The Politics of Northern Ireland: Beyond the Belfast Agreement

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However, six of the most heavily Protestant counties in the northeast of Ireland remained a part of the United Kingdom. These counties are what are known as Northern Ireland, geographically part of the island, but politically still united with Britain after the war. The island was divided, and crucially, so was the society within Northern Ireland.

Unionists or loyalists — those who wish to remain a part of the U.

The Politics of Northern Ireland: Beyond the Belfast Agreement, 1st Edition (e-Book) - Routledge

Nationalists or republicans, those who wish to see a fully united Ireland independent of British rule, are mostly Catholics who identify as Irish. Northern Ireland became divided between a Protestant and unionist majority, and a significant Catholic and nationalist minority. A Catholic civil rights campaign sought to end discrimination by the Protestant-dominated government and police forces in Northern Ireland. Clashes between police and protesters led to charges of police brutality and eventually to further violence between the two communities.

Escalating violence led to the deployment of British troops, making many Catholics feel further alienated as the conflict worsened.

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Over the next 30 years, the people of Northern Ireland suffered through a sporadic but persistent war waged by nationalist and unionist paramilitary forces — armed groups that carried out assassinations, bombings and intimidation. Given the prevalence of violence and seemingly irreconcilable political goals of unionists and nationalists, the Good Friday Agreement of was a major diplomatic achievement.

The willingness of formerly sworn enemies to engage in negotiations paid major dividends: in , the deadliest year of the Troubles, people were killed. In the 10 years following the Agreement, an average of eight people died per year in the conflict.

In , there were none. Divisions between nationalists and unionists have been exacerbated by sharp differences over the U. The decision has created questions about the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the U. Throughout this time, although the Catholic birth rate remained higher than for Protestants, the Catholic proportion of the population declined, as poor economic prospects, especially west of the River Bann , saw Catholics emigrate in disproportionate numbers. Nationalist political institutions declined, with the Nationalist Party boycotting the Stormont Parliament for much of this period and its constituency organisations reducing to little more than shells.

At various times the party stood and won elections on an abstentionist platform.

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Labour-based politics were weak in Northern Ireland in comparison with Britain. Belfast was a representative British city that has been well studied by historians. The unemployment that had been so persistent in the s disappeared, and labour shortages appeared. There was a major munitions strike in When Germany conquered France in Spring it gained closer airfields. The city's fire brigade was inadequate, there were no public air raid shelters as the Northern Ireland government was reluctant to spend money on them, and there were no searchlights in the city, which made shooting down enemy bombers all the more difficult.

After the Blitz in London during the autumn of , the government began to build air raid shelters.


In early , the Luftwaffe flew reconnaissance missions that identified the docks and industrial areas to be targeted. Working class areas in the north and east of the city were particularly hard hit, as over 1, people were killed and hundreds were seriously injured.

Many people left the city in fear of future attacks. The bombing revealed terrible slum conditions in the city. In May , the Luftwaffe hit the docks and the Harland and Wolff shipyard, closing it for six months. The Belfast blitz saw half of the city's houses destroyed.

Andrews resigned. The bombing raids continued until the invasion of Russia in summer The American army arrived in —44, setting up bases around Northern Ireland. The Troubles was a period of ethno-political [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] conflict in Northern Ireland which spilled over at various times into England, the Republic of Ireland , and mainland Europe. The duration of the Troubles is conventionally dated from the late s and considered by many to have ended with the Belfast "Good Friday" Agreement of In the s, moderate unionist prime minister Terence O'Neill later Lord O'Neill of the Maine tried to introduce reforms, but encountered strong opposition from both fundamentalist Protestant leaders like Ian Paisley and within his own party.

