NI Peace Monitoring Report – continuing gaps in educational achievement, life expectancy & the cost of NI’s stuttering peace process

The third annual Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report was released this morning.

NI Peace Monitoring Report 2014 coverPart statistical almanac, part annual report card, it has been compiled for the last three years by Dr Paul Nolan. At times the report acts like a common man’s conscience, calling out where the naked emperors are hiding under the policy carpet in Northern Ireland.

The advantage of a longitudinal study over simple snapshots is that it can show sustained trends – or continually fluctuating metrics – allowing more considered analysis of how quickly or slowly our post-conflict society is changing.

Buried in the report signs of hope and despair, some closer to the surface than others.

I talked to Paul Nolan about this year’s report and he discussed his stark educational achievement findings – at both secondary and third level – as well as the continued falling crime statistics, demographics, and whether unionists are talking a culture war into existence. He also responded to the irony that while the Community Relations Council are behind the report, the language and comparisons within it are overwhelmingly Protestant versus Catholic, nationalist versus unionist, and commented on how Northern Ireland compares with other post-conflict societies that have their own peace monitoring reports.

nipmr School leavers with GCSEs

This year’s report makes good use of infographics to tell the story behind the numbers. Perhaps the most stark illustrates the educational attainment gap between Catholics and Protestant children, and between children with and without FMSE (using that as an indicator of socio-economic disadvantage).

Using the well-established metric of leaving school with five GCSEs at grades A* to C, there’s a 5-6 percentage point gap between Catholic Girls and Protestant Girls (76.7% versus 71.8%) who aren’t entitled to free school meals as well as Catholic Boys and Protestant Boys (64.5% and 58.6%).

For children with entitlement to free school meals, Catholics outperform Protestants. Under 20% of Protestant boys with FMSE are leaving school with the equivalent of five GCSEs at A*-C.

Bear in mind that the NI Executive Programme for Government target is for 66% of all young people to achieve 5 GCSEs at A*-C by 2014/15, and 49% of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds … that’s 15 percentage points the current reality of 33.9%.

Attempting to compare Northern Ireland’s attainment with a breakdown of English ethnic groups isn’t without difficulty due to differences in methodologies, but the indications are stark. Non-FMSE Catholic girls would find themselves right at the top of the table, probably only beaten by Chinese girls.

Shockingly, the Protestant boys with FMSE would find themselves below nearly every other group of children, with only Irish Traveller and Roma children in England attaining poorer results.

degree by age and religionWhether you look at third level education, employment or prosperity, the early success of Catholic schooling, and in particular girls, seems to continue into adulthood.

“If at first you don’t succeed … you never will” is harsh, but it is sadly an all too true reflection of the education experience of too many children and young adults in Northern Ireland. Yet the “Education and Skills Authority (first announced in 2006) still does not exist [and] failure to agree on education selection has allowed two versions of the ‘11+’ to coexist”.

Unionism has a lot to answer for not putting education at the top of its agenda, and not containing the political tensions that create the unease that brings young Protestant males onto the street, and for too many, into court and the criminal justice system.

Other political groupings too cannot hide. The attainment of Catholic boys with FMSE is not a ceiling to be proud off. The Education Minister could surely do more to lift the progress of all children.

religious breakdown by age cohort

The 2011 census results confirm what was already being felt politically within Belfast. The tipping point in Belfast’s demography has been reached.

Belfast demographic tipping point

NI Household crimeUnionism might want to wake up to reality of NI’s changing demographic and adjust their age-old strategy of scaremongering and find a more positive way to engage in political negotiation.

Elsewhere in the report, household crime continues to fall. Levels of vandalism, vehicle-related crime in Northern Ireland are substantially lower per head of population than in England.

Perhaps surprisingly, the recession has seen a decrease within the categories of acquisitive crime. Business robberies, personal robberies and burglaries are all down, as is car theft. Violent crimes against the person have gone up, from 28,425 in 2002-03 to 30,305 in 2012-13, although so too has the population and the number of violent crimes per 1,000 has remained at 17.

