Northern Ireland is situated at the north-eastern corner of the island of Ireland. It measures about a sixth of the island. The rest of the island is occupied by the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland is often called Ulster and is today considered to be a part of the United Kingdom.
A majority of the people who live in Northern Ireland are ancestors of English and Scottish
settlers who arrived there since the 1600’s. The official language of Northern Ireland is English. Though a form of Gaelic, once used throughout Ireland, is taught to children in Roman Catholic schools and in some Protestant school too. Approximately 57% of the population in Northern Ireland are Protestants and that leaves about 43% Catholic inhabitants.
The Division Of Ireland
In the early 1900’s, most of the Irish Catholic inhabitants in Northern Ireland favored a complete independence from Great Britain. But the Protestants did not want this and therefor refused this proposition, they didn’t want to be a minority in an Catholic country. Especially as they were a larger group than the Catholics. In 1919, Irish members of the British Parliament met in Dublin and declared all Ireland an independent state. As a result of the announcement, a terrible warfare broke out between the Irish rebels and British forces.
In 1920, the British Parliament passed the Government of Ireland Act. This act divided Ireland into two separate units and they were each given some power of self-government. The Protestants accepted the act, but southern Catholics didn’t. They demanded a complete independence for a united Irish republic. Therefor southern Catholic leaders and British politicians signed a treaty that created the Irish Free State. In 1937, the Irish Free State made a new constitution and changed its name to Ireland. By 1949 all ties towards Great Britain were broken and Ireland was an independent republic. Throughout Northern Ireland’s period of self-rule, the Unionist Party, which wanted a continuing union with Great Britain, controlled the government.
The division of Ireland
The Irish Republican Army
The IRA is a secret military organisation that has and still are fighting to unite Ireland with Northern Ireland, which is now a part of the United Kingdom. The IRA was formed in 1919 as an unofficial military force which goal was to gain independence for Ireland.
At the time Northern Ireland and Ireland were a single country under British rule. The IRA began a guerrilla war for independence from British rule. They harassed the police and military with ambushes and raids. This finally lead to that the British government passed the Government Of Ireland Act. In the late 1960’s, Catholics in Northern Ireland began protesting against discrimination by the Protestant Government, and this caused a fight between these two groups. .The IRA took up the cause of the Catholics. Therefor the government of Britain sent troops to restore order in the area. It didn’t take long before the IRA and British soldiers were fighting each other. In September 1997, formal peace talks began that aimed to end the conflict in Northern Ireland, and Britain for that matter. These talks were the first negotiations that included all parties involved in the conflict.
Sinn Fein is an nationalist political party that are playing an important part in achieving an independent Irish republic. Sinn Fein means " We Ourselves" in Gaelic. It was established in 1905 by the Irish journalist Arthur Griffin. Because members of the Irish government had to take on an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. Therefor, in 1926 Eamon De Valera with a majority of the Sinn Fein left the party, because they refused the to recognise the new Irish government. Today Sinn Fein is the political wing of the IRA. In 1994 the IRA declared a cease-fire, but the IRA bombings resumed in 1996.
Gerry Adams, high profiled Sinn Fein leader
The Orange order is a Protestant organisation in Northern Ireland. Their goal is to keep the Protestant majority’s power in the country and to maintain Northern Ireland’s union with Britain.
It was founded in 1795 by a group of farmers. It was a result of the conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics. Today the organisation has about 100,000 members. They call
themselves "the Orangemen". In the marching season of July they parade through Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods. Singing and carrying banners to celebrate past Protestant victories over the Catholics. This celebration has caused some problems as the Catholics are offended by this. The Irish Government can’t refuse them this ceremony as that would be a violation of the Human Right Convention. There have been several fights between Catholics and Orangemen, and it came on the Norwegian news for not so long ago.
The Civil Rights Movement
The Catholics in Northern Ireland had long claimed that Protestants neglected their civil rights and discriminated them in several areas in the society, especially in jobs and housing. Several bloody riots occurred in 1968-69. Troops were sent to prevent further bloodshed, but they failed. Instead the IRA and other militant groups bombed and attacked populated areas. Therefor the British government suspended the Northern Ireland’s government and to control the region
directly from London. In 1985, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. This agreement gave the government of Ireland and advisory role in Northern Ireland’s affairs. But both the Unionist and the IRA rejected this agreement. The late 1980’s and early 1990’s was a period of continually bombings by the IRA. Now they also targeted continental Europe, where British military personnel and their families were the main target. These action were disgusted by Protestants terrorist groups, and they answered with violence.