The increasing pressures from Irish nationalists for reform and opposition by Ulster loyalists to compromise led to the appearance of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association , under figures such as Austin Currie and John Hume. It had some moderate Protestant support and membership, and a considerable dose of student radicalism after Northern Ireland was swept up in the worldwide protests of Clashes between marchers and the RUC led to increased communal strife, culminating in an attack by a unionist mob which included police reservists on a march, known as the Burntollet bridge incident , outside Derry on 4 January Wholescale violence erupted after an Apprentice Boys march was forced through the Irish nationalist Bogside area of Derry on 12 August by the RUC, which led to large-scale disorder known as the Battle of the Bogside.

Rioting continued until 14 August, and in that time 1, canisters, each containing Even more severe rioting broke out in Belfast and elsewhere in response to events in Derry see Northern Ireland riots of August The following thirty years of civil strife came to be known as "the Troubles".

At first the soldiers received a warm welcome from Irish nationalists, who hoped they would protect them from loyalist attack which the IRA had, for ideological reasons , not done effectively. After the introduction of internment without trial for suspected IRA men on 9 August , even the most moderate Irish nationalists reacted by completely withdrawing their co-operation with the state.

Tensions were ratcheted to a higher level after the killing of fourteen unarmed civilians in Derry by the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment on 30 January , an event dubbed Bloody Sunday. Many innocent civilians, men,women and children were killed and injured by the indiscriminate bombing campaigns carried out, mainly by the Provisional IRA. Throughout this period, the main paramilitary organisations began to form. In the Provisional IRA , was created as a breakaway from what then became known as the Official IRA the Provisionals came from various political perspectives, though most rejected the increasingly Marxist outlook of the Officials and were united in their rejection of the Official's view that physical force alone would not end partition , and a campaign of sectarian attacks by loyalist paramilitary groups like the Ulster Defence Association formed to co-ordinate the various Loyalist vigilante groups that sprung up and others brought Northern Ireland to the brink of civil war.

On 30 March , the British government, unwilling to grant the unionist Northern Ireland government more authoritarian special powers, and now convinced of its inability to restore order, pushed through emergency legislation that prorogued the Northern Ireland Parliament and introduced direct rule from London. The British government held talks with various parties, including the Provisional IRA, during and The Official IRA declared a ceasefire in , and eventually ended violence against the British altogether, although a breakaway group, the Irish National Liberation Army , continued.

The Provisional IRA remained the largest and most effective nationalist paramilitary group. The Provisional IRA was unimpressed, increasing the tempo of its campaign, while many unionists were outraged at the participation of Irish nationalists in the government of Northern Ireland and at the cross-border Council of Ireland. Although the pro-Sunningdale parties had a clear majority in the new Northern Ireland Assembly , the failure of the pro-Agreement parties to co-ordinate their efforts in the general election of 28 February, combined with an IRA-sponsored boycott by hardline republicans, allowed anti-Sunningdale unionists to take Emboldened by this, a coalition of anti-Agreement unionist politicians and paramilitaries organised the Ulster Workers' Council strike which began on 15 May.

The strikers brought Northern Ireland to a standstill by shutting down power stations, and after Prime Minister Harold Wilson refused to send in troops to take over from the strikers, the power-sharing executive collapsed on 28 May Some British politicians, notably former British Labour minister Tony Benn , advocated British withdrawal from Ireland, but many opposed this policy, and called their prediction of the possible results of British withdrawal the 'Doomsday Scenario', anticipating widespread communal strife.

The worst fear envisaged a civil war which would engulf not just Northern Ireland, but also the Republic of Ireland and Scotland , both of which had major links with the people of Northern Ireland. Later, the feared possible impact of British withdrawal was the ' Balkanisation ' of Northern Ireland. The level of violence declined from onwards, decreasing to under deaths a year after and under after These attacks were not only on "military" targets but also on commercial properties and various city centres.

Peace and beyond

Arguably its signature attack would involve cars packed with high explosives. At the same time, loyalist paramilitaries largely but not exclusively focused their campaign within Northern Ireland, ignoring the uninvolved military of the Republic of Ireland , and instead claiming a very few republican paramilitary casualties. They usually [39] targeted Catholics especially those working in Protestant areas , and attacked Catholic-frequented pubs using automatic fire weapons. Such attacks were euphemistically known as "spray jobs".

