Fascinating piece in the Economist (via the invaluable Newshound). Much of the early stuff is general, but it slices down into some interesting longer term metrics for the substantial social change that has taken place underneath the stuff and nonsense of headline politics. It has some interesting things to say about a burgeoning Catholic middle class. More later!
For members of the rapidly-growing Catholic middle class, in particular, life has never been better. Their success is evident in the universities, where Catholic students now outnumber Protestants four to three. It is clear from the broadly shrinking employment gap between the two communities (see chart). It can even be read on the city’s doors. “Twenty years ago, solicitors in Belfast had names like William, Bruce and Trevor,” says one Catholic businessman, citing some typically Protestant names. “They are still there, but now they have been joined by Seamus, Malachy and Deirdre.”
As Catholics have become more upwardly-mobile, they have spilled over into middle-class Protestant neighbourhoods. Some muttering ensued, but, in general, the new arrivals are tolerated. (Northern Irish people are expert at concealing their prejudices; as one saying goes, “whatever you say, say nothing.”) Middle-class Protestants have even begun to marry Catholics—at present, just one in ten marriages is “mixed”, but the proportion is higher in the tidy streets off Malone Road, in south Belfast. The city’s growing number of black and Asian immigrants settle nearby, if they can afford to.
Catholics have been helped into the middle class by the state. Fully 30% of workers in Northern Ireland are employed in the public sector, compared with 24% in Scotland and 20% in England. Civil service jobs are lucrative because they are subject to the same pay scales as in England, where the cost of living is much higher. And hiring policies are equal to a fault.