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Poll shows support for power-sharing solution in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's salvation could lie in power-sharing between Roman Catholic and Protestant politicians. According to a poll published by the London Sunday Times, two out of three voters in Ulster believe it offers the best solution to the province's troubles.

The poll, based on a survey of more than 1,000 voters throughout Northern Ireland, reveals that 62 percent of Roman Catholics and 70 percent of Protestants favor the power-sharing concept.

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Under such an arrangement, Ulster would remain part of Britain and receive its own assembly. There would be guarantees for the Roman Catholic minority. But the poll discloses that 10 percent of Protestants strongly oppose the scheme.

Following the June 28 publication of the poll, conducted by Market and Opinion Research, unionist politicians here attacked it findings.

A spokesman for the REv. Ian Paisley's Democratic Union Party, which performed impressively in recent local government elections, asserted that the only reliable poll is the ballot box. And Ernest Baird, the leader of the United Ulster Unionist Party, urged loyalists to resist any imposition of power-sharing.

The publication of the poll comes just days before Humphrey Atkins, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, is expected to announce a fresh attempt to create an assembly in the province along with safeguards for the minority Roman Catholic population.

Mr. Paisley has said that his party, however, will boycott any such talks designed to create a form of devolved government in Northern Ireland if British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher does not cease talks with the government of the Irish Republic.

The majority of the voters -- Catholic and Protestant -- reject independence: only 16 percent of Protestants and 10 percent of Catholics find it acceptable. The repartitioning of Northern Ireland also has little support.

The inclusion of Northern Ireland in a federal Irish state with guarantees for Protestants is supported by 58 percent of Catholics but only 13 percent of Protestants. The same percentage of Catholics support the full integration of Northern Ireland with the Republic, but this is acceptable to only 6 percent of Protestants.

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Asked if the British government should make concessions to the Maze prison hunger strikers, joined June 29 by an eighth man, Laurence McKeown, 54 percent of Catholics said "yes," while 38 percent said "no." Although 1 percent of Protestants polled support concessions, 97 percent don't.

The newspaper poll also discloses that whereas in 1976 only 17 percent of Catholics wanted the British Army withdrawn, 41 percent now wa nt it to leave.


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