A SHORT OVERVIEW OF THE CONFLICT IN IRELAND
The North, sometimes called Ulster, with its capital Belfast,
is part of the U.K.
It is ruled by the British Parliament in London
and has the Queen as head of state. The South, which is called the Republic of Ireland,
is an independent country with its own government and parliament in Dublin. The head of state
is the President.
Recent violence in Northern Ireland
is all about one simple question:
Should the North stay part of the U.K. or should it
join the South as part of a united and independent country?
People of the North cannot agree
about the answer. The Unionists or Loyalists, who are mostly Protestants, want
to stay within the U.K.
The Nationalists or Republicans, who are mostly Catholics, want the North to
join the South and become part of the Irish Republic.
Both sides have their private armies. The IRA is seen as the main terrorist
group in Ireland
by the British army. The exact attitudes of the governments of the U.K. and the Irish Republic
vary. The roots of the conflict, however, date far back into history.
The first settlers arrived during
the Stone Age. From the first century BC onwards, Gaelic people invaded Ireland. They
gradually took control over the country (language, laws). The country was
divided into a series of small kingdoms, grouped into four provinces: Ulster, Leinster,
Munster and Connacht.
The Gaelic invasion made a lasting
impression on Ireland.
A version of the language is still used. It is now called 'Irish' and
taught in most Catholic schools. Christianity was brought to Ireland by St.
Patrick. In the 5th century the Gaels became Christians and religion has been a
powerful influence on Irish life ever since. Today Irish nationalists are very
proud of their Gaelic past because they feel it clearly sets them apart from
The 'golden age' came to a
sudden end with two new invasions. From around 800 AD groups of Vikings began
to arrive in Ireland.
They were followed in 1167 by the Normans in
their conquest of Britain.
These newcomers made very few changes. Ireland remained divided into a
number of small kingdoms but its people shared the same language (Gaelic) and
the same religion (Catholic).
In the l6th century English rulers
began to take a closer interest in Ireland. They feared Ireland could
become a . threat to their
own power. Edward the 6th and Elisabeth the 1st encouraged English settlers to
live in Ireland.
They also began introducing Protestant bishops, bibles and prayer books. But
most Irish people refused to accept the English religion or the English rule.
The provinces of Ulster and Munster rose in
rebellion. Elisabeth sent her armies to defeat the rebels. In the l7th century
English rulers decided that military force was not the best way to gain control
So the English kings would 'plant' colonies of loyal Protestants and
give land to them.
From 1610 onwards, thousand of
Protestants came over to Ulster
and settled on land taken from local Irish Catholics. In 1641 they took part in
a great rebellion against the new settlers. Large numbers of Protestants were
killed and the rebellion continued until the arrival of the English leader,
Oliver Cromwell, in 1649. He was determined to teach the Irish a lesson. He did
this by slaughtering the Catholic inhabitants of two towns. The rebellion has
never been forgotten.
Three centuries of oppression and
misery followed. Among the most difficult phases for the Irish were periods of
starvation -'The Great Hunger' 1845 to 1849 where the potato crop was
destroyed by a disease. During that period one third of Ireland's population starved or emigrated to the
USA, Canada and Britain. In order to understand the
situation in Ireland
it is important to know that the conflict today is the result of nearly 800
years of hatred.
In 1996 political life in Ireland was dominated by efforts to sustain the
faltering peace process in Northern
Ireland. This progress made during the
previous years was abruptly terminated in February 1997 by the ending of the
Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) cease-fire and by the detonation of a
bomb in London's
Docklands. In a struggle to reinstate the process, Irish Prime Minister Burton
and the British Prime Minister Major tried to set dates for all-party talks.
