'Equality, Contact and Pluralism: Attitudes to Community Relations' by A.M. Gallagher (1995), in, Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland: The Fourth Report
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The following chapter has been contributed by the author A. M. Gallagher with the permission of the publishers, Appletree Press. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
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The Fourth Report, 1994-1995
Since the British Social Attitudes Survey (BSA) was extended to Northern Ireland in 1989, it has provided an opportunity to assess the attitudinal climate towards a number of government initiatives. One important initiative, the attitudes to which we have examined in each survey year, concerns government policy on community relations in Northern Ireland. Working towards the improvement of community relations has formed a core element of government policy since the outbreak of violence in the late 1960s, although the priority attached to the policy arguably has waxed and waned over the years (Gallagher, 1994). It is clear, however, that in the latter half of the 1980s government adopted a more pro-active approach to this issue (Gallagher, 1993; Knox and Hughes, 1994).
In essence the policy contains three elements: firstly, a commitment to encourage greater contact between Protestants and Catholics; secondly, a commitment to work for greater tolerance of cultural pluralism; and thirdly, a commitment to the achievement of equality of opportunity. Within this framework a number of initiatives have been developed (see Gallagher, 1994 for a detailed account), but for the purposes of this chapter perhaps the most significant are the Fair Employment Act (1989) and the Education Reform Order (1989).
The Fair Employment Act (1989) significantly strengthened anti-discrimination measures in Northern Ireland. For the present purposes the key feature of the Act is the requirement on all employers with more than ten employees to monitor the religious composition of their workforces and report these data, on an annual basis, to the Fair Employment Commission. More generally, the Act aimed to eradicate discrimination in employment on the basis of religious affiliation or political opinion by outlawing indirect, as well as direct, discrimination, established a specialist Tribunal to adjudicate on allegations of discrimination and encouraged employers to adopt affirmative action measures to correct imbalances in their workforces where such imbalances were identified.
The Education Reform Order (1989) established a common curriculum for all school pupils in Northern Ireland and this included two cross-curricular themes with a specific community relations content, Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU) and Cultural Heritage. Under EMU encouragement is given to linked programmes of work between existing Protestant and Catholic schools. While recognising implicitly that most pupils will continue to be educated in de facto religiously segregated schools for the foreseeable future, the Education Reform Order committed government to support initiatives towards the development of planned integrated schools.
As indicated above, each presentation of the Northern Ireland Social Attitudes (NISA) survey, in 1989, 1990 and 1991, has included some items relating to aspects of community relations policy and the emergent attitudinal patterns have been assessed in each report on the survey. This chapter brings the picture up-to-date with evidence from the 1993 survey (no survey was held in 1992 because of the General Election).
Analyses of NISA data up to 1991 indicated the following patterns: firstly, the evidence highlighted the extent of social division in Northern Ireland on the basis of religion; secondly, there was support for a range of measures aimed at improving community relations, albeit that Catholic respondents indicated somewhat greater enthusiasm for these measures than Protestant respondents; and thirdly, the general pattern of responses indicated an emergent optimism that community relations were improving. The evidence from the 1993 survey adds to this picture. As we will see below, it emphasises once again the extent of social division in Northern Ireland, while indicating a continuing level of support for community relations initiatives. Indeed, in the area of fair employment the 1993 survey suggests increasing support for religious monitoring of workforces. Alongside this evidence, however, the 1993 survey points to a slight retrenchment in the general assessment of the state of relations between the two communities.
Having outlined the broad pattern emerging from the 1993 survey,
we now turn to a more detailed examination of the survey evidence.
We examine attitudes to community relations in five main areas.
The first section briefly illustrates the evidence on social division
in Northern Ireland. Although the 1993 data offers a picture little
different from previous survey years, it serves to remind us of the extent
of the problem faced by Northern Irish
society. The next three sections of the chapter examine attitudes
to a range of specific issues, organised under the headings of
Protestant/Catholic contact, attitudes to pluralism and attitudes
to equality. This approach is adopted as it links to the framework
of government policy. In the final section of the chapter we will
examine our respondents' assessment of the state of community
relations more generally. As indicated above, the 1993 survey
evidence points to some retrenchment to the previous pattern of
increasing optimism. We briefly assess some of the factors which
may contribute to an explanation of that retrenchment.
