Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Jane H. Thorpe

First Page



In Northern Ireland, a Catholic man is twice as likely to be unemployed as his Protestant counterpart. This employment differential can be attributed directly to the religious sectarianism that has plagued Northern Ireland for almost 400 years. Traditionally, the Protestant community has used economic rights and employment opportunities to maintain its power and authority over the Catholic community. Resolution of this employment differential would be a key step toward achieving peace and unity in Northern Ireland; however, no progress can be made toward this goal until both communities share economic benefits and hardships. In 1989, the British Parliament passed the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act of 1989 in an attempt to reduce the disparity of employment opportunities between the Catholic and Protestant communities. Although the 1989 Act outlaws both direct and indirect discrimination and sets forth a program of affirmative action, the Act desperately needs reform and refined implementation. In addition, the British Parliament needs to consider constitutional reforms that would provide a stronger foundation for employment legislation. This Note provides a brief introduction to the historical development of hostility between the Catholic and Protestant communities and its effect on Northern Ireland's economy. The Note then analyzes the distribution of employment between the two economies and the policies enacted to ensure fairness of distribution. Finally, it addresses the role of religion and sectarian strife in Northern Ireland's experience with employment discrimination, the need for legislative reform of the 1989 Act, and the importance of treating the sectarian divide as a constitutional issue.