The proportion of Protestants in Northern Ireland has fallen below 50 percent for the first time, census figures showed on Tuesday, raising the prospect that the growing numbers of Catholics could upset a fragile political balance.

A wave of street violence in Belfast over the past days has been fueled by the sense that nationalists, who are mainly Catholic and want Northern Ireland to be part of Ireland, are in the ascendance.

Nationalists share power with predominantly Protestant Unionists in the British-controlled province under a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of sectarian violence that killed 3,600, with Unionists controlling the post of first minister thanks to their majority.

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