In Northern Ireland, recorded drug offences are on the increase along with sexual offences while attempted murder, criminal damage, theft/burglary and vehicle offences all continue to decrease. The trend of reporting domestic abuse incidents as well as crimes continues to increase. There’s no spike in the statistics to coincide with the flag protests: blocking a road isn’t criminal.

police per populationAt a simple level, Northern Ireland continues to be over-policed, with a police officer per 265 head of population compared with one for every 304 in Scotland, 344 in ROI and 436 in England and Wales. However when the much heavier public order policing effort is taken into account along with the manpower required to attend some crime scenes give the potential to be a dissident trap, maybe the figures are less shocking.

The PMR report compares the situation in 1999 when the Patten Report was published (13,000 RUC officers and 11,400 British soldiers) with the situation today (6,888 PSNI officers).

NI earning breakdownWhen you look at earning in Northern Ireland, the top 1% of earners earn more than £100,000 annually.

Indeed, last year’s Peace Monitoring Report drew attention to NI’s density of millionaires being exceeded only by Aberdeen and London. And ¼% earn more than £150,000.

Meanwhile over a third of earners bring home less than £15,000 annually.

6% of households in NI have no bank account compared with a UK average of 2%. 11% of NI households have a credit union account compared with 4% in Scotland and 1% in England.

Child poverty levels are over 30% in Strabane (32%), Belfast (34%) and Derry (35%).

Life expectancy by NI constituencyLife expectancy varies hugely across (and within) constituencies.

Single identity council wards are those with more than 90% of the population claiming to be from one particular community.

There remain 61 wards that are at least 90 per cent Catholic, yet only two such Protestant wards. According to the geographers Shuttleworth and Lloyd, six of the ten wards showing the greatest Protestant decrease are in east Belfast. This does not represent a displacement of Protestant residents: the ‘new communities’ and the Catholics who have moved in are replacements, taking up vacancies resulting from Protestants moving out of the inner city or older cohorts passing on.

Clearly, the break-up of the solidity of historic Protestant communities in east Belfast has explanatory power in relation to the flags protest but the changing ethnic composition allows of other interpretations.

Shuttleworth and Lloyd suggest that the move away from homogeneous communities and the arrival of new ethnic minorities takes Northern Ireland ‘on a trajectory towards a more pluralist society’. The optimistic scenario they put forward is that these changes offer ‘significant opportunities for positive political and social change’.

ten wards greatest protestant decreaseLooking at wards with the greatest Protestant decrease, the affect of the flag protests will surely only exacerbate the change in future research. And note the inclusion of Ravenhill on the list – home to Martyrs’ Memorial Free Presbyterian Church – of population change.

Paul Nolan reiterates Richard Haass’s warning that the Northern Ireland peace process can no longer be held up as a model of conflict resolution. Despite some shifts, schools and neighbourhoods are still divided.

Twenty years on from the first ceasefires the terms of trade have been set by deals and side-deals. These have prevented the return of large-scale violence but the model on offer from the top is peace without reconciliation. A culture of endless negotiation has become embedded and, without a vision of a shared society to sustain it, the peace process has lost the power to inspire.

The report’s author goes on:

The use of [mutual] vetoes has led to a silting up of the legislative programme of the Assembly. While useful co-operation takes place in its committees, the Northern Ireland Executive been unable to make progress on the key areas where a devolved parliament might show its worth.

parade statisticsOn the talking into existence of a culture war:

Among anti-agreement unionists there is now an acceptance that the Belfast Agreement has secured the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the UK. The focus of concern is no longer about Northern Ireland being taken out of Britain, but of ‘Britishness’ being taken out of Northern Ireland. This is a concern that resonates within the wider body of unionism and the fear that there is a ‘culture war’ that will take away loyalist symbols and traditions informed much unionist behaviour during the year, including Orange Order speeches on 12 July. Yet there were more loyalist marches in 2013 (2,687) than ever and only 388 were contested. The number of marching bands (660) is also at an all- time high. Official recognition of and funding for Orange cultural themes and ‘Ulster-Scots’ are also at unprecedented levels. But talk of a culture war could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yet Derry~Londonderry managed to “model a post-conflict society” during its year as UK City of Culture with moments like when “the Apprentice Boys played their tunes at the Fleadh Cheoil” and “the PSNI band was applauded as it made its way into the Guildhall Square”. Paul Nolan reckons:

Ultimately the success of the year came down to the long-term vision of those in Derry City Council and civil-society organisations who saw concord as an achievable goal, showing how a generous majority can engender a generosity of spirit in return.

