Loyalists feel sorry for themselves but the narrative of oppression doesn’t hold up
Opinion: Proportion of people in low-income households greater among Catholics
It is only in the area of education where working-class Protestants are seen to be doing even worse than their Catholic counterparts: the 2010 deprivation measure found that 12 of the 20 most deprived wards assessed on education, skills and training are predominantly Protestant, as are 26 of the worst 30 wards for school pupil absenteeism. In 2011, a report aimed at improving educational standards among young working-class Protestants explored several community and cultural reasons for this, particularly deindustrialisation and the loss of traditional labour markets and skills. Plentiful trades and apprenticeships in the past meant there was less emphasis on the need for qualifications; when the jobs evaporated, the pattern of educational disengagement endured, and has now become augmented by a kind of listless fatalism. As east Belfast Progressive Unionist Party councillor John Kyle puts it: “There is a culture of worklessness, which perpetuates the expectation that there will be no work in the future.”
Yet even here, where there appears to be a marked disparity between the two communities, the loyalist grievance narrative cannot be sustained. For example, the fact remains that it is working-class Catholics who make up the majority of boys failing to gain at least five GCSE qualifications.
Poverty and deprivation
All of which goes to show – unsurprisingly enough – that the ugly, life-diminishing manifestations of poverty and deprivation are a shared phenomenon, not the sole fate of one community or the other. And that loyalism’s sense of itself as a goaded, beaten dog is far more complex and intractable an issue than a simplistic inventory of material disadvantage can ever hope to explain.
That’s not to say loyalists’ complaints don’t deserve a fair hearing, especially those concerning the smiling machinations of republicans. But paranoia, thwarted entitlement and internalised hatred has rendered many of them immune to constructive dialogue. Even if you reach out a hand in sympathy, they growl and recoil, crouching for the expected blow.