Ulster: Catholics remain Ulster's poor relations: After 20 years of direct rule from London, there is still a wide socio-economic gap between the communities. David McKittrick reports

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The Independent Online
AN OUTSPOKEN loyalist woman from the Shankill Road summed up a firm perception among many Protestants: 'We've seen the nationalist community crying out for years for things and now they're getting them. They've better housing than us now. They get all the jobs they want now and it's all turning full circle. We're ending up with nothing.'

A number of Protestant politicians and clergy are now making similar points. As a rising Catholic middle class makes advances and becomes more visible, the impression is widespread that the Catholic community as a whole is now winning out.

There is certainly Protestant poverty and unemployment in the province, yet almost every objective measurement of disadvantage indicates that, after more than two decades of direct rule from London, the Catholic community remains far behind.

The scale of Catholic disadvantage was starkly laid out in a confidential government document which stated: 'On all the major social and economic indicators Catholics are worse off than Protestants. They are more likely to be unemployed, more likely to experience long-term unemployment and significantly less likely to hold professional, managerial or other non-manual positions.

'More Catholics than Protestants leave school lacking any formal educational qualifications. There is a greater provision of grammar school places for Protestant than Catholic children. Significantly more Catholics than Protestants live in public sector housing and experience overcrowding. Catholic households have a lower income than Protestant households. Almost double the proportion of Catholic households are dependent on social security. Catholics suffer from higher levels of ill-health.'

Nearly 70 per cent of the long-term unemployed are Catholic, and their community has a higher rate of premature live births and a lower vaccination uptake.

The worst Catholic ghettos are marked by low skill levels, a weak private sector, depressing physical environment, low morale and job expectations, high levels of criminal and paramilitary activity, inter-community conflict and friction with the security forces.

In recent years attention has focused on political alienation, but it is clear that much of the Catholic and nationalist dissatisfaction is also based on economic deprivation.

In one survey, 31 per cent of Catholics and 19 per cent of Protestants cited unemployment as Ulster's biggest problem. Asked which single change was most needed to end the troubles, one-third of Catholics said 'equal opportunities for Protestants and Catholics' compared to 13 per cent who said 'a united Ireland'.

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