The Gateway To Peace
The beginning of 1990’s people were starting to get tired over a conflict that clearly no one was winning. 31 of August 1994 came the breakthrough an entire nation had been waiting for. The IRA announced a cease-fire. A few weeks after, Protestants military groups also announced a cease-fire. This made it possible for peace negotiations. All though the cease-fire was a crucial step for the peace process, the demands of a number of different groups had to be considered.
Key players in the process included: IRA, Sinn Fein, the British government and the Republic of Ireland. Most of the Catholic population in Northern Ireland believed they had nothing to gain but a union with the Republic of Ireland. The unemployment rate was twice as high among the Catholics than the Protestants. Northern Ireland’s 15% unemployment rate was also the highest in the British Isles. Even though the IRA was fighting for a united Ireland, it had little support among the Catholic inhabitants. The IRA was notorious for setting off bombs in large public spaces such as shopping districts. The IRA was outlawed in Ireland and there was a mutual agreement between the Irish and the British government for police co-operation against these terrorists.
A bomb explosion at The Grand Hotel in Brighton
Five people killed, hundreds injured
Though Sinn Fein only represented 10% of the voters in Northern Ireland, its influence was far greater because of its close connection with the IRA. In the mid-1990’s, Britain declared that it would support the right of the people of Northern Ireland to determine their own future. Whether they chose to be a part of the United Kingdom or not. Britain also hoped to be able to disarm the IRA.
An another important player in the peace process was the United States government. Because of the many Irish inhabitants, the U.S. felt it had a certain obligation towards them, especially the northern Catholics. They lifted their ban of official contact with Sinn Fein and later gave them permission to raise funds in the United States. In return they wanted Sinn Fein to convince the IRA to give up their weapons. The U.S. government also worked for an industrial investment in Northern Ireland that could bring economic opportunities to the region. They thought that if the people in Northern Ireland had steady jobs and houses, there would also be a lot less violence.
On December 1993, both the British and Irish government agreed on a set off principals. Britain declared that it had no strategic or economic interests in Northern Ireland and Ireland responded that it would withdraw their claim of the region, if there was an agreement among the people to continue to be a part of the United Kingdom.
The Downing Street Declaration
The parties who were participating in the peace process, agreed on a so called three-phase process. First there would be talks between the political parties in Northern Ireland on a possible solution for the situation. The Irish government would then have talks with the political parties of Northern Ireland. The final negotiations would be held between the British and Irish governments. The results of these talks would be represented to the Northern Ireland and the Irish governments.
The peace process was moving very slow, and the British government refused to have further talks with Sinn Fein as long as IRA hadn’t announced that the cease-fire was permanent. It couldn’t continue talks with a party that was able to resort to violence again. Sinn Fein on the other hand said that the problems in Northern Ireland wouldn’t be solved, until Britain pulled out of the region. On May 10, 1995, the first open talks in 73 years between a British minister and Sinn Fein took place, when the deputy minister of Northern Ireland, Michael Ancram had talks with Martin McGuinnes, who at the time was one of Gerry Adams’ closest associates.
The British government was in a difficult position. It had to avoid to irritate the Unionists and at the same time, they had to include Sinn Fein in the peace talks. This was one of the reason that the Unionists refused an agreement, because they felt Britain made too many concessions to Sinn Fein. Britain itself would have no problems handing over the troublesome island. It costs about 4 billion kroner a year to keep Northern Ireland from collapsing. But the British government has made a vow to the people of Northern Ireland, that a reunion of the divided island will only happen if the people want it to happen. If you have faith in peace in Northern Ireland and reconciliation between the people, then you have to be strong in your faith.
In the meanwhile, the people of Northern Ireland are enjoying peace for now. A gradual withdrawal of British forces of 30,000. The peace has also produced and industrial growth in the area, as there is a business confidence again. These sudden results, builds a popular support for the peace process.