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Roman Catholics versus Protestants

           Protestants and Catholics have distrusted each other in Northern Ireland for many centuries.

          The Protestant Reformation won for the Protestants substantial civil and religious liberty which they fear would be lost if Northern Ireland and its southern neighbor were to be merged - the goal of the present minority Catholics.  Thus, if Ireland were to be reunited as 32 counties, there would be three million Catholics to only one million Protestants.  So, instead of being a powerful majority as they are today in Northern Ireland, Ulster Protestants would then be in the minority. They fear that it would no longer be easy for them to divorce or practice birth control; that they might be dominated in other respects - to their discerned disadvantage.  So, they resist any forced reunion of the two Irish territories.

          Catholics, on the other hand, see their present position as a minority in Northern Ireland, as untenable. In the past, the Protestants have felt compelled to safeguard their freedom by discriminating against the Catholics and treating them unfairly in such areas as employment.  The Catholics continue to fear a repetition of the 1641 massacres, which they also remind themselves of every July 12th.

          And, these religious divisions underpin political divisions in Northern Ireland where "Protestant" has become a shorthand way of describing Unionists, who want the province to remain part of Britain; while "Catholic" is used to describe nationalists who want a reunited Ireland, one way or another.

          Though many allege that this conflict and ensuing violence may not be the result of any single cause, there appears to be little doubt that if the emphasis on the religious-based differences has not been the cause, it has certainly contributed to and exacerbated an already difficult situation.

          Sectarian violence continued throughout 2000 and 2001, and into 2002, though attempts at a permanent resolution of the religious-based conflict continued. In July of each year, as one small example, the Orange Order (Orangemen), Northern Ireland s once dominant fraternal group of Protestants organized in 1795, march through the streets commemorating the Protestant victory at the Battle of Orange, but provoking the Catholics, and inevitably causing violence, injury and death.

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