Perceptions of Community Relations | ARK Data Series for 30 years

27 October 2020

A woman working on a computer | NICRC

by Martina McKnight and Paula Devine, ARK

This is a guest article sourced by NICRC.


2020 marks special anniversaries for two important organisations focusing on good relations: Community Relations Council (CRC) is celebrating its 30th anniversary, while ARK is ten years younger.

In 2000, researchers at Queen’s University and Ulster University launched ARK – Northern Ireland’s Social Policy hub. ARK’s main goal is to increase the accessibility and use of academic data and research relating to society and politics in Northern Ireland. Central to this are three attitudes surveys:

  • Northern Ireland Life and Times (NILT)
  • Young Life and Times (YLT)
  • Kids’ Life and Times (KLT) which elicit the views of adults, 16-year-olds and 10/11-year-olds respectively.

Survey topics explore key social policy issues affecting our lives. Importantly, questions on inter-community and inter-cultural community relations have been asked annually in both NILT and YLT since their inception. As such, ARK provides time-series data that are easily accessible and widely used, not least, as outcome indicators from key policies by the Northern Ireland Executive and local councils. ARK has recently released the data from the 2019 surveys.

Two questions included annually in NILT, which began in 1998, and YLT, which began in 2003, ask respondents to assess current relations between the Protestant and Catholic communities in comparison to the five years preceding and five years following the survey. This question was previously asked in the Northern Ireland Social Attitudes (NISA), which ran from 1989 to 1996, meaning that we have data spanning the lifetime of CRC.

Two main points are evident from the graph below. Firstly, respondents’ attitudes can be seen to be both positively and negatively influenced by external events; and, secondly, young people’s attitudes have been, until recently, generally less positive than adults. While peaks and troughs are evident, a degree of pessimism is evident since 2016. The proportions of both adults and young people who feel that community relations will be better in 5 years’ time, and the proportion of young people who feel they are better than 5 years past are nearly identical to when the questions were first asked in 1989 and 2003 respectively. While the proportion of adults who think community relations are better than the preceding 5 years is greater than when the question was first asked, it is the lowest since 2003.


Proportions of adults (NISA, NILT) and 16 year olds (YLT) believing that relations between Protestants and Catholics are better now than 5 years ago, and will be better in 5 years’ time (%)



This very brief overview of one aspect of community relations, highlights the importance of collecting time-series data. They can reveal the progress made in a long-term political process, as substantial incidents and events lose their significance over time, and general trends become more visible. The political uncertainty of the past few years is evident in the findings and it will be interesting to see how this is reflected in the 2020 data.

Tables of results for all three surveys, along with questionnaires, technical notes, and datasets are available from ARK at

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