(A) The Roots of Trouble in History
1. Survey of Anglo-Irish relations from the Middle Ages to 1923
Ireland (all or part of it, at various times) was a colony of the English from the 12th century. From the late Middle Ages it was a kingdom, under the same monarch as England, but a separate country. In law and in practice, the Irish government was usually subordinate to the English government.
Henry the VIII rejected Rome and put the church in England under his personal control. His church was to become more protestant, particularly under Elisabeth I. Ireland’s population remained mainly Roman Catholic.
Following the conflicts in the 17th century, the winners forcibly transferred ownership of large amounts of land to new landlords, and sometimes new tenants: those who had supported the winning side or those who they felt would support them in the future.
English Protestants were not the only ones to settle in Ireland. Presbyterians (historical known as Dissenters) from Scotland colonized north-eastern Ireland in large numbers. Other nonconformist Christians (Quakers) started arriving in the 16th century and their number grew in the 17th.
In 1801, Ireland was technically made on with England, Scotland and Wales by the Act of Union, which created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
In 1912, a third Irish Home Rule Bill was introduced to the British House of Commons. The House of Lords till 1911 blocked this. Unionists in Ulster reacted with alarm; in 1913 the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was formed aimed against the Home rule being imposed.
2. The siege of Londonderry and the battle of the Boyne, 1960
The conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism played a large part in the 17th century’s several wars in England and Ireland: civil wars, colonial wars… . In 1960 William of Orange deposed the Catholic king James II, after the battle of Boyne. After the victory, laws were enacted by the all-Protestant Parliament of Ireland barring Catholics from all offices, land ownership, schooling, and other avenues leading toward wealth and education. These laws effectively entrenched the existing hatreds between the two communities and glorified violent actions by one community to ‘defend’ itself from the other.
3.The Easter Rising of 1916
Two nationalist militias, the Irish Citizen’s Army and the Irish Volunteers were formed, dedicated to Home Rule. They were far less efficiently then the UFV and they quickly spilt in 1914. However a small part of the force, led by Republicans staged an armed rebellion (the Easter Rising) in April 1916, briefly tacking over a small part of central Dublin. Their attempt at gun running had failed with the capture and scuttling of the Aud, carrying thousand of German weapons. The general uprising the Republicans hoped they would inspire throughout the country never happened. The rebellion was crushed: it’s leaders were judge guilty of treason and shot.
4. The Partition of Ireland (1921) and the Civil War in the Irish Free State (1921 to 1923)
The failed Rising was an inspiration for more to join the newly created Irish Republican Army (IRA) and fight. The conflict escalated into a brutal war of attrition between the IRA and the British.
The treaty of 1921 that ended the war with the British was a messy compromise.
The IRA spilt on the treaty issue and there was civil war. This became more brutal then the war of independence before it, with massacres and atrocities committed by both sides. (The south altered its constitution in 1937 severing most of its links with the UK. It declared itself Republic in 1947.)
The boundary commission that was set up as part of the treaty to realign the border between Northern Ireland and Free State did not meet till 1924. The unionist position was “not an inch”, as for the Free States who drew up a minimum negotiation position. But not even a minimum position could be held, and so the Commission was very quickly abandoned favor of the status quo (the border created by the Government of Ireland Act) in 1925. This left substantial unionist minorities in Donegal and Monaghan and nationalist majorities in Fermanagh and Tyrone all on the wrong side of the border. The Irish Free State was overwhelmingly Catholic and nationalist, and unionist formed a clear (but not so overwhelming) majority in Northern Ireland.
(B) Aspects of the development in Northern Ireland 1923 to 1969
1. Gerrymandering and restricted franchise in Londonderry
The northern unionists effectively created a single-party state. Proportional representation was eliminated for local council elections in 1922 and for the Northern Ireland Parliament in Stormont in 1929. One vote per person did not hold in local elections until 1969. Gerrymandering was used to secure unionist seats in nationalist areas throughout the thirties.