Past surveys have highlighted the division between the two main
religious communities in their political identification, their
views on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland and their
national identity. An essentially similar picture emerges from
our 1993 survey. We begin with Table 1 which shows the pattern
of political partisanship, for Northern Ireland parties only,
and illustrates the link between political identity and religion.
A clear majority of Protestants identify with one of the two main
unionist parties, while a clear majority of Catholics identify
with one of the two main nationalist parties. Only the Alliance
Party (AP) attracts some degree of support from both religious
communities although, ironically, a greater proportion from both
communities say they identify with no political party.
Political partisanship, Northern Ireland parties only (%)
Table 2 shows our respondents' views on the constitutional future
of Northern Ireland and again highlights differences between both
religious communities. Almost all Protestants in our survey say
that the Union between Britain and Northern Ireland should be
maintained, and almost nine-in-ten oppose the withdrawal of British
troops. By contrast, most Catholic respondents say that there
should be a united Ireland and that British troops should be withdrawn.
This general comparative pattern needs, however, to be counterbalanced
by the clear and consistent finding from our surveys that a greater
consensus on these issues exists for Protestants than for Catholics.
Thus, we can see from Table 2 that while most Catholics say there
should be a united Ireland, over a third would support the retention
of the Union. Similarly, while most support the withdrawal of
British troops, almost two-in-five say the troops should not be
withdrawn. It should be noted also that, in our 1993 survey, over
two-thirds of Protestants and Catholics feel that a united Ireland
is quite or very unlikely in the next 20 years.
Percentage in Northern Ireland saying that . . . (%)
When we turn to the issue of national identity we can see, from Table 3, the continuing pattern of difference between Protestants and Catholics. Over twothirds of Protestants prefer to describe themselves as British while three-in-five Catholics prefer to describe themselves as Irish. It is interesting to note that, in 1993, there is no agreement either on the second most preferred national identity, with about one-in-seven Protestants opting for the Ulster identity while one-in-four Catholics opt for Northern Irish.
Would you describe yourself as . . . (%)
In past surveys we have attempted to explore the extent to which
both communities were alienated from government. One of the questions
asked our respondents whether they would generally support the
British or Irish governments if there was a dispute between them.
In 1993 the pattern of responses was similar to past years in
that 81 per cent of Protestants, but only 12 per cent of Catholics,
say they would support the British government. By contrast, only
41 per cent of Catholics say they would support the Irish government,
while 20 per cent say they would support neither. This issue has
been explored by a further question which asked respondents whether
they would trust government under a range of conditions: these
data are shown in Table 4.
Percentage saying they would trust government just about always or most of the time (%)
We can see from Table 4 that a majority of Protestants would place greatest trust in a local Stormont government, but only three-in-ten would trust the British government under direct rule. Our 1993 data confirm past suggestions that while Protestants will support the British government in a crunch situation, clearly this support is not unequivocal, nor are current political arrangements their most desirable option. A somewhat contrasting picture emerges for our Catholic respondents, but once again the 1993 data confirm past patterns. We can see from Table 4 that Catholic respondents do not appear to place great trust in government under any of the three most likely options for the future. This seems to point to a general extent of Catholic alienation.
Thus far we have seen evidence that Protestants and Catholics
are divided in terms of their political partisanship, their views
on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland and their preferred
national identity. In addition we have seen evidence from our
survey which points to a pattern of political alienation within
both communities. There are nuances within this picture, the most
significant, perhaps, being the greater diversity of Catholic
opinion on the consititutional future, but the general comparative
pattern is important in that it provides the attitudinal context
within which views on more specific community relations issues
need to be set. It is to these more specific issues that we now
In our survey we examined attitudes to contact between Protestants
and Catholics by asking our respondents firstly, of the
extent to which they currently experience contact, and secondly,
whether they would like to have more contact. Table 5 shows the
pattern of responses to the first issue and illustrates the limited
extent of contact that currently exists. Thus, in 1993 80 per
cent or more of our respondents say that most or all of their
relatives are of the same religion, while about three-in-five
say that all or most of their friends and neighbours are of the
same religion. A comparison of our 1993 responses with the 1989
survey suggests that there has been little change in perceptions
of the level of contact, apart from a slight fall in the proportion
saying all or most of their friends were of the same religion.
