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Report: Catholics Gain, Discrimination Cuts Both Ways

March 9, 1992

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Roman Catholics are making inroads but Northern Ireland’s job market remains deeply segregated, the government’s Fair Employment Commission reported Monday.

Discrimination in jobs has long been a rallying cry among Northern Ireland’s disadvantaged Catholic minority. Statistics show Catholic males are 2 times as likely to be unemployed as Protestant men.

The commission, created in 1989 to monitor the employment practices of Northern Ireland companies, surveyed 97 public employers and 1,831 private firms.

The commission found that Catholics in 1991 made up more than 38 percent of the potential workforce but held 35 percent of the available jobs.

However, the Catholic share was up 0.4 percent from 1990.

″If that trend continues, the employment differential between Catholic and Protestant would be dealt with within the next seven years,″ said Bob Cooper, the commission’s director.

But, he said, ″many companies employ far too few Catholics. But there are too many companies where there are far too few Protestants as well.″

Belfast’s one-time industrial giant, the Harland and Wolff shipyards, long had barred all but a few Catholics from their shop floors. In 1991, only 5.7 percent of its 2,691 workers were Catholic.

The company, however, said its recent recruitment has been in line with the numbers of Protestants and Catholics in the area.

Short Brothers, the aircraft and missile manufacturer that is the largest private employer in Northern Ireland, recorded a 9 percent rise in its Catholic workforce the past decade to reach 12.4 percent last year.

The difference, Cooper said, is that the Canadian-owned Shorts is growing, despite occasional IRA sabotage to its east Belfast plant, while Harland and Wolff is in decline. ″Equal opportunity isn’t about giving Catholics jobs by laying off Protestants,″ he said. ″An expanding economy is central to change.″

Some companies with the most progressive records on fair hiring are owned and operated by North American concerns, the survey found.

The Ford Motors plant in west Belfast, located between Protestant and Catholic districts, employed 58.2 percent Protestants and 41.8 percent Catholics in its work force of 716.

The Du Pont chemical works outside Londonderry has a 67 percent Catholic workforce among its 1,558 employees, reflecting the Catholic majority in the city.

Several companies in the predominantly Catholic west of the province have few Protestant workers, the study found.

The Sean Quinn cement giant on the Irish border employs 271 people, almost every one a Catholic. The United Technologies Automotive Ltd., which makes car parts on the Catholic west side of Londonderry, has 739 workers - fewer than 10 of them Protestant.

Belleek Pottery has 10 Protestants among its 122 workers. But production manager Arthur Goan said Belleek is a rural Catholic border town and its work force reflects that.

″Obviously we would like to see more Protestants applying for jobs here, but it is difficult,″ Goan said in a telephone interview.

He said the report could undermine its intent by discouraging Protestant applicants: ″They look at those numbers and think, ’I won’t apply there because I know I won’t get a job anyway.‴

The commission has the power to punish employers who discriminate in hiring and promotion.

On Friday, the commission awarded compensation of $43,750 to a Catholic laundry worker who had been passed over for promotion at a Belfast hospital in favor of a less-qualified Protestant.

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