Nationalist politicians hail latest census results as a 'historic change' for Northern Ireland

Nationalist politicians have hailed the latest census results as a 'historic change' for Northern Ireland.

Unionists, however, have said the results do not indicate Northern Ireland is on the brink of constitutional change and identity was more complex than a "religious headcount".

The results show for the first time Catholics outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein MP John Finucane said this is a "clear indication that historic change is happening across this island".

"We can all be part of shaping a new constitutional future and a new Ireland,"

The census results follow Sinn Fein’s latest political success in becoming Northern Ireland’s largest political party.

Mr Finucane added: “The Irish government should establish a citizen's assembly to plan for the possibility of a unity referendum.

“The partition of Ireland has been a failure. We can build a better future together, for every person who lives on this island."

DUP MP Gregory Campbell, however, was adamant that, “a border poll isn’t more likely”.

Mr Campbell said: “It is a big mistake if people try to extrapolate religious outlook to political opinion.

“When we look at recent elections, those people campaigning to leave the United Kingdom have actually seen their votes drop rather than increase.”

The UUP's Mike Nesbitt MLA said the latest Census results "vindicates the stance taken by the Ulster Unionist Party since 1998, recognising that we need to build a Northern Ireland in which everyone has a stake and can see a future for themselves and their families". He added: “Northern Ireland is changing and a modern pluralist society is developing here.

"We are confident that the Union with GB offers the best future for the people of NI and the task in hand now is to continue to make that case. “Whilst much of the focus will be on the religious headcount, it has been obvious for many decades that not all Catholics are nationalists or republicans, and not all Protestants vote for unionist parties. “The situation regarding identity and nationality is more complex than some like to portray and the Ulster Unionist Party is focused on increasing the number of people who support and vote for the Union, regardless of religious affiliation or background. That is the challenge for the future.”

Meanwhile, SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood has hailed the change as a "seminal moment."

"The North has been transformed utterly 100 years on from partition.

“We have together shattered the bonds of an oppressive state which engrained discrimination against a Catholic minority in its every outworking for far too long.”

“The new path won’t be achieved by counting Catholics and Protestants or setting one community against another.

"We can only get there by replacing old battles of identity with a new contest for ideas.

“It is the challenge of this generation to forge a new future. Today’s results show the scale of change that is possible. We have to grasp the opportunity together.”

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