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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 19 December, 2002, 13:14 GMT
Mixed reaction to census results
The census forms were filled in April 2001
The census forms were filled in April 2001
Northern Ireland's political parties have been reacting to the latest census details.

Figures released on Thursday show the Protestant community makes up 53.1% of the population while the percentage for Catholics is 43.8%.

The DUP's Sammy Wilson said the figures would be a "devastating" blow to Sinn Fein.

"There has been a figure frenzy by republicans and nationalists that a united Ireland was just around the corner," said the east Belfast assembly member.

Sammy Wilson MLA
Sammy Wilson: Figure frenzy by republicans
"Unionists can once again take heart. Before every census over the last four decades, republicans and nationalists have anticipated a closing of the Protestant Catholic gap and claimed demography would make a united Ireland inevitable. Each time they have been proven wrong."

The SDLP's Alban Maginness said the census figures indicated the changing face of Northern Ireland.

"This change is not surprising as I think it has been evident that the nationalist vote has been growing steadily over the past few decades.

"It is by no means certain that this growth in the nationalist vote will lead to the united Ireland that the SDLP is committed to seeking," said Mr Maginness.

'Divisive fashion'

Dermot Nesbitt of the Ulster Unionists called for an end to "this type of sectarian headcount".

"This whole exercise has been conducted in a poor and utterly divisive fashion," he said.

Speculation about a sectarian number count and the outcome of a border poll at some point in the future has been unhelpful

Monica McWilliams
Women's Coalition
"Our opponents were making mischievous and inaccurate claims and they were being reported as fact which had the effect of misleading and confusing the people.

"They have turned this exercise in to a sectarian headcount to suit their political ends."

Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLoughlin said a process of constitutional change was under way and called on political leaders to start managing that change.

Monica McWilliams of the Women's Coalition said that, regardless of the census figures, her party's priority was to give a voice to all traditions in deciding the future of the province.

"Speculation about a sectarian number count and the outcome of a border poll at some point in the future has been unhelpful in building relations between the communities.

"We need to concentrate on making the current arrangements under the Agreement work," she said.


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See also:

30 Sep 02 | N Ireland
29 Apr 01 | N Ireland
10 Mar 01 | Entertainment
24 Oct 00 | Wales
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