Percentage saying that all or most of their . (%)
The pattern of responses on current contact contrasts with our
respondents' views on the desirability of greater contact between
both communities, as can be seen on Table 6. This table shows
that most respondents say they would prefer to live in a mixed
neighbourhood or to work in a mixed workplace, albeit that the
level of support for this is somewhat higher among Catholics than
Protestants. This picture is confirmed by responses to a series
of questions which asked whether government and public bodies
should do more to encourage integrated housing, integrated workplaces
or to work for better community relations. In all three situations
we find 90 per cent or more of Catholics and 80 per cent or more
of Protestants say that government and public bodies probably
or definitely should do more. Greater Catholic than Protestant
enthusiasm for these measures is indicated by the fact that they
are more likely to say that government and public bodies definitely
should do more, although we are here talking of degrees of support
rather than the fact of support. It is noteworthy also that almost
all our respondents feel that government and public bodies should
do more to teach Protestant and Catholic children to have greater
respect for each other.
Percentage saying they would prefer to . . . (%)
Following this last point we now turn to the questions we asked
on mixed or integrated schooling. In this and previous surveys
we asked our respondents two questions on religiously mixed schools:
firstly, did they think the government should encourage or discourage
mixed schools, or leave things as they are; and secondly, would
our respondents prefer to send their children to a mixed religion
school or one with only their religion. From Table 7 we can see
that most of our respondents think that the government should
encourage more mixed schools: this is so for two-thirds of Catholics
and almost three-in-five Protestants. Table 8 indicates that,
on our survey, slightly fewer than this, but still a majority,
say they would prefer to send their own children to a mixed-religion
school. While other evidence suggests that the proportion favouring
mixed-religion schools would decrease a little more if people
were actually, rather than hypothetically, faced with the issue
of choosing a school (Dunn and Cairns, 1992), there is clearly
a climate of support for the availability of an integrated option.
Government policy towards mixed schools should be to . . . (%)
Percentage saying they would prefer to send their children to a school that is . . . (%)
On the issue of Catholic/Protestant contact, the evidence of our
1993 survey consolidates the picture emerging from past presentations
of the NISA. In general, the survey evidence suggests that currently
most social contact operates within the two religious communities.
Despite this, most people indicate that they would prefer greater
contact across the community divide. More particularly, the evidence
of the survey suggests that there is a general climate of support
for the principle of religiously integrated schools, and even
more widespread support for the idea that government and public
bodies should do more to encourage better community relations.
Having examined attitudes to contact, we now turn to attitudes
to cultural pluralism.
Under the Education Reform Order (1989) two cross-curricular themes related to community relations became part of the statutory common curriculum for all schools in Northern Ireland. As one way of examining attitudes to cultural pluralism the NISA has included a series of questions asking respondents' views on whether certain issues ought to be taught to all pupils. These issues fall into three headings: history, religion, and Irish language and culture. Table 9 indicates the pattern of responses over the three survey years in which this question has been included.
Percentage agreeing that all secondary and grammar school pupils
should have to study . . . (%)
We can see from Table 9 that the pattern of responses from 1989 to 1993 has been reasonably consistent. Thus, a majority of Protestants and Catholics agree that the history of Northern Ireland, Britain and the Republic of Ireland should be taught to all pupils. A majority of Catholics, but less than half of Protestants, agree that Catholic and Protestant religious beliefs should be taught to all pupils. And finally, while a majority of Catholics agree that all pupils should be taught Irish language and culture, this is so for just over one-in-ten Protestants.
The evidence suggests that the degree of toleration of cultural
pluralism, at least in terms of what is taught in schools in Northern
Ireland, remains somewhat limited. In the area of history teaching
there is clear acceptance that pupils should learn about the past
of both islands, but greater Protestant reluctance is evident
in the area of religious education and, more particularly, Irish
language and culture.
Questions relating to perceptions of equality have featured in each presentation of the NISA. In 1993 the questions fell into two categories: firstly, we asked our respondents whether or not they felt that a variety of public bodies treated Protestants and Catholics equally; the second set of questions focused more specifically on the issue of discrimination in employment and attitudes to religious monitoring of workforces, as instituted by the Fair Employment Act (1989). We will consider the responses to both categories of questions separately.
