The Civil Service has always been short on Catholics. When it was set up in 1921 there were quite a few in its ranks, recruited from the old Irish civil servants, but from the mid-20s on their numbers dropped sharply, as Patrick Buckland details in his book The Factory of Grievances.
In 1934 the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Sir Wilfred Bliss Spender, estimated that Catholics made up 10 per cent of the service. More significantly, he reported that in the previous nine years no Catholics had entered the administrative ranks.
In 1943 an enquiry was launched by the then Prime Minister, Sir John Andrews, in response to allegations that Catholics were taking over the service. Sir John found he had no need to worry: of 633 people in the administrative class, only 37 were Catholic, representing 5.83 per cent and the holders of the top 55 jobs were all Protestants.
Senior Catholics in the Civil Service say that things loosened up a fair bit in the 1960s: nevertheless, official figures released in 1973 showed that Catholics made up only 15 per cent of the service. There is a general feeling that with the arrival of Willie Whitelaw and direct rule in 1972 a sort of “positive discrimination” was put into effect, with Catholics being given equal encouragement and help to make their way up the career ladder.
The Unionist argument has always been that Catholics did not join the Civil Service because of basic antipathy to the State of Northern Ireland, and that promotion did not come to them because of lower educational standards. Buckland’s researchers show, however, that that’s nowhere near the whole story.
Sir James Craig once considered reserving a quarter of Civil Service places for the minority, but as time went on he became ever more receptive to recurring Loyalist complaints that Catholics were getting jobs at the expense of loyal citizens.
In 1924, the chief civil servant at the Home Affairs Ministry, one S. Whatt, assured the Cabinet Secretary that there were only four Catholics in his ministry and that they “are not in any way employed on confidential work”.
The Minister of Home Affairs Sir Dawson Bates, advocated a complete ban on Catholics in the Civil Service.
The Cabinet minutes show that large chunks of Cabinet meetings were devoted to discussion of the religion of civil servants. The question of the loyalty of a senior man in the Ministry of Finance whose wife was a Catholic was discussed at a series of Cabinet meetings throughout the 1930s before the head of the Civil Service, Sir Wilfred Spender, investigated the matter fully and was able to assure ministers that the woman, though Catholic, was extremely loyal.
Disgraceful bigotry – and a useful reminder of why those unionists, be they from the TUV, the DUP, or even the UUP, who seek to turn back the clock must be resisted and defeated.