The majority Unionist parties which favoured the continued unification of Northern Ireland and Great Britain objected to the
talks, however, and interminable meetings failed to break a deadlock. Further
In October 1997 an IRA bomb attack
on the British army-base in Lisburn,
restored the full cycle of violence. This left the Irish government with their
overall peace strategy in ruins. There was all-party consent in the Republic
that Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, would be excluded from talks
while IRA violence continued. In spite of a working agreement on talks between
the Ulster Unionists and Northern Ireland's Social Democratic and Labour Party
(which sought reunification with Ireland) all political parties in the Republic
remained convinced that talks without Sinn Fein would make only limited
progress and that the only route forward depended on a permanent IRA
Finally, in April 1998, on Good
Friday a Northern Ireland
peace agreement was reached. Copies of the proposed plan were mailed to every
household in Northern Ireland,
and on May 22nd voters in Northern Ireland
and the Irish Republic voted in a referendum on the
agreement package. A number of parties are squarely behind the agreement. But
there is vociferous opposition, especially among Unionists. Paisley
(leader of the Democratic Unionist Party), who has made a long and colourful
career out of saying NO, is leading the attack. And Trimble (head of the Ulster
Unionist Party), too, must reckon with a serious split within his U.U.P., the
largest and most important of the Unionist parties. The agreement has some
powerful backing: the governments in London and Dublin, which were busily
reassuring doubters on all sides. Despite Sinn Fein's
hesitancy about firmly backing it, the agreement has solid support among
The document provides significant
gains for Nationalists:
- guaranteeing their political
representation in the new Northern Ireland Assembly and increased cross-boarder
links with the Irish
- The Irish language will get an
official standing. ~
- A committee will be set up to
reform the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Northern Irish police force, hated by
the Catholic community.
LANDSLIDE 'YES' VOTE FOR
On Friday the 22nd in 1228 polling
stations 71 percent of the voters said YES to an agreement that will transform
the politics of Northern Ireland
and redefine the historically contentious relations between London,
Dublin and Belfast.
It was an ending of 30 years bloodshed with nearly 3000 deaths and 80 years of
constitutional instability. It took nearly two years of peace talks to yield
the formidably complex document that won the voters approval in last week's
referendum: the so - called GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT. This result will change the
face of unionism forever and open the way to a sharing of government between
Unionists and Nationalists.
The result may also give the IRA the
confidence it needs to declare its war is over and start decommissioning
weapons, the precondition of building Unionist trust in Sinn Fein leader Gerry
Adams. Endorsement of the agreement in the Republic, including the abandonment
of the historic territorial claim on the North, came in an avalanche ignoring
both geographical and class barriers. There was no significant difference
between the vote in border constituencies and other areas often considered to
be Republican and urban areas.
The Good Friday agreement sets out
carefully ordered steps to bring new political institutions and a new political
consensus to Northern
Ireland. But analysts say the agreement may
stumble over how it resolves issues left over from decades of guerrilla
That means that power will no longer
be gained by bullets and bombs. What there is now is peace! This vote said that
people wanted to try a new kind of politics. The war that has dominated Northern Ireland
for three decades is over.
Around the world, leaders have sent
their congratulations to Ireland
and said they hoped for a lasting peace. President Clinton said the Irish
people had voted for a brighter future and he would now encourage investment in
the region. The Palestinian Authority said it hoped the vote would set the
stage for peace in the Middle East. The French
President, Jacques Chirac, said the vote was a victory of reason over folly.
THE KEY POINTS OF THE PEACE
- A new political body of 108
members elected by proportional representation will administer Northern Ireland.
- A North - South Ministerial
Council must be set up within a year.
- A new body drawn from the assembly
and from the Irish Parliament will deal with common issues such as roads and
will hold a referendum to amend these two articles to the Irish constitution
claiming that the North is an integral part of the Republic.
- A new charter for human rights to
protect the Nationalist minority, plus restructuring of the Royal Ulster
- A commission will be appointed to
review the sentences of those convicted of terrorist-related charges during the
Troubles and speed their release.
- A program to get weapons held by
Catholic and Protestant paramilitary groups turned in and destroyed will be
1: faltering - zögernd
2: to break the deadlock - aus der
Sackgasse herauskommen 3: backing - Unterstützung
4: to endorse - billigen
5: to decommission - stillegen 6:
folly - Verrücktheit
Sinn Fein: extreme Irish Nationalist
party, founded in 1905, aiming at political independence and revival of Irish
culture and language; the Gaelic name means 'ourselves alone.'
R.U.C. = Royal Ulster Constabulary;
police, mostly made up of Protestants
U.V.F. = Ulster Volunteer Force; the
main Loyalist (Protestant) terrorist group
Orange March: The annual procession
of the 'Orangemen' takes place in Londonderry
on 12th of July. They march to music, proudly holding their flags and banners
high. Each man is dressed in a black suit with an orange sash across his front
and an enormous rosette pinned to his lapel: and they all wear bowler hats. It
is well known that this march is meant as a provocation of the Catholics and
that it usually triggers off another wave of violence and killing in Northern Ireland.
It is a parade against giving the Catholic minority more democratic rights and
against a united Ireland.
It is for Northern Ireland
to remain part of the U.K.
and for supporting the Protestant majority.