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Will the political deal unravel?

Published: 13 Dec 2012 13:000 comments

It seems a remarkable coincidence that days after Enniskillen saw loyalist protesters waving Union flags outside the Townhall, figures have been released showing the religious and national identity of the population in Fermanagh.

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The Census shows that the county's population has grown by seven per cent in the last 10 years, and that the Catholic majority has increased.

There are 36,563 Catholics in the county, compared to 23,350 Protestants. That's 59.6 per cent Catholic and 37.8 Protestant. This hardly comes as a surprise, considering factors such as election voting figures or indeed attendance at our various segregated schools.

The Northern Ireland-wide figures make more interesting reading; the numerical gap between Protestant (48 per cent) and Catholic (45 per cent) has narrowed.

But most interesting of all is that more and more people consider themselves Northern Irish, as opposed to simply British or Irish.

No doubt the figures will by analysed in great detail in the coming weeks, and everybody will take something out of them.

What is inescapable, however, is that this small piece of land is almost equally shared between the two sections. The question is, can we continue to share it peacefully?

The flag row casts serious doubt on that.

When one considers that Fermanagh's Protestants make up just over a third of the county's population, and that it is many years since the Union flag was removed from the county's council headquarters, one has to wonder what Friday night's protest was designed to achieve.

How many of Fermanagh's 23,350 Protestants did the protesters represent? There is no doubt that many Protestants, particularly those along the Border who have felt vulnerable over the last 40 years, are uneasy about losing their cultural identity.

But the actions of the loyalist forum certainly won't ease their fears. Perhaps they should put up candidates at the next election and see how many votes they get for their rabble-rousing behaviour.

The flag protests and the attendant trouble across the Province have touched a nerve across the community, and there are real concerns that the political deal is going to unravel.

Now is the time for true political leadership and a time for our politicians to show that we really can have a shared future.

The alternative doesn't bear thinking about.

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