The Conflict in Northern Ireland

The Conflict in Northern Ireland

After Ireland was divided into Northern Ireland (Ulster) and the Republic of Ireland in1949, both governments tried to ease the situation. Ulster, for example, took part in several British industrial projects and, consequently, the economic situation improved.[1] In 1965 the head of the Republic of Ireland and North Ireland met in Dublin. This was the first meeting of members of both governments after the division of Ireland.[2] This meeting and the détente-policy were strongly criticised by the UVC (Ulster Volunteer Force) and other radical Protestants. These groups feared that the division of Ireland would be abolished and consequently the Protestants would lose their dominant position. This division of territory has always been a highly controversial issue: the IRA (Irish Republic Army) was opposed to it as prevented their ideal dream of a united and catholic Ireland. The Government in Dublin subdued the IRA, employing methods such as censorship. Yet they supported the ideal of a united Ireland, but, of course, this caused tension with the Northern States. Nevertheless, the British Government regarded the problem as solved till the Catholic community started the civil rights movement, highlighting the abuse of power and demanding equality in employment, housing and education.

Many of these demonstration proceed in a peaceful way. However, although a protest march at the 5th of October 1968 was forbidden by the Home Secretary more than 2000 people still came together. In order to break up the demonstration the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) used water guns and truncheons. In the following fights in the catholic areas like Bogside in Derry many people were killed.[3]

The bloody fights between the catholic and the protestant community continued. As a result the British Government send its troops to Ireland to control the separation of the warring communities and to give the North Irish state time to reform the law and stop the abuse of minorities. Unfortunately the politicians failed. In 1970 the IRA accepted their inferiority and divided into the "Official IRA", which retains the traditional idea, and the "Provisional IRA", which tried to achieve their aims with paramilitary attacks against the British army.[4] This was a turning point for the British soldiers from peacekeeping to countering insurgency against the IRA. Many terror attacks followed.

1972: Fourteen men died after British troops opened fire on a civil rights demonstration in Derry. This day was later called the "Bloody Sunday".[5] Two month later the Parliament of Ulster was dissolved by the Prime Minister to get a fairer distribution of power between Catholics and Protestants. This idea failed and so two years later Ulster was ruled directly by the British Government.[6] Four months after the Parliament was dissolved, the IRA set off 22 bombs in Belfast that killed 11 people. That was the beginning of a long series of bombings, assassinations and shootings.

1973: After the Three-way talks the Sunningdale Agreement allowed Republicans a role in Northern Ireland's government and created a Council of Ireland, responsible for both parts of Ireland. Protestant opposition boycotted the agreement, and violence continued.[7]

1976: Three children from the same family were killed in Anderstown when soldiers shot dead a car hijacker in August. The aunt of the victims, Mairead Corrigan, is one of the founders of the Women's Peace Movement, which later became the Peace People. The group's marches were attended by thousands in Belfast and London. Mairead Corrigan and co-founder Betty Williams were awarded with the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize.[8]

1979: IRA assassinated Lord Earl Mountbatten, a member of the British royal family. At the same day the IRA ambushed a group of soldiers and killed 18 of them.[9]

1981: Ten IRA prisoners became martyrs when they died in a hunger strike; one was Bobby Sands, who died after he was elected to Parliament from prison. Over the next year, bombings in England escalated.[10]

1985: London and Dublin signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, giving the Irish government an official role in Northern Ireland's affairs for the first time, although only a consultative one. Protestant Unionists felt betrayed and the agreement was never fully implemented.[11]

1987:A senior Northern Ireland judge and his wife were killed by an IRA bomb at Killeen. The judge was the fifth member of the Northern Ireland judiciary to be killed by the Irish Republican Army.

1993: Irish leader Albert Reynolds and British Prime Minister John Major issued The Downing Street Declaration, stating that the people of Northern Ireland will be able to decide their own future and offering Sinn Fein a seat at the peace talks if IRA violence ends.[12]

In August 1994 the IRA responded by declaring a cease-fire.

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 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 endless meetings failed to break a deadlock. Further violence followed.[13]

In October 1997 an IRA bomb attack on the British army-base in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, 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 cease-fire.

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. On Friday the 22nd of May 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 the end 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 should change the face of unionism forever and open the way to a sharing of government between Unionists and Nationalists.[14]

The result may also give the IRA the confidence it needs to declare that the 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 warfare.

That means that power will no longer be gained by bullets and bombs. Now there is a new chance for peace in Ireland. 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. US 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.[15]

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 also Trimble (head of the Ulster Unionist Party) 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 Catholics.[16]

The key points of the peace agreement[17]

  • 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 agriculture. Dublin 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 Constabulary.

- 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 implemented.

- he 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.