In 1989, 1991 and again in 1993, a clear majority of our respondents expressed the view that the National Health Service, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Government schemes for the unemployed and the Courts, when dealing with non-terrorist offences, treat Protestants and Catholic equally. When we turn to other areas, however, a differential appears in the perceptions of Protestants and Catholics. We can see from Table 10 that this differential lies in two main areas: firstly, somewhat more Protestants than Catholics feel that Central Government and Local District Councils provide equality of treatment when they consider job applications. This differential pattern seems to be linked to a continuing Catholic belief that discrimination in employment exists in Northern Ireland, as we will see below.
The second area where fewer Catholics than Protestants believe equality of treatment is provided lies in the operations of the security apparatus in Northern Ireland. Indeed, in this area the gap in perceptions of equity between the two communities is even wider than in the previous situation, as can be seen on Table 10. While just over a half of Catholics feel that the Courts offer equal treatment when dealing with those accused of terrorist offences, this is so for almost four-in-five Protestants. While only a little over two-in-five Catholics feel the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army treat people equally, this is so for seven-in-ten Protestants. And while 60 per cent of Protestants feel that the Ulster Defence Regiment/Royal Irish Regiment (UDR/RIR) treat people equally, this perception is held only by half as many Catholics. While this continuing differential in perceptions represents the most significant aspect of these data, it is noteworthy that the Catholic perception of equal treatment has been rising over the survey years in the cases of the RUC and, perhaps more significantly, the UDR/RIR.
We now turn to the more specific questions we asked on perceptions of employment discrimination. We began by suggesting to our respondents that some people felt many employers were more likely to give jobs to Protestants rather than Catholics, and asked whether they felt this happened a lot, a little, or not at all. We then asked the same question, but this time suggesting that some people felt that many employers were more likely to give jobs to Catholics rather than Protestants. Asking both questions separately allows us to assess the extent to which our respondents feel the labour market is religion-neutral, and it is clear from the evidence that they do not. In the 1993 survey four-in-five Catholics feel that many employers will advantage Protestants a lot or a little, while three-in-five Protestants feel that many employers will advantage Catholics a lot or a little. Furthermore, over one-in-four Catholics and one-in-ten Protestants feel this happens a lot. This does not represent the total picture, however, as three-in-five Catholics and just over a half of Protestant respondents say that many employers will advantage a co-religionist a lot or a little, although on this occasion only seven per cent of Catholics and six per cent of Protestants say this happened a lot. The main conclusion to be derived from these data is that most of our respondents do not feel that the labour-market is religion-neutral, but rather that religion can operate as a criterion of judgement in job appointments.
Percentage saying that the chances of Catholics and Protestants getting a job are . . . (%)
We next asked our respondents for their views on the relative chances of Protestants and Catholics in getting a job. The responses can be seen in Table 11 and suggest two conclusions: firstly, Protestants are more likely than Catholics to feel that members of both communities have the same chance in getting a job, a pattern which is consistent with the evidence of previous surveys. The second conclusion, however, is that the proportion of Catholics who feel that members of both communities have the same chance has increased over a number of survey years. It seems not unreasonable to speculate that this pattern may represent increasing Catholic confidence in the efficacy of Fair Employment legislation.
Accepting the patterns discussed in the previous paragraph, we next asked those respondents who felt that the chances of getting a job were different, who was advantaged: the responses are shown in Table 12. The pattern of responses on the 1993 survey this time is more consistent with previous survey evidence in that a clear majority of Catholics feel that Protestants are advantaged. The picture for Protestant respondents is somewhat more complex: while 28 per cent say that Protestants are advantaged, a higher proportion (41 per cent), say that Catholics are advantaged.
If the chances are different, which group is more likely to get a job? (%)
The overall conclusion from these data seems to be as follows:
firstly, there is a general feeling that religion plays some role
in the labour market. Secondly, more Catholics than Protestants
feel that there are unequal chances for members of both communities
in getting jobs, although the proportion of Catholics who feel
job chances are the same has risen significantly over the years.