He also points to strong grass roots reconciliation that “defies stereotyped notions” of particular neighbourhoods. But …

Reconciliation continues to be stronger at the grass roots than at the top of society.

The police have become “human shock absorbers for failures elsewhere” in Northern Ireland.

Between 1 July and 28 August 2013 approximately 682 PSNI officers were injured in public order disturbances – one in ten. Of these, 51 required hospital treatment. Violence against the police has become once more accepted as part of life in Northern Ireland, whether in the form of an under- car booby trap bomb planted by dissident republicans, or street violence by loyalist protesters.

Paul Nolan asks who picks up the tab for NI’s failure?

Failure in Northern Ireland comes cost-free. The whole society may pay, but not particular political actors. When the multi-party talks on flags, parades and dealing with the past ended in failure, none of the political parties had to pay a political price. When the policing costs for contested marches and events spiral into millions, the organisers never receive a bill. The disconnect between the gathering and spending of taxes means no one feels responsible for the shortfall in revenue caused by, for example, not introducing water charges or tuition fees. The ‘marching season’ cost £18.5 million in additional policing costs in 2013, compared with £4.1 million the previous year. The consequences have been felt at the sharp end of education and health, with the accident-and-emergency unit at the Royal Victoria hospital recurrently unable to cope with demand. Devolution, which was supposed to bring responsibility closer to local level, has failed to do so in Northern Ireland.

The full report is now available on the CRC website. I’ll add links to other media commentary during the day, along with some more insight from the report’s 180 pages as I continue to read through.

Steven McCaffery’s piece in The Detail

Malachi O’Doherty’s comment in Belfast Telegraph – To say Northern Ireland is good example of peacemaking is beyond parody

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  • Charles_Gould

    Anyone know roughly what proportion of the protestant and catholic population has free school meals?

  • zep

    Interesting stats regarding the number of wards with 90%+ single religion. From my own experience the area I was born and raised (and now live in) is much more multicultural than many other parts of Belfast, and would be considered very ‘Protestant’. I think it’s a great thing, people should feel free to live wherever they like regardless of religion, and honestly it reminds me more of Dublin or London to see the mixture of peoples out and about on a daily basis.

    I love this: “Unionism might want to wake up to reality of NI’s changing demographic and adjust their age-old strategy of scaremongering and find a more positive way to engage in political negotiation.” – or maybe some of us see it as a normalisation of NI (within the UK) matching the population shifts in other areas, and don’t really care all that much about their neighbour’s religion?

  • Charles – from the Equality section of PMR …
    FMSE stats

  • socaire

    Spot the deliberate error?
    The focus of concern is no longer about Northern Ireland being taken out of Britain, but of ‘Britishness’ being taken out of Northern Ireland.

  • Charles_Gould

    In a sense you are not comparing like with like.

    For protestants the free school meals people are a much lower fraction of the population than for Catholics.

    There is what statisticians call a “selection issue”.

  • Reader

    Charles_Gould: There is what statisticians call a “selection issue”.
    Good spot, though probably a bit subtle for many. And Slugger’s Chris Donnelly will be along to further rain on the celebrations by talking down any perceived maintained sector supremacy in deprived areas.
    However, I still think there is a particular cultural issue in depressed tribal areas with failing populations. I understand there are strenuous efforts in schools to deal with this, that may bear fruit in due course. (If the horse can be made to drink – as it were)
    Sorry about that shocking mixed metaphor.

  • Old Mortality

    When is this superior educational performance going to be translated into purposeful economic activity? It’s not a lot of use if it just raises the bar for ‘community workers’.
    And the FSME is a fairly dubious yardstick. Clearly, if you attend some Irish language schools, paying for your own lunch is a potential source of embarrassment.

