Boxer Frampton fighting to help religious integration in Northern Ireland

London (AFP) –


Northern Ireland's former two-weight world boxing champion Carl Frampton grew up as a boy watching the riots that flared up between Protestants and Catholics in Belfast, but now he is banging the drum for both communities to come together.

The 31-year-old -- the only Northern Irish boxer to hold world titles at different weights (super bantamweight and featherweight) -- told AFP he is encouraging more integrated schooling.

To this end, Frampton -- a Protestant who is married to a Catholic -- has linked up with the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE).

"Education is something I like to be involved in," Frampton, who has two daughters, told AFP at the launch of talent management and strategy agency thinkBeyond Talent.

"Just seven percent of children in Northern Ireland are in integrated schools so I have established a connection with NICIE.

"I think this will help the political situation in 10 years' time."

Frampton recalls when he was growing up and would be attracted to the annual marches by fellow Protestants.

The street where he lived on the Tiger Bay estate -- staunchly Protestant -- bordered the Catholic estate of North Lodge.

"I lived 100 yards away from where the rioting and trouble happened, especially during the marching season (usually April-August)," he said.

"As a kid it was exciting but man I would hate it if mine got involved.

"But when I grew up it was normal. My mum and dad would be there trying to get me away from it, when riots broke out I would be hiding from them as I wanted to watch."

Frampton, who says he felt more at ease going to wife Christine's Catholic area when they first started dating than bringing her to his neighbourhood, says the violence was like watching a movie.

"Men running into each other, fist fighting and then someone pulls out a gun and fires shots in the air," says the quietly-spoken Frampton. "It was fun as a kid but insane."

- 'Respect for others' -

Frampton, who as an amateur chose to box for Ireland, says a lot of the traditions surrounding the historic enmity between Protestants and Catholics should be dispensed with.

"Times change. I am a Protestant and very proud of what I am and who I am and my culture and everything else," says Frampton, nicknamed 'The Jackal'.

"How can people talk about Protestant bonfires when in August nationalist communities would burn Union Jacks.

"Come on guys, have your bonfires but don't burn flags and photographs of people."

But Frampton says things are looking brighter.

"She (Christine) did not have any qualms about dating a Protestant -- it is a generational thing," he said.

"Our generation don't care and (daughter) Carla wouldn't know the difference between Catholics and Protestants. That is how it should be at that age."

Frampton says he has his mentor and first coach Billy McKee to thank for setting him on the right path.

"Boxing has helped me be the person I am and given me my beliefs, my discipline and respect for others," he says.

"I have close friends who took a different route and went to jail and joined paramilitaries."