2. Civil rights marches in late 1960s.
By the 1960s, northern republicans had mostly given up violence and turned either to politics or to retirement. But a new civil rights movement arose in the North, to protest and correct the discrimination against Catholics. The Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Captain Terence O'Neill (a moderate Unionist) pushed through reforms in electoral law and public housing. He met with increasing opposition from hard-line Unionists including William Craig and Brian Faulkner, important members of his cabinet. After a general election (in which he retained a narrow majority) he was forced out of office in April 1969, following a bombing which was blamed on the IRA but later turned, out to be the work of loyalists.
(C) Aspects of troubles in the 1970s and 1980s.
1. The pervasiveness of violence in Northern Ireland.
Civil rights turned into civil disorder. The Belfast government could not cope when fighting broke out in the streets of Belfast. At times, the riots verged on pogroms, such as when loyalists invaded the nationalist Falls Road. Thousands of families were forced to leave their homes. The London government sent British troops into Northern Ireland to keep the factions apart in August 1969.
1970 was a turning point in Northern Ireland. The British Army, having been welcomed initially by Catholics turned that welcome into suspicion and hatred by conducting mass house searches in nationalist areas.
In 1971, Brian Faulkner became Prime Minister after his predecessor, Chichester-Clark, resigned. Faulkner made the colossal blunder of staging Operation Internment in an attempt to quell the IRA. The Army sealed off whole areas during the night raided homes, taking hundreds men for detention without trial. Many of the internees were subjected to brutal treatment. The injustice was compounded by incompetence: many if not most of the internees were innocent, and many senior IRA men escaped the net.
2. Bloody Sunday (January 30th 1972)
The last Sunday in January 1972 was Bloody Sunday. British paratroopers shot dead thirteen unarmed men, six of them under eighteen. A fourteenth died later of injuries sustained on the same day. Thirteen others, including a widow, were wounded. All of them had been participating in an illegal but largely peaceful march against internment. The public inquiry that followed, conducted by the British Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, was a whitewash, clearing the soldiers of blame, and lending credence to their claims that the men they shot were armed.
Bloody Sunday is a potent propaganda weapon used by the IRA and Sinn Fein. It was not the first atrocity, nor did it claim the most lives (more than fifty civilians were killed by IRA bombs in 1972 alone). On that day and in the cover up that followed, the state used the same methods as terrorist organizations like the IRA.
3. Aims and functions of the IRA
The Irish Republican Army (the IRA) is the descendant of the most forceful military group that had fought for independence for the whole of the island of Ireland in 1921. By the end of 1969, following the resistance by the unionist government to the civil rights campaign, the IRA had begun to regroup, and by early 1970 its members were confronting British troops who had arrived on the island to assist with riot control. The violence of the IRA grew into extensive bombing campaigns directed against civilian, public utility, and military targets. Support for the IRA was increased in August 1971, when, in an attempt to curb the escalating violence, Internment (imprisonment) without trial was introduced,
By the end of the 1970s the Republican movement realized that it needed to build up a mass political base if its campaign was to succeed, and a new strategy was devised involving 'a ballot paper in one hand and the Armalite in the other'. This strategy meant that the movement would combine both political and paramilitary pressure to achieve its aims. Although the political wing, Sinn Fein, obtained only 2 per cent support in elections at that time, its success in politics in Northern Ireland has continued to increase to approximately 16 per cent of the total vote. This has enabled it to increasingly use politics, rather than violence, to make its political case for a united Ireland.
4. Protestant paramilitary groups
The threat of the use of force by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a Loyalist paramilitary group, in the early 1900s was a consistent factor in the opposition to Home Rule for Ireland. In the 1960s a modern version of the UVF was formed. Loyalists were worried by the tentative civil rights reforms for Catholics suggested by the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and recruitment to the ranks of the Loyalist paramilitaries was substantially increased when violence erupted on to the streets in1969. There was rioting between Catholic and Protestant areas of working class Belfast almost every night. In the early 1970s bombings by the IRA became a feature of daily life as businesses in the city center were targeted. There was frequent sniper fire from Protestant areas into Catholic areas and vice versa.
