One hundred years to the day after its foundation on 3 May 1921 Northern Ireland, on paper at least, is outdoing the rest of the United Kingdom on many metrics.

The UK’s smallest country has seen the lowest unemployment rate on the British Isles for six consecutive quarters, reaching a record low in late 2019; pre-Covid tourism was booming ; and it has the highest levels of wellbeing in the OECD.

It is the only region of the UK where the proportion of people in persistent low income (after housing costs) is below 10% of the population while the absolute number of children living in poverty has fallen in the past five years, in contrast with the UK-wide figure.

However, Northern Ireland has most recently made the headlines for what many had hoped were the long-gone reasons.

The riots that broke out in the capital Belfast in late March and early April were variously attributed to unionist discontent with Brexit (specifically the Northern Irish protocol) and the decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Féin politicians for alleged breaches of Covid-19 rules at the funeral of a former IRA member.

But there were also those who warned that part of the violence was borne out of a frustration that working class areas of Northern Ireland have been left behind.


On the face of it Northern Ireland ranks mid table when compared with the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland in terms of NEETs – those not in employment, education or training.

However, take a microscope to the region and the cracks in the country’s education system begin to appear. A 2016 report into gaps in education attainment in the region found that the gap in the lowest and highest skilled was higher than any OECD country.

Either side of the Shankill Road/Springfield Road peace wall in west Belfast educational achievement remains low: around two thirds of pupils living in one part of the Falls Road did not attain five GCSEs or an equivalent qualification, rising to 70% in part of the Shankill according to the region’s last deprivation report.

Of the province’s 50 worst areas in terms


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