15 years after the conflict (continued): Universities integrated but students still separated

Northern Ireland has a segregated education system, until you go to university. But even though the universities have no formal separation the students still socialize within their own community.

By Elin Larsson and Natalija Sako

Belfast, UK: Julian McReynolds and Catrina Hannigan are both studying education at the University of Ulster, and they both come from a Catholic background. But even though they feel that the conflict has nothing to do with their generation, they still mostly socialize with other Catholics.

Julian McReynolds. Photo Elin Larsson

Julian McReynolds  met a Protestant  for the first time when he was 11 and joined a cross-community programme. Photo: Elin Larsson

– There is definitely still separation here, I for example feel that the Protestants are a lot harder to get close to and that they mostly keep to themselves, says Catrina Hannigan.

– I feel more tension here in Belfast than the town I am from. There is definitely more segregation and sectarianism here. I do not think the conflict has decreased, I think it is actually stayed the same, she says.

 Julian McReynolds has a different view on his generation and thinks there are less issues today. According to him the religious differences are not something you talk about at university and he feels that there is less bitterness in the society.

– I think  progress has been made through institutions like further and higher education. And people of my generation are more open to the rest of the world and realizes how small insignificant our issues are, he says.

Helen McAvoy had an all catholic education background and Andrew Gilbert is a Protestant who went to an integrated school, but at university they became friends. Still they agree that the issues between Protestants and Catholics are far from over.


Andrew Gilbert to the left and Helen McAvoy to the right both come from open homes where religion was not an issue.  Photo: Elin Larsson

– How much you care about the issue probably depends on your parents. Obviously It is not an issue for me but I have friends where it would not be ok if the brought home someone from the other religion, says Helen McAvoy.

She claims that no one at university will talk about their backgrounds but that everyone still knows who is Catholic and who is Protestant.

– Even if it is not an issue at home you know 10 seconds after meeting someone what they are based on their name, accent, where they grew up, which school they went to. So you make a snap judgement on which side of the fence they are from, she says.

(go back)

Professor Colin Knox at the University of Ulster talks about how segregated schools affect attitudes in the society