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24 October 2002 Edition

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Census figures will show closing of gap

Commenting on the census figures expected to be released in December, Sinn Féin national chair Mitchel McLaughlin predicts that they will confirm a further closing of the gap between republican/nationalists and the combined pro-Union population in the North.

"The figures based on religious denomination will be released sometime in December and although not reflecting the political affiliation of citizens 100%, it will act as near a barometer of political thought as possible. The manner in which the boundaries of this state were decided - on a sectarian headcount - all but guaranteed that political affiliation i.e. pro-United Ireland or pro-Union with Britain would develop synonymously with religious denomination.

"Therefore, the expected growth of the Catholic population to 45/46% with that of those designating themselves Protestant dropping to below the 50% mark for the first time and others making up the difference is quite significant in political terms.

"Leading Unionist spokespersons such as John Taylor and Steven King have been quick to point to the slowing of the Catholic birth rate in an attempt to give some comfort to those unionists that don't what to accept the fact that their position of power and supremacy is surely gone forever. But even they admit that the progression is towards a united Ireland, the only difference being the timeframe in which each predicts it will happen. Putting their heads in the sand will not reverse the trend.

"Encouragement should be given by progressive Church, business and community leaders for the emergence of a unionist leader that recognising the trend of change will display political courage by leading his/her people into a partnership of managing that change for the betterment of all of the people of this island. The old unionist attitude of 'change maybe - but not in my lifetime' has had its day.

"I urge pragmatic unionists to enter into discussion without preconditions or predetermined outcomes with the rest of us that wish to see a peaceful and democratic resolution of the age old conflict in order that we can leave this a better place for our children and our future generations."

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