Steady decline in number of Protestant civil servants concerns Orange Order

The Northern Ireland Civil Service was once dominated by Protestants, but a steady decline in their numbers has led the Orange Order to write a report on the trend and request action to reverse it.

The institution has also asked for a meeting with the Head of the Civil Service, Malcolm McKibbin, despite him turning down such a meeting a year ago and stating that it would be “inappropriate” to meet the order about staffing matters.

Orange Grand Secretary Drew Nelson told the News Letter: “I would like to meet with the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) to discuss with him what he proposes to do to address these issues and to offer that the Orange Order would work with him if he feels it would be appropriate that we work with him to address these issues.”

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Mr Nelson accepted that “probably 50 years ago” the Civil Service was disproportionately Protestant in its makeup. But the report shows that each year since 2001 there has been a one per cent drop in the percentage of Protestant civil servants.

In 2001, 60 per cent of the Civil Service was Protestant. By 2013, that had fallen to 52 per cent. Mr Nelson said that he attributed the shift to “a prevailing ethos within the Civil Service that for 50 years when it was Stormont one party rule the Civil Service was seen as maybe a cold house for Catholics...that ethos, it seems to me, has continued and there’s still a continuing perception that some great wrong needs to be rectified.”

The 27-page report said it was “totally inconsistent” for the Prison Service to meet with the GAA to discuss its (overly Protestant) religious imbalance, but other parts of the Civil Service refused to meet the Orange Order.

The report said that while it was “commendable” that the Prison Service was attempting to address its religious imbalance, departments “which have a disproportionate Roman Catholic numerical bias have not demonstrated the rigour and priority [given to the issue in the Prison Service]”.

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Citing a Civil Service report, the Orange document quotes a number of “worrying conclusions”. However, the first of these appears to state that the Civil Service is very close to being perfectly representative of wider society. It said: “Overall, the community background percentage composition of the NICS closely matches that of its comparator population though the difference equates to about 300 fewer Protestants / more Catholics employed than would be the case if the NICS exactly reflected its comparator population”.

If Protestants are underrepresented by 300 posts, that equates to about 1.1 per cent of the entire Civil Service. When asked about that, Mr Nelson said: “Yes, but it’s 300 Protestant jobs,” adding that as those figures are for 2013 and the trend has been clear for more than a decade “I suspect that 300 is near a thousand now”.

Much of the report is made up of anonymous testimony from civil servants, the vast majority of which relates to either the Department of Social Development (DSD) or its subsidiary, the Social Security Agency (SSA). One person said that while working at the SSA they witnessed a Protestant employee “being subjected to sectarian abuse, being ostracised and bullied because of her Protestant religion. Daily jokes were made about ‘Prods’, staff flaunted clothing in green, white and gold and various tables were record departmental information in these same three colours”.

They claimed that “some Roman Catholic managers simply turn a blind eye to it”.

The Civil Service did not respond to a request for comment.

‘Colleagues openly talk about...going to Mass’

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Most of the complaints in the personal statements contained in the report related to mention of the GAA, with some complaints about religious symbols in the workplace.

An individual who works at DSD complained about “Catholic colleagues [who] openly talk about GAA, their religion, going to Mass, Ash Wednesday, come into work with Ash on their heads, their children’s confirmation”.

A civil servant at the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, said: “I am tired of having the Irish language, GAA and nationalism in general rammed down my throat on an ongoing basis. Some of my colleagues had the audacity to bring their GAA sports tops into work and one had a GAA mug on his desk.

“I thought that those things were against the rules but when I spoke out the manager turned a blind eye.”

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Another individual said: “Line management openly let their staff know (Catholic and Protestant) of the sports their children play, specifically camogie and GAA and the schools their children attend. I see this as letting Protestant staff know who they are.”

When asked if he felt that staff were being overly sensitive if they were offended by colleagues discussing their children’s schools or sport, Drew Nelson told the News Letter: “The difference is this - the GAA is seen as the mirror image of the Orange Order in the two communities [because] a Roman Catholic can’t join the Orange Order and the GAA is a nationalist organisation; a unionist can’t join.

“The prevailing ethos within the Northern Ireland Civil Service is that it’s quite acceptable to discuss GAA issues in front of colleagues from the other community, but to discuss Orange Order issues...our people are afraid to do that...why is that?”

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