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Sinn Féin accused of hypocrisy over election leaflet

John Manley Political Correspondent j.manley@irishnews.com

SINN Féin was last night accused of hypocrisy after defending an election leaflet highlighting how Catholics outnumber Protestants in north Belfast.

The party, which has dismissed unionist electoral pacts as a 'sectarian headcount', faced the same accusation over the leaflet promoting Gerry's Kelly's campaign.

North Belfast Alliance candidate Jason O'Neill claimed republicans were playing "sectarian numbers game".

The flier, pictured, includes a bar chart showing Catholic and Protestant populations in the constituency - 46.94 per cent and 45.67 per cent, respectively - and the message 'Make the change'.

The figures are taken from the 2011 census, with the total number of Protestants including other non-Catholic Christian denominations.

The bar chart makes no reference to the 7.4 per cent of the area's population who said they did not regard themselves as either Catholic or Protestant.

The constituency is finely poised between nationalist and unionists, though most pundits predict the DUP's Nigel Dodds will take the seat with a slim majority.

Last night Mr O'Neill said it was hypocritical of Sinn Féin to criticise unionists for having a "tribal pact" in North Belfast.

"We need to move Northern Ireland away from this type of politics where parties expect to receive votes from people based on their religion or view on the constitutional question," he said.

"It also raises questions over Sinn Féin's commitment to tackling sectarianism when they are trying to bring it into this election."

The SDLP, which rejected Sinn Féin's offer of a pact in North Belfast and elsewhere, also criticised the leaflet.

"Sinn Féin have been telling people for weeks that this is a Catholic vs Protestant fight - now their election literature shamefully confirms that they are a sectarian party trying to create another sectarian head-count," a spokesman said.

"Each and every Sinn Féin candidate must now clearly state if they agree with the dangerous, sectarian tactics of their North Belfast campaign or if they will join with us in opposing the politics of the past."

But Mr Kelly defended the leaflet and the use of census figures.

He said the bar chart was a "faithful representation" of government figures and highlighted "compelling official evidence of significant demographic change" in North Belfast.

"These official statistics are used widely by individuals and organisations - academic, media and political - to predict future political and electoral trends," he said.

"I reject absolutely sectarianism, racism and homophobia and will continue to represent all constituents without fear or favour."

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