Economic Discrimination Against Catholics in Northern Ireland

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Economic Discrimination Against Catholics in Northern Ireland

The Catholics were victim to discriminatory laws and regulations in employment, housing, and regional development. These were mainly caused by violent sectarian conflicts between the overwhelmingly Protestant unionists (loyalists) who wanted the province to remain part of the United Kingdom from around 1968 to 1998 in Northern Ireland and the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nationalists (Republicans) who wanted Northern Ireland to become part of the Republic of Ireland.


  • The Troubles, also called Northern Ireland conflict, were a violent sectarian conflict between the overwhelmingly Protestant unionists (loyalists) who wanted the province to remain part of the United Kingdom from around 1968 to 1998 in Northern Ireland and the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nationalists (Republicans) who wanted Northern Ireland to become part of the Republic of Ireland.
  • The best jobs were for Protestants, but there was still work for Catholics in the humming local economy.
  • Catholics asserted that when it came to allocating public housing, appointments for public service employment, and government investment in neighborhoods, they were discriminated against.
  • Control of domestic and most local governments also gave the majority of the Unionist population the authority to determine the Protestant and Catholic share of public sector advantages.
  • In general, unionist-controlled councils used their authority to deny Catholics and sometimes Protestants housing if councils believed that Catholics in the same counties could demand equal homes.
  • Catholics were mainly hired in unskilled and low-paid employment such as the production of clothing and textiles.
  • The more the sector paid (and the more regular the work), the fewer Catholics it tended to hire.
  • Catholics also tended to operate in sectors more susceptible to financial downturns and thus more likely to lay off employees during a financial crisis.
  • Policies affecting the location of fresh sectors through zoning and tax incentives encouraged companies to be placed in regions that are hard or harmful for Catholics to reach.
  • The Catholics were suppressed by discriminatory laws and regulations. Several uprisings began that were quickly crushed by the police and the British Army.


  • In the public sector, Catholics encountered difficulties in employment as there was a significant bias toward employing Protestants, mostly in senior levels of the civil service.
  • In a report by the Cameron Commission in 1969, "as of October 1968 in County Fermanagh, no senior council posts, (and relatively few others) were held by Catholics." And in the same county, according to the Sunday Times, in 1961, 322 of the 370 posts including the top ones, were filled with Protestants.
  • This is particularly interesting because the bulk of Fermanagh's individuals were Catholics, highlighting the magnitude of the discrimination against them.
  • The Sunday Times also reported that “of 177 salaried employees, 145 earning £124,424 — were Protestant, and only 32 — earning £20,420 — were Catholic” which highlights the differences in wages as well as representation.
  • The 1971 census confirms that Catholics are under-represented by less than 1% in education (lower class public service), yet under-represented by 6.7% in government and administration. This indicates that while they were less discriminated against as the rate decreased, there was still reasonable discrimination between all levels of the public sector throughout the 1960s.
  • Private engineering companies, such as Harland and Wolff shipyard and Mackies textile machinery, were the primary culprits for discrimination in the private sector. In 1982, a study from the Fair Employment Agency stated that there were no Catholic technicians working for Harland and Wolff and that only 10% of Mackies' staff were Catholics.
  • Catholics made up about 40% of manual laborers and, in 1951, they retained only 11% of senior positions. By 1959, this figure shrank to 6% but started to increase following reforms following the outbreak of violence, reaching nearly 15% by 1973.
  • An investigation by The Cameron Commission uncovered that Unionist councils used their authority in the recruitment process to discriminate against Catholics.
  • According to a report by the Irish government’s New Ireland Forum Report in 1984, the means of social and economic development had been deprived of Northern Catholics.
  • Unemployment levels in the Republic of Ireland for the Catholic majority are 70% greater than for the Protestant minority in the republic.


  • Houses were often given priority to Protestants over Catholics. This was often a clear manifestation of discrimination as it was given to less deserving Protestants.
  • Catholics were also restricted to where they could live. There have been many instances in which the government has denied them homes in certain districts to safeguard the gerrymandered borders and to maintain the unionist government under firm control. Bowyer Bill wrote, “without a house, the Catholics would go away. With a house, the Catholics would stay and put the gerrymandered districts to threat. So there were few houses for Catholics."
  • Catholics were also compelled by the individuals who resided there, sometimes violently, to migrate from Protestant regions. B MacLaverty wrote in his novel that "his father and he were the only Catholic family left in the whole estate. Fear had driven others out but his father would not move.”
  • Fundamental facilities were lacking in 36% of Catholic households, compared to 31% for members of the Church of Ireland and 27% for Presbyterians.


  • Since the east was majoritively Protestant, government choices focused growth in the east and disregarded the west, although the west required much more growth.
  • Michelin was offered £1 million extra in public aid if it were to settle a plant in Derry. But, it still preferred the eastern town of Ballymena, which is predominantly Protestant.


  • As the 1970s advanced, riots in Belfast and Derry became more prevalent, bombings of government locations by both Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists and violent, deadly atrocities were committed on both sides of the conflict.
  • The barbed wire set by British soldiers to separate sectarian groups developed into "peace walls" of brick and steel, some of which were 45 feet (14 meters) elevated, separating loyalists and republicans.
  • The dispute achieved a fresh level of intensity on 30 January 1972, when British paratroopers fired on Catholic civil rights protesters in Londonderry, killing 13 people and wounding 14 others.
  • The war in Northern Ireland in 1972, which proved to be the deadliest single year in the Troubles, murdered more than 480 individuals.
  • In the mid-decade (1974–76), paramilitary violence led to the civilian fatalities of some 370 Catholics and 88 Protestants.

  • "There has been a long history of violence, prejudice, and discrimination between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, particularly highlighted throughout the 1960s, when Catholics were discriminated against by the Protestant Stormont Government in both employment and housing."
  • "In the end, it is very clear that Catholics were discriminated against in a variety of different ways - in public employment, although even more so in the private sector by engineering firms. Protestants were also preferred to Catholics in terms of housing priority; however, the main discrimination in housing came from the lack of freedom in living within gerrymandered unionist districts. Overall, it is evident that that discrimination occurred to a large extent against Catholics"
  • " Catholic workers had been violently expelled from the Belfast shipyards several times during the nineteenth century."
  • "At the same time there were too few Catholic applicants to challenge these prejudices. Shea suggests that too many Catholics preferred second class citizenship to working for the government."
  • "Perhaps the clearest examples of job discrimination came among the non-manual employees of local authorities. By 1971 total employment in local authorities had grown to 5,700 of which an estimated 1,600 or 28% were Catholic."
  • "In the 1960s the confrontations hardened. The Catholics felt suppressed and demonstrated for civil rights and equal treatment with the Protestants."
  • "Catholics were also under-represented on statutory bodies, and among the higher ranks of the employees of such bodies. Gallagher (1957: 213-14) reported that there was no Catholic on the Civil Service Commission, the Promotion Board for the Postal Service, the Unemployment Assistance Board, or the Fire Authority."