Growing support in N. Ireland for British link: poll

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Almost three-quarters of people in Northern Ireland want the province to remain part of the UK, according to a poll Friday that shows decreasing support for Irish reunification among Catholics.

Some 73 percent want to remain part of the United Kingdom either with direct rule from London or with the current devolved administration in Belfast, according to the 2010 Northern Ireland Life and Times survey, up from 66 percent in 2007.

Unification with the Republic of Ireland was backed by 16 percent, down from 23 percent four years ago.

The poll shows that a growing number of Catholics, traditionally regarded as favouring unification with the south, prefer to stay within the United Kingdom.

Some 33 percent of Catholics favoured reunification, down from 47 percent in 2007. Remaining within the UK was backed by 52 percent of Catholics, up from 39 percent.

Some 90 percent of Protestants want to stay in the UK, up from 89 percent in 2007. Only four percent of Protestants favour leaving the UK for the Republic.

A spokeswoman for the poll told AFP that people had only been asked why they backed various political preferences and not whether developments like the economic collapse in the Republic or the success of the power-sharing assembly in Northern Ireland had swayed their opinions.

The poll was carried out between October and December 2010 and involved interviews with 1,205 adults.

Protestant- and Catholic-backed parties share power in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has some responsibilities devolved from London, including education, health, justice and the environment.

© 2011 AFP

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