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Catholic population growth

THE PUBLICATION of the 1991 census results has shown an increase of almost 7% in the Roman Catholic population since 1971. In 1971 Catholics made up 34.5% of the population. Today the figure stands at 41.4%. In Belfast the Catholic population has risen by 11% in the last two decades. There are now more children attending maintained schools than are attending controlled schools in the city.

Geographically. Catholics are predominant in the west of Ulster. Protestants are becoming more concentrated in the east, especially in Carrickfergus, Larne, North Down and Newtownabbey. Catholics show a clear majority in eleven of the 26 district council areas.

Predictably. this has been seized upon by the Andersonstown News and Republican Sinn Fein as evidence that Ulster will fall like a ripe plum into their hands.

The Andersonstown News sought to inflate the Catholic figure on the basis that, "almost 111.500 people failed to answer the question on religion . There is every reason to believe that at least half of this number are Catholics." Of course, the Andersonstown News advances no evidence for this bold assumption. Saoirse, the RSF newspaper, chooses to interpret Catholic figures as ' nationalist/republican'.

Herein lies the challenge to Third Way supporters and the wider Ulster independence movement. It is true that the Provos and their diehard former comrades in Republican Sinn Féin are both sectarian. tending to view Catholics as their people. It does not follow that Catholics in general are either 'republicans or (Irish) nationalists'.

In fact, many Catholics do not identify with the Leinster House regime and have no wish to see its rule extended over them. Fewer still have any time for the Provos or RSF. Many Catholics even vote for unionist candidates. This Is in spite of the fact that many unionist candidates do not seek Catholic votes. This indicates that the growth In the Catholic population does not have to threaten Ulster's existence.

There is no point in fighting a futile rearguard struggle to defend a lost cause Protestant unionism. Nor is there any justification for throwing in the towel as 'we're all doomed anyway'. The Ulster independence movement, which is largely made up of former unionists within the Protestant community, must reach out to our Catholic fellow Ulsterfolk to show that they can enjoy true social justice on an equal basis in a new Ulster. Ulster should be a secular state with no special privileges for any religious sect or denomination. Ulster Nation's view is that religious differences ought to be matters of theological debate and controversy alone.

Some people on the extreme Protestant fringes advocate independence to give them the freedom to defeat the IRA by means of terrorising the Catholic population. Rather than solve our problems, such an approach would only guarantee a re-enactment of the Bosnian and Lebanese tragedies here with the strong likelihood of American or other foreign intervention. In the end, Ulster would have lost everything.

David Kerr

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