Both groups would also carry out extensive "punishment" attacks against members of their own communities for a variety of perceived, alleged, or suspected crimes. Various fitful political talks took place from then until the early s, backed by schemes such as rolling devolution , and saw a brief Provisional IRA ceasefire.

The two events of real significance during this period, however, were the hunger strikes and the Anglo-Irish Agreement Despite the failure of the hunger strike, the modern republican movement made its first foray into electoral politics, with modest electoral success on both sides of the border, including the election of Bobby Sands to the House of Commons. This convinced republicans to adopt the Armalite and ballot box strategy and gradually take a more political approach. While the Anglo-Irish Agreement failed to bring an end to political violence in Northern Ireland, it did improve co-operation between the British and Irish governments, which was key to the creation of the Belfast Agreement a decade later.

At a strategic level the agreement demonstrated that the British recognised as legitimate the wishes of the Republic to have a direct interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland. It also demonstrated to paramilitaries that their refusal to negotiate with the governments might be self-defeating in the long run. Unlike the Sunningdale Agreement, the Anglo-Irish Agreement withstood a much more concerted campaign of violence and intimidation, as well as political hostility, from unionists.

Republicans were left in the position of rejecting the only significant all-Ireland structures created since partition. Increased government focus on the problems of Northern Ireland led, in , to the two prime ministers signing the Downing Street Declaration.

The UK political landscape changed dramatically when the general election saw the return of a Labour government, led by prime minister Tony Blair , with a large parliamentary majority. A majority of both communities in Northern Ireland approved this Agreement, as did the people of the Republic of Ireland , both by referendum on 22 May The Republic amended its constitution , to replace a claim it made to the territory of Northern Ireland with an affirmation of the right of all the people of Ireland to be part of the Irish nation and a declaration of an aspiration towards a United Ireland see the Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland.

Every party that reaches a specific level of support gains the right to name members of its party to government and claim one or more ministries. The Assembly and its Executive operated on a stop-start basis, with repeated disagreements about whether the IRA was fulfilling its commitments to disarm, and also allegations from the Police Service of Northern Ireland 's Special Branch that there was an IRA spy-ring operating in the heart of the civil service.

It has since emerged that the spy-ring was run by MI5 see Denis Donaldson. Hain was answerable only to the Cabinet. The changing British position to Northern Ireland was represented by the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Stormont, where she met nationalist ministers from the SDLP as well as unionist ministers and spoke of the right of people who perceive themselves as Irish to be treated as equal citizens along with those who regard themselves as British.

Similarly, on visits to Northern Ireland, the President of Ireland , Mary McAleese , met with unionist ministers and with the Lord Lieutenant of each county — the official representatives of the Queen. Indeed, the decision to sit round a table and agree to stop the killing is just the start.

The second lesson was about how societies just emerging from conflict can begin to build long-lasting peace. Forgiveness was another crucial element raised frequently throughout the conference. The young South African forgiveness advocate Candice Mama was one of a number of delegates who gave inspiring and profound speeches about their experiences as victims of conflict. Mama was adamant that the process of forgiveness and reconciliation is essential if a society is to move from a peace deal to a wider communal peace. Delegates from Colombia echoed this point, noting the important role of victims in mobilising support for the peace deal with the FARC rebel group.

A third take-away from the conference was that peace needs to involve all levels of society. A peace deal is unlikely to hold if it only has buy-in at senior political levels, and its implementation only focuses on political processes or institutional reform. The more inclusive they are the greater chance of success. Moreover, once the deal has been achieved, the community has an essential part to play in the transition from conflict to the rule of law.

In South Africa, Professor John Brewer, a leading expert on peace and conflict, said that communities define peace not simply as the absence of violence, but also the provision of jobs, education, and public services. Others agreed, observing that peace requires a strong response to the feelings which commonly drive conflict, whether fear, unfairness, humiliation or deprivation. In a special recorded message to the conference, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos praised the role of education and culture in strengthening peace.