PROTESTANTS IN THE
LABOUR MARKET: WHY DOES
ONE GROUP PERFORM
BETTER THAN THE OTHER?
8 Claims of discrimination against Roman Catholics go right to the heart of the Northern Ireland problem. The present, bloody conflict has its origins in a civil rights campaign in the late 1960s that demanded an end to Catholic disadvantage. The violence over the past generation has undoubtedly been fuelled by a deep sense of injustice and grievance in the minority community that they have been unfairly treated – discriminated against – especially during the Stormont years. A political agreement has been difficult to reach because the representatives of the Catholic community are filled with foreboding at the prospect of any purely internal settlement that might mark a return to Unionist hegemony. The claim is that Catholics have experienced discrimination in all walks of economic and social life, but that this disadvantage has been most acute in the labour market.
This chapter reviews the evidence of labour market disadvantage where Catholics are concerned, and assesses the competing theories developed to explain unequal status between the two religious blocs. It argues that we should stand back from any single, uni-dimensional explanation for the relatively poor position of Catholics in the Northern Ireland employment system. Certainly, the stereotypical arguments frequently heard in Northern Ireland on the matter– that Catholic disadvantage is the result of Unionist political domination or even oppression, or, conversely, that it is traits within the Catholic