Thirdly, among those Catholics who feel job chances are not equal,
there is a consensus that Protestants are at an advantage. Fourthly,
among the smaller proportion of Protestants who feel that job
chances are not the same for members of both communities, there
is a more widespread feeling that discrimination occurs both ways,
with Catholics having a somewhat greater chance overall: this
may be linked to Protestant perceptions of the consequences of
the 1989 Fair Employment Act. And it is to a particular feature
of that Act that we now turn.
Percentage saying they support or oppose the Fair Employment Law
requiring employers to monitor employees' religion (%)
In addition to the questions on employment discrimination, the
NISA in 1989, 1991 and 1993 contained a question asking for views
on the law which requires employers to monitor the religion of
their workforces. Table 13 shows the pattern of responses over
the survey years and on this occasion it is the extent of change
that is most interesting. We can see from Table 13 that Catholics
have consistently shown a pattern of support for religious monitoring
of workforces and that by 1993 this had risen to over nine-in-ten
in support. In the 1989 survey, when the terms of the legislation
was still under discussion, by a narrow majority Protestant opinion
opposed compulsory monitoring. By 1991 Protestant opinion had
swung in favour of monitoring and this pattern is confirmed in
our 1993 data. Annual religious monitoring of workforces has occurred
since 1990 and now affects every workplace with more than 10 employees:
it is clear from our survey evidence that there is widespread
agreement for this measure.
In the previous sections of this chapter we have examined evidence
on social division, attitudes to Protestant/Catholic contact,
attitudes to cultural pluralism, and perceptions of equity of
treatment and equal opportunity. In this final section of the
chapter we will turn to those questions where we asked our respondents
for their general perceptions of the state of relations between
the two communities in Northern Ireland.
Perceptions of relations between Catholics and Protestants now
compared with five years ago (%)
In order to examine perceptions on this issue we asked our respondents two questions: firstly, did they think that relations between Protestants and Catholics were better, about the same, or worse in comparison with five years ago; secondly, did they think community relations would be better, about the same, or worse in five years time. The responses are shown in Tables 14 and 15 for each question respectively. From both tables we can see that about half of our sample feel that the state of community relations is about the same now as compared with five years ago, and will be about the same in five years time. While this represents the predominant view, it is perhaps the balance of opinion among those who feel some sort of change is happening that is of most interest. We can see that between 1989 and 1991 there was a marked shift of opinion, in an optimistic direction, for both Protestants and Catholics, with more feeling that community relations had improved and were likely to improve. In our 1993 survey, however, there is evidence of a retrenchment of opinion with a decline in the proportion of those offering an optimistic view in comparison with our 1991 data. Perhaps more worrying is the generally larger increase in the proportion of those offering a more pessimistic view. Thus, we can see from Table 14 that, in 1991 16 per cent of Catholics and 15 per cent of Protestants felt that community relations were worse than five years ago, but in 1993 these figures had risen to 24 per cent and 28 per cent respectively. We can see a similar pattern of results in Table 15 regarding our respondents' expectations of the state of community relations in five years time.
Perceptions of relations between Catholics and Protestants
in five years time (%)
Given the nature of social attitudes surveys and the range of factors that may influence respondents' choices at any particular point in time, it is difficult to identify simple causal explanations for attitudinal patterns. That said, it is possible to speculate that the general pattern of responses regarding the state of community relations in Northern Ireland may be linked to the changing nature of the conflict in recent years. We will examine this dynamic using data on the level of deaths that have occurred in the conflict.
Figure 1 shows the total number of deaths related to the conflict
occurring in Northern Ireland. The general pattern is well known,
with a high level of deaths in the early to mid-1970s, a rapid
decline in the late 1970s and a degree of relative stability in
the level of deaths from this point onwards. From Figure 2 we
can see, however, that it is possible to identify three periods
in the nature of the conflict over this period: up to the mid-1970s
by far the highest proportion of deaths were civilians (although
this will include suspected paramilitaries), from the mid-1970s
to the mid-1980s the proportions of civilian and security force
deaths got much closer, but from the mid-1980s onwards civilians
again bore the brunt of the deaths, this being particularly noticeable
in 1991 and 1992.
