By our Political Correspondent THE Northern Ireland Labour Party, which has close ties with the Labour Party in Britain, is making a bid to capture the Catholic vote at the next election for the Stormont parliament. The election is expected to take place in the early summer.
Traditionally Protestants in the Six Counties have voted for the Unionist candidates while Catholics have voted for the Nationalist Party which advocates the re-unification of Ireland. But in recent years there has been a significant swing away from the traditional trend.
At the last Stormont election many Catholics in Belfast voted for N.I.L.P. candidates who support the constitutional link with Britain. Four Labour M.P.s were returned to Stormont— two of them partly as a result of Catholic support.
In its election programme just published, the N.I.L.P. says that for the past 40 years the governing Unionist (Protestant) Party and the Nationalist Party have encouraged the survival of sectarian bitterness and discouraged the creation of a more unified community and a friendlier co-operation between Protestant and Catholic.
"Even in the sixties", it declares, the Unionist Party, by refusing to accept Catholics as members (with the inescapable conclusion that it considers them untrustworthy citizens) has aroused new and justified resentment".
The Unionist Party, which has ruled at Stormont ever since Northern Ireland was set up as a separate state 40 years ago, is affiliated to the British Conservative Party. It has always refused to allow Catholics to become members—often to the embarrassment of the Conservative Central Office in London.
Mr. Samuel Napier, the secretary of the N.T.L.P., told me this week that his party deplored the Unionist attitude. "We are trying to build up a united community in Northern Ireland and we have a considerable number of Catholics in our party already", he said. All of the present four Labour M.P.s are Protestants, but Mr. Napier says that some of the dozen or so candidates the N.I.L.P. is putting forward at the next election might be Catholic. "But", he added, "we are not really interested in what the religion of our candidates is. We are appealing for the support of the community as a whole, not just to the Protestant or Catholic sections of it".