  • Charles, Reader – I don’t think I care whether there are 10 children a year in the FMSE categories or 10,000 … the fact that any size of cohort of children is let down so badly by the education system is appalling,.

  • Old Mortality

    ‘let down so badly by the educational system’

    ..possibly because they were not detained in a residential institution, subject to rigorous discipline, and with no prospect of release until they had attained at least 5 GCSEs including English and Maths.
    The education system does not let down many children with a desire to learn.

  • Reader

    Alan in Belfast: I don’t think I care whether there are 10 children a year in the FMSE categories or 10,000…
    That isn’t the ‘selection effect’. If you take the most deprived 20% of one community, and the most deprived 30% of the other community, which group is likely to do worse?
    As for your other point – well quite. Don’t we all believe in ‘no child left behind’? The questions are, what is the cause of the problem, and what are the solutions? I note that Old Mortality has outlined one theory. I expect other suggestions will be made in due course.

  • Mick Fealty

    The differential in proportional FSME between the controlled and maintained sector is striking. It’s around ten per cent. Is there anything in the report Alan that gives a clue on influential factors?

    Thought the fuller breakdown on Tara Mills’ piece reveals a cultural factor:

    Chinese Girls Non-FSME (Free School Meal Entitlement) 81.4
    NI Catholic Girls – Non FSME 76.7
    Chinese 76.4
    Chinese Girls – FSME 73.6
    Chinese Boys – Non FSME 72.6
    NI Protestant Girls – Non FSME 71.8
    Asian Girls – Non FSME 70.7

  • Granni Trixie

    It would be wonderful if, just this once, an issue such as this could unite MLAs in problem solving. I was horrified to lear From radio discussion today that Equality Commission research ten years ago pointed to the same problem,followed by Mark Langhammers a few years ago and her the Minister seems to be going round all the houses to not accept these findings and act to address them.

  • Charles_Gould


    Do you know what the Education Department has doing to tackle the problem over the last number of years?

  • Mick – check form page 91 of the CRC report – these education figures and the original graphics are in the Education section of the Equality chapter. I haven’t spotted a strong explanation for the figures …

    It’s multi-factoral. CCMS’s stronger control over their school state and perhaps faster and more decisive intervention to improve schools compared with a more sprawling education and library board estate with councillors on the boards that make decisions political and slow. Prosperity breeds prosperity – valuing education and seeing it as part of a community ‘journey’ must also make a difference. Political leadership that at times pays lip service to anything that’s not a grammar school must also play a part. But if it’s multi-factorial, it’s also a vicious circle that seems hard to get out of.

  • Mick Fealty

    I’m thinking about whether there’s something more directly to do with the data itself. Are Catholics just in more need, and therefore a higher proportion need FSM?

    Or is there a higher take up? That might lead to the FSM cohort amongst Protestant boys starting further down the poverty level in terms relative to Catholic boys FSME?

    I’m pretty sure your point about estate management being sharper under maintained status (this is a real issue for those who want to get rid of Catholic education btw) is right.

    But when you consider the very high rate amongst all Chinese students (and other immigrant groups) aspirational culture may be an important factor too.

    I have to agree with Granni. We all knew this stuff ten years ago, and nothing practical has been done about it.

  • Neil

    I have to agree with Granni. We all knew this stuff ten years ago, and nothing practical has been done about it.

    Well, we can console ourselves with the fact that the number of pupils achieveing 5 GCSEs at grade A – C has increased year on year, every year since 2005, and 20% more pupils are now achieving that than in 2005.

    Seems like something has improved, somewhere in the system over the past decade?

    I’m thinking about whether there’s something more directly to do with the data itself. Are Catholics just in more need, and therefore a higher proportion need FSM?

    Yes, there is a greater need. Seems a touch obvious. That would be due to higher levels of unemployment and economic inactivity.

    Maybe we’re just inherently lazy as OM tends to suggest from time to time. Or maybe, if Invest NI could tear it’s gaze from East Belfast and create a job in the West someone might go to work in it.

    Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster revealed in the Assembly that out of £107.82million in financial assistance provided by Invest NI in the last financial year, just £360,000 went to West Belfast – the lowest of any parliamentary constituency in the North. East Belfast came top of the table with £28.09m in assistance followed by South Belfast with £15.7million.

    Minister Foster also revealed that no jobs were created in West Belfast by Invest NI in the 2010/2011 financial year from Inward Investment projects that the body supported – again, the lowest figure in the North. East Belfast again came top of this league table with 759 jobs created from Inward Investment projects followed by South Belfast with 624.

    So do you think maybe the SF education ministers having overseen a 20% increase in minimum educational achievement is a good thing? And do you think our DUP Enterprise minister’s creation of 760 jobs in East Belfast and not one in West Belfast is possibly related to FSME amongst Catholics? Strange don’t ya think, that West Belfast comes bottom of the table for both jobs and investment, while shockingly (just kidding) East Belfast comes top in both jobs and investment. What a coincidence!

  • Charles_Gould

    Let me be clear that I think it very important to focus on educational attainment at the bottom of the income spectrum. That focus is welcome.

    But I have some reservations about this report.

    One reservation is the rather “fast and loose” way in which data is sliced and presented.

    *I mentioned above that I was concerned about some ways in which the data is sliced and compared – for example the “selection effect” that Reader has correctly explained.

    *On another point on this first reservation: I think they do a lot of fast and loose things on the “demographic head counting” things. For instance, in that piece on demographics by age they actually throw away data on people who are “Other religions or none”, which are actually 15% of the 0-10 cohort, which makes things look quite different from if they are included. I think their approach is rather sensationalist.

    *Overall from what little I see of this report the statistical analysis comes across as somewhat “sensationalist” or “tabloid” in the way it is done.

    My second reservation. What I am also concerned about is a sense that the themes seem to be presented with a strong “moralizing voice” or indeed political spin. All this data is already in the public domian. What this report seems to do is to pull it together and put a particular spin on it.

    I am not really sure what this has to do with the work of the Community Relations Council.

  • Mick Fealty

    Okay, I see. The measurement is entitlement, and is therefore not reliant on uptake.

  • Charles_Gould

    Just basic labeling of variables is also terribly sloppy.

    For example when you look at one of the first charts Alan has presented above, with “catholic” in one bin and “protestant and other” in the second, it is reasonable to imagine that everyone is put in one or other bin. Anyone who is of “other religions” you would think would be included in “protestant and other”. But that is not the case. People of “other religions”, as well as people who are of no religion (who might well be “other” as well) are actually removed and thrown away from the pictogram.

    Awful work – if people who compile reports in NI do such shoddy presentation of statistics, this in itself ironically says something about low standards of education!

  • Mick Fealty

    On the ‘imagined’ culture war:

  • Granni Trixie

    I say it is brave of CRC to name a particular problem impactimg on children however unpalatable to contemplate (if seems). Yes, this case of deprivation has been made before but apparently not addressed to improve. It’s called ‘following the evidence where it exists’.

    Surely putting a reality check a la 2014 into the public domain is exactly what CRC ought to be doing given that A fair society is the key to a peaceful society and begs the question of is there a level playing field for working class boys? Interventions are called for and the CRC report is drawing attention to this.
    Lack if educational achievement is also relevant to the pressing contextual reality of the impact of loyalist paramilitaries. In other words CRC is demonstrating its relevance. Or what do we want them to do …push pens around?

  • Seamuscamp


    “Awful work – if people who compile reports in NI do such shoddy presentation of statistics, this in itself ironically says something about low standards of education!”

    It says absolutely nothing about standards of education. It may say something about the purpose of such reports and the biases that purpose introduces – albeit unconsciously (being charitable there).

    What is clear is that the state-run sector is doing less well than the CCMS sector. The reasons for this are less clear – it could be that one group of schools have better-trained teachers; or that community expectations are different and that this is reflected in attainments; or that one part of the system is better organised than the other; or that it is a sectarian plot; or …… Well you get the idea; we don’t seem to know. And no-one seems prepared to find out. In some cases they don’t want to find out because reality may confound prejudice and political policies.

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