In March 1972, when Stormont was prorogued in favor of direct political control from London by the British government, many of the Protestant groups merged to form the Ulster Defense Association (UDA). The UDA was the largest of the Loyalist paramilitary groups and it used the covername the Ulster Freedom Fighters’ (UFF) to claim killings of Catholics. Loyalist paramilitary tactics mainly consisted of bombing Catholic pubs and targeting Catholics for murder and they often justified their killings on the basis that their targets were actively involved in the IRA, although these claims were rarely substantiated.
However, in the 1990s Loyalist paramilitary groups began to develop their own political wings - the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP).
5. Impact of sectarian violence on young people
The physical segregation of the two communities can be attributed to various reasons, not all of which stem from a fear of violence. For instance, as most schooling is conducted by religious denomination, it makes sense for Protestant and Catholic families to find housing closer to their schools. Church attendance is high in Northern Ireland, with the church community providing the structure for social interaction. In addition, marriages in Northern Ireland primarily take place with people from the same local area, creating elaborate family-based structures that tend to be exclusionary and segregated. These trends tend to isolate and insulate local communities from outside influences, preserving old attitudes towards outsiders and considerable conformity within the community.
(D) The Good Friday peace agreement of 1998 and the most recent development
1. A new framework for peace. The Good Friday agreement
In October 13, 1997, the Sinn Fein leaders met the new British prime minister, Tony Blair, for the first time at Stormont Castle, and on December 9 at Downing Street—the first Republican encounters with a British premier since Michael Collins negotiated the partition of Ireland in 1921. In January 1998 Sinn Fein formally rejected the British and Irish governments' new proposals for a settlement and the next phase of the talks was marred by wrangling and by a series of Republican and Loyalist killings. These were succeeded by various Republican bomb attacks in the North during March and April, some of which were attributed to a breakaway faction, Continuity IRA, comprising dissidents who are believed to have left the IRA in October 1997.
After Sinn Fein's brief suspension because of the attacks, it rejoined the now round-the-clock talks in late March and all parties were presented with a deadline of April 9 for completion. Several days of frantic activity between the Irish and British governments and all parties finally led to the agreement, signed by the Irish and the British prime ministers, on Good Friday, April 10, 1998.
The main principles of the agreement are:
1) Change in the status of Northern Ireland can only come about with the consent of a majority of its people, and if that situation changes, there is a binding obligation on both governments to comply with the wishes expressed by the people of the North.
2) The right of the people in Northern Ireland to hold both British and Irish citizenship remains, and would not change even if the status of Northern Ireland changed.
3) Proposed new North-South bodies are to be set up.
4) A 108-member assembly is to be elected by proportional representation; key decisions of the assembly must be taken on a cross-community basis. For a decision to be made by simple majority, there must be a majority among both Nationalist and Unionist members. The assembly will meet first as an interim body without legislative and executive powers.
5) A new British-Irish Agreement will establish a new British-Irish Conference, which will subsume the inter-governmental machinery established under the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.
2. The Omagh bombing of 1998 and afterwards
IRA demands for early prisoner releases and Ulster ministerial posts for Sinn Fein will depend on the decommissioning of weapons, to be overseen by an International Commission on arms. The first major post-agreement event was the election in June 1998 of the 108-member assembly; the assembly was inaugurated in July. In August a car bomb exploded in Omagh, killing 29 people and injuring hundreds—it was the worst terrorist action in Northern Ireland for over 30 years. In reaction to the incident a series of tough new anti-terrorist laws were introduced in the United Kingdom.
In February 1999 the assembly endorsed blueprints for devolution from the UK government and the formation of an executive, but progress faltered over the issue of decommissioning of paramilitary weapons. In an attempt to derail peace process talks, there was an upswing in loyalist violence in March, including the car-bomb killing of a prominent nationalist rights lawyer.