opinions and beliefs will stop discrimination better? Surely this is an ugly process used to stop an infinitely more uglier process in discrimination?

    If someone is kicked out of work for something silly like having an Irish language name or saying Londonderry surely we have to tackle the issue!