Northern Catholics 'don't want' united Ireland
A majority of Catholics in the North would now prefer to stay part of Britain rather than become part of a broke republic.
The numbers of those who crave a united Ireland has plunged to a all-time low, according to a major survey. In all, 52 per cent of Catholics in the North said they would prefer the region to remain associated with Britain -- more than twice the figure five years ago before the economic crisis.
In 2006, only 22 per cent expressed the preference.
Just one-third of Catholics now want the North to reunify with the Republic against 56 per cent five years ago, according to the annual Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey. The survey has been carried out every year since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
This year's results show popular optimism about community relations, with 62 per cent believing they have improved in the last five years. Only 5 per cent said they would get worse in future.
Despite this, however, almost all Catholics remain opposed to unionist political parties.
Only 1 per cent said that they supported the DUP, with the same figure backing the Ulster Unionists.
Overall, 73 per cent of people in the North believe it should remain part of Britain, with 16 per cent preferring a united Ireland. Protestant support for Britain remains overwhelming, with 90 per cent backing the status quo.
Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein cast doubts on the accuracy of the findings contained in the survey.
But the DUP's Robin Newton said that the result showed the stereotype of a Catholic nationalist and a Protestant unionist was "crumbling away".
"Support for the union exists way beyond any traditional communal divides," the East Belfast MLA said.
"It is clear that the settled will of the people of Northern Ireland is to remain within the United Kingdom and to have a devolved settlement." However, the SDLP's Colum Eastwood, MLA for Foyle, Co Derry, questioned the findings.
"I don't think the figures accurately reflect where we are at, but it is a wake up call," he said.
"One has to sell a united Ireland as something that is non-threatening and the way we beat the drum tends to put people off," he added.