Do more Northern Ireland Catholics now support the Union?

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It wasn't just the DUP faithful who were impressed when Peter Robinson told his annual party conference a majority of Northern Ireland Catholics now support the Union.

For among the forest of union and Ulster flags was an unlikely face whose presence may just show Mr Robinson is on to something.

"The speech generally struck a few chords with me," said Terry Andrews, who left the SDLP three years ago after a fall-out with the then party leader Margaret Ritchie and now sits on Down Council as an independent.

He said he was attending his second DUP conference after being invited by friends in the party.

By no stretch could he be described as a unionist. But how would he vote in a border poll?

"If there was a border poll in the morning, I'm happy enough with the situation as it stands," Councillor Andrews told BBC Northern Ireland's The View .

Stephen Goss is a unionist from Andersonstown, west Belfast.

"It wasn't an entirely popular decision amongst friends and family," he told the programme.

"I just decided politically that Northern Ireland's position in the UK was probably the best one. I always identified more culturally with Britain than the Republic of Ireland, so it just seemed the natural choice really, despite the bizarre nature of it," said Mr Goss, who is now a member of the Northern Ireland Conservatives after leaving the Ulster Unionist Party.

So how many Catholics does he believe feel like him?

"Probably more feel it than actually show it or say it. There would be quite a few Catholics I imagine who increasingly are content with Northern Ireland's position but wouldn't necessarily vote unionist or be strident about their views," he said.

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I don't think that if you're in the business of political leadership that you can straddle both kinds of communities and say one thing that is going to fit both”

End Quote Sheila Davidson

He believes that's the point Peter Robinson is driving at, but he doesn't think he will attract Catholics to vote for his party.

"There's legacy issues with the DUP. Robinson can stand up and make these very nice statements about how he wants to reach out to Catholics, but there's still the history of the DUP," Mr Goss said.

Journalist Stephen McCaffrey believes Mr Robinson is fully aware of that.

"Whether or not he's correct, I think what he was telling his party is that "there are a portion of the community who may not want to support the Union, may not want to vote for the Union, but if we're clever and we can crack a deal with them we can ensure that they won't vote against it'."

PR Consultant Sheila Davidson is another Catholic who supports the Union. She's a former member of the Conservative Party who wanted to stand for election during the party's abortive electoral deal with the Ulster Unionists.

She found Peter Robinson's conference speech interesting, but believes his party still carries too much baggage to attract Catholic votes.

"I have real strong views in terms of the kind of flag-waving Protestantism (side) of unionism," she said.

"I mean, I don't think there's anything wrong with it by the way and I think that if that's where your feeling is that you are absolutely entitled to say that.

"But I don't think that if you're in the business of political leadership that you can straddle both kinds of communities and say one thing that is going to fit both. That is never going to be the case."

Kyle Boyd is a 24-year-old Protestant who is also a nationalist.

A member of the SDLP executive, he agrees Peter Robinson has his work cut out appealing to Catholics "if his party are continually waving flags which they don't feel comfortable with whenever they're watching a party leader's speech".

In his speech to the DUP conference Mr Robinson said his goal was to cement Northern Ireland's place in the Union even if it meant "taking tough decisions or abandoning out-dated dogmas."

Could that mean having to further water down the traditional party brand to attract more Catholic support, if not for it, then for the Union?

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