Political Unrest in Ireland
There has been a continuing conflict in Ireland that has been going on for decades, and affects the world to this day. It is essentially a political and religious struggle between several groups. The British have played a key role in the situation since the early 1900’s, and even more distant into the past.
Origins of the Conflict
The conflict in Ireland has its roots as far back as the 1500’s. Ireland has historically been recognized as a Catholic country. However, when King Henry VIII was ruling in Britain, Ireland was brought under British control. At the time, Britain was predominantly a Protestant country. Tension between the Catholic majority and Protestant minority began to arise in the two faiths. Throughout the years the British and Protestants began to tighten their grip and control in Ireland. In 1534 Henry VIII had the Ireland parliament declare himself as King of Ireland. The native Irish viewed the British as a major threat to their customs. There have been multiple uprisings and rebellions by the Irish people against the British. A British and Spanish alliance was able to put to rest all of the major uprisings.
The English began to settle areas of Ireland with Protestants, beginning in the early 1600’s. The northern regions of Ireland became one of the more heavily immigrated areas. The all-island Kingdom of Ireland (1541-1801) was incorporated into the United Kingdom in 1801 under the terms of the Act of Union, under which the kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain merged under a central parliament, government and monarchy based in London. In the early 20th century Unionists, led by Sir Edward Carson, opposed
the introduction of Home Rule in Ireland. Unionists were in a minority on the island of Ireland as a whole, but formed a majority in the northern province of Ulster (en.wikipedia.org/Northern_Ireland).
Involved Groups and Peoples
The two major groups involved are the Protestants and the Catholics. The Protestants have their roots back to the British who migrated to the region when King Henry VIII was in power. The Protestants are predominantly Unionists. Unionists are “people in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales who were historically in favor of uniting their nations into a United Kingdom, or who in modern times with their nation to remain a part of the United Kingdom (www.wikipedia.com). The Protestants are the majority inhabitants of Northern Ireland today. The Catholics are predominantly known as Nationalists, and are descendants of the Irish population predating the settlement of the English and Scottish. There are various paramilitary groups which have sprung up in Ireland throughout the twentieth century, and even earlier. The group which has become recognized as a major player in the politics of Ireland is the Irish Republican Army. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) pushes for a unified Irish state, with no ties to the United Kingdom and the British. There are several groups who claim to be descendants of the original IRA. The IRA first formed in 1916 as the army of the Irish Republic. It was descended from Irish volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army.
The Conflict in the 20th Century
There have been many situations and conflicts which have arisen in the twentieth century in Ireland. On Easter Monday 1916, Irish rebels took over several key Dublin buildings including the General Post Office, sparking a brief outbreak of violence throughout Dublin. The English quickly crushed the rebellion but unfortunately caused many civilian casualties in the process (Earthy Family). Between the years 1916 and 1921 Irish nationalists waged a combined political and military campaign against British occupation. The biggest change in Ireland, with the biggest impact on today’s world, occurred in 1921. This was a time when World War I had just ended. Ireland was partitioned by the British under the terms of the Government of Ireland Act of 1920. Six of the counties in Northern Ireland, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone, were split from Ireland and became Northern Ireland, while the rest of Ireland became the Republic of Ireland. The south remained predominantly Catholic while the new Northern Ireland had a Protestant majority. The south had cut all ties with Britain, wishing to remain an independent country. The new Northern Ireland continued to be a part of the United Kingdom. “It is this political division, compounding centuries of religious animosity, that lies at the heart of the Northern Ireland conflict.” (Paul Sussman, CNN.com). There has been ongoing struggle since this split in Ireland. Violence and protests from both sides come in the form of paramilitary groups which aim to press their point.
Within the Six-County statelet the British government fostered political division between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants through a system of political, social and
economic privilege. The in-built manufactured unionist majority meant continuous government by the Unionist party. Today the unionist community represent some one in five of the Irish nation (http://sinnfein.ie/history). The nationalists began to feel discrimination and abuses of their basic human rights.
A period of time, with major political movements and civil rights movements, in Ireland is the time known as “The Troubles”. The Troubles refers to the period of violent
conflict in Northern Ireland beginning with the Civil Rights marches in the late 1960s to the political resolution enshrined in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. During that time more than 3,000 people were killed, most of them civilians (http://www.bbc.co.uk/). The Troubles started in 1968, when nationalist civil rights members went to the streets in protest.
In 1972, there was an incident that is known as Bloody Sunday. British Army paratroopers massacred fourteen Civil Rights marchers in Derry. The IRA then intensified the war against the British in Northern Ireland.
The Peace Process
Both sides, nationalist and unionists, have pushed for peace throughout the decades. There have been various cease-fires by paramilitary groups and the government. “Since 1997 a fragile ceasefire has held among the main paramilitary groups, while the Good Friday Agreement of April 10, 1998, offers the best hope of a lasting settlement to the violence for well over a generation.” (Paul Sussman, CNN.com). The Good Friday
Agreement (also known as the Belfast Agreement) was an act which created a 108-member assembly which Catholics and Protestants both are able to join. Its’ main
provision was the principle that the constitutional future of Northern Ireland should be determined by the majority vote of its citizens (www.wikipedia.org). The Protestants, while not outwardly showing little support for such steps towards peace, seem to not be as heavily supportive as the Catholics are. A referendum on the agreement in May 1998 showed that an estimated 96 percent of Catholics supported the referendum while only 52 percent of Protestants did (www.wikipedia.org).
Present day, violence in Northern Ireland is nearly nonexistent. The major paramilitary groups have been putting down their arms and discontinuing military action, while the British government has been doing the same. There is wide determination and national support to make the peace last. Today a majority of Northern Ireland wishes to remain part of the United Kingdom, while the minority pushes to be a unified Ireland. Hopefully this issue will be resolved in the near future, and political stability and an end to the unrest can be reached in a way that all parties will be satisfied.