(source: RUC data)
(source: calculated from RUC data)
In the years between 1972 and 1977 loyalist groups were responsible for no less than 26 per cent of the deaths attributed to paramilitary groups, with a peak in 1975 when they were responsible for 54 per cent of deaths (source: calculated from Irish Information Partnership data). Up to 1989 this period in the 1970s was the one when sectarian assassinations constituted the main form of killings (McKeown, 1989). Although no similar published analysis has been carried out for the period from the late 1980s onwards, we have seen from Figure 2 that the proportion of civilian deaths has risen during this period. From Figure 3 we can see also that a further feature of the period is the rise in activity of paramilitary groups: throughout the 1980s loyalist groups were attributed responsibility for 20 per cent of murders, but this has risen in each year of the 1990s, most notably in 1991, when they were attributed with 46 per cent of murders, and 1992, when they were attributed with 52 per cent of murders. Since the NISA is administered in the spring, the years 1991 and 1992 cover the main period between the 1991 and 1993 surveys. There would seem to be some evidence then that the retrenchment we have identified in our respondents' perceptions of the state of community relations in Northern Ireland may be linked to the changing nature of the violence. Quite apart from the fact that paramilitary violence from both loyalist and republican groups makes the problem more complex and thus apparently more difficult to resolve, the rising proportion of civilian deaths suggests that the violence may have taken on a more random character.
(source: RUC data)
The general picture emerging from the fourth administration of the NISA could be described as follows: the survey evidence suggests that religion continues to provide a potent basis for social division in Northern Ireland. Despite this, there is a consistent finding, over the survey years, that most of our respondents would like to see more done to improve community relations. There is general support for greater contact between Protestants and Catholics. We examined views on cultural pluralism by asking about the teaching of history, religion, and Irish language and culture: while Catholics are supportive of all the issues raised, a degree of Protestant reluctance is evident on the teaching of religious beliefs and, more particularly, Irish language and culture.
A major part of the survey examined attitudes to equality of opportunity and equal treatment. Here we find a continuing Catholic perception that they are not accorded equal treatment by the security forces. There is evidence from our survey of a continuing widespread view that religion can play some role in job opportunities. While Catholics are more likely than Protestants to feel that religious discrimination in employment exists, and that it operates to their disadvantage, there is evidence that the proportion of Catholics who feel this way has declined over the survey years. It is noteworthy also that there is now clear evidence of widespread support for religious monitoring of workforces.
Evidence from the 1991 survey suggested a growing optimism in our respondents' views on the state of community relations in Northern Ireland. In the 1993 survey there is evidence of a retrenchment, with a noticeable rise in the proportion of respondents who feel that community relations have got worse and are likely to get worse over the next few years. In this analysis we have suggested that this pattern of evidence may by linked to a change in the nature of violence in recent years, with a rise in the proportion of civilian casualties and increased activity by loyalist paramilitary groups.
Since the 1993 survey was administered a number of highly significant
events have occurred: towards the end of the year the violence
plunged to new depths with the Shankill bombing and the Greysteel
attack. These were quickly followed by the revelation of secret
contacts between the British government and the IRA, a continuing
dialogue between the leaders of the SDLP and Sinn Fein, and the
Downing Street Declaration. This has been a period of unusual
instability, even for Northern Ireland, and it remains unclear
where it will lead.
DUNN, S. and CAIRNS, E. 1992. 'A Survey of Parental Opinion on Education in Northern Ireland', Seventeenth Report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (Annex I), House of Commons Paper 54, HMSO, London.
GALLAGHER, AM. 1994. 'The Approach of Government: Equity and Community Relations', in S. Dunn (ed.), Facets of the Conflict in Northern Ireland, Macmillan, London.
GALLAGHER, A.M. 1993. 'Community Relations', in P. Stringer and G. Robinson (eds.) Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland: The Third Report, Blackstaff Press, Belfast.
KNOX, C and HUGHES, J. 1994. 'Equality and Equity: an emerging government policy in Northern Ireland', New Community, 10, 207-225.
MCKEOWN, M. 1989. Two Seven Six Three: an analysis of fatalities
attributable to civil disturbances in Northern Ireland in the
twenty years between July 13, 1969 and July 12, 1989, Murlough
Press, Co. Antrim.
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