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Veteran unionist Jim Rodgers defends 1972 remark about Catholics benefit claimants

Jim Rodgers in 1972. Picture by the BBC

VETERAN unionist Jim Rodgers has defended historical comments made about Catholics claiming welfare benefits.

A young Mr Rodgers featured in the latest episode of the BBC's Pop Goes Northern Ireland, which focussed on 1972.

In it, he pointed out that Catholics were "getting most of the welfare benefits".

The television show blends news footage, archive and the musical hits of the time to provide a potted history of Northern Ireland, the BBC says, "in a way that is entertaining, informative, fresh and accessible to all".

This week it looked at the events of 1972, which it described as "a tumultuous year with the watershed events of Bloody Sunday and the imposition of direct rule".

The rise of the Loyalist movement, Vanguard, and the emergence of the UDA as a major paramilitary force, was also featured.

The programme included an exchange between Mr Rodgers and Billy Hull, a prominent founder-member and deputy leader of Ulster Vanguard.

Vanguard had been launched as an umbrella group in February 1972, led by hardline unionist William Craig, who was determined to resist any change to Northern Ireland's constitutional status.

The programme recalled how in the following weeks, Mr Craig made a series of controversial speeches and threatened to "liquidate the enemy".

In the clip, Mr Hull was speaking about the potential for a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI), a formal process leading to the establishment of a new state. The term was first used when Rhodesia declared independence in 1965 from the UK without agreement with the UK.

Mr Hull had said Vanguard would declare an independent British Ulster as a last resort.

"If we go UDI, our people may have to tighten their belts a little, so have the Rhodesians to do this," he said.

"We mightn't have to tighten them that much, because those who won't want to work, that's too bad for them."

Responding, Mr Rodgers said: "More money is being spent on welfare benefits, and who are the people that are getting the most of the welfare benefits in Northern Ireland? the Roman Catholics."

Speaking last night, the Belfast city councillor, who twice served as Lord Mayor of the city, said he had "done his homework in 1972".

"I knew from government figures that was the case. Among the Catholic population, in most cases, there were larger families," he said.

"Back then, the average would have been five children in Catholic homes compared to two in Protestant homes. It was not a throwaway line."

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