The Troubles Between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland Essay

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1968 is the starting point of the Troubles in  Northern Ireland wherein a feud between Catholics and Protestants are fighting out regarding a campaign for civil rights.

            Historically, during the 17th century, the Battle of Boyne occurred and the English successfully subdued the island and put down a number of rebellions. from here Ireland was colonized by Protestants more of Scottish and English while Ulster and the rest of Ireland was dominated by Catholics.

            Economic differences arises during the 1800s where most lands are owned by Anglican Protestants and gave low standard of living for Catholic population. Unequal distribution of resources and lands happened in the south while abundance in terms of industry and manufacturing happened in the north.

            Northern Ireland did not easily separated from the rest of the island until the 20th century when issues regarding home rule between Protestants and Catholics began. Ireland was divided into two warring camps and Catholics wanted absolute freedom from Britain and made Protestants opposed them because they are afraid of being overpowered by a Catholic group.

            There are certain provisions made to resolve this demand of the Catholic groups like the 1920 Government of Ireland Act passed by the British to divide Ireland into two political entities with corresponding self government. This bill was accepted by the Protestants but rejected by the Catholics because they insist of having one unified Ireland and total independence.

            In 1921 a treaty was signed after the guerrilla warfare was followed between the Irish Republican Army and the British Forces. This agreement made the Irish Free state an independent republic. 6 countries made up Northern Ireland, 23 Southern countries and 3 countries in Ulster. The agreement made the Protestant/Catholic feud subside until 1968 came in and The Troubles began when the IRA and Protestant paramilitaries made acts of terrorism and series of bombings.

            55 percent of Ireland was made of protestant and the remaining 45 percent are Catholics. The problem of the Protestant are more on security and constitutional issues because they are conscious of having continuous relationship with Britain and prevent threats of United Ireland. while the Catholics has two major dilemmas. First is the struggle for nationalistic independence as they look back of having a historical integrity of the island talking about partition. Next is the unfair practices since 1920 to 1970 by consecutive Unionist government where corruption is rampant that according to the views of Catholic if removed from the society will result in a country where Protestants and Catholics lives harmoniously.

            Catholics wanted to have equal opportunities with the Protestants in terms of politics, community relations and issues about violence and inequality. Political conflicts regarding elections which is dominated by constitutional issues and where political allegiances remained petrified. Socio-economic disadvantage for Catholics in terms of education, employment and health care gives them community related problems and social inequality.

Although the Catholics obviously experiences disadvantages and higher level of needs as compare to protestants, the other party still thinks that the government gives more favor to and special treatment to the Catholics and made them do terrorist acts.

            Civil rights movements were formed to demand access for more political power, provisions socially and recognition of culture. Politics began to spill on the streets sine Civil rights protest arises in March 1968 The second took place in Derry in October of the same year despite it being banned by the Minister for Home Affairs, William Craig, claiming that the movement was a front for the IRA. The Royal Ulster Constabulary were sent in to break up the march. They used excessive force, much of which was televised and broadcast worldwide. The tactics of the RUC left Catholics fearful and not trusting them. The British government could no longer take a back seat and forced the Stormont to make reforms, however, the changes were minimal and in no way met the demands of the Civil Rights Movement. (Timeline, 2007)

            Tension arises in 1969 when the London government deploys  the British Army in their attempt to brig back peace and order in Ireland. The Catholics then look up to the army as their protector from the Northern Ireland state and the repressive majorities of population. On the other hand the militant nationalists view the armys act as a form of oppression and campaigns for Northern Irelands internal reform was made to eject the British presence and reunite with the rest of Ireland. Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA/IRA) is a rejuvenated militant republicanism movement emerged from the Catholic Minority that triggered violence from the Protestant Militant loyalists. IRA started to make provisions and campaign of violence opposing the armies in early 1970s.

            By 1972 it was clear that the local Northern Ireland government, having introduced internment in 1971 as a last attempt to impose control, was unable to handle the situation. Invoking its powers under the Government of Ireland Act, the London parliament abolished the Northern Ireland government in March 1972. Northern Ireland was to be governed from London, with a British Secretary of State responsible for Northern Ireland affairs. The pattern of violence changed throughout what were colloquially called the Troubles.

The inter-communal rioting that characterized the late 1960s was gradually, although not completely, replaced by a triangular low intensity conflict. The protagonists were the British state (represented by its army, locally recruited regiments and a militarized police force), republican paramilitaries (mainly the PIRA, but including smaller violent groups like the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)) and loyalist paramilitaries (the Ulster Defense Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters (UDA/UFF) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)). State responses to the violence sometimes contravened basic human rights. By the mid-1990s, more than 3500 people had been killed, a significant number given Northern Irelands small area and 1.6 million population.(Fay, Morrissey & Smith, 1999)

            Hunger Strikes occurred during the 1980s since the British government had removed special prisoner status in 1976. Protest of prisoners were done  by not wearing their clothes and doing a blanket protest by using blankets instead of prison uniforms. Dirty protest is also done by not cleaning their cells and smearing excrements on walls.  The special political prisoner status still is not given back to them and so they perform hunger strikes that is initiated by Booby sands in 1981. Nine other prisoner including sands died as a result of hunger strike and they were coined as martyrs for doing that. Since his death no concessions was given from the British government but supports for Political wing of Provisional IRA was increased.

            Other, more indirect, impacts of the violence were less easily quantified. They included the deepening of community divisions, the perpetuation of old grievances and the creation of new ones. The economy, struggling to keep pace with the restructuring of the British economy in the 1970s and 1980s, was further battered by a backdrop of political violence.

Above all the Troubles were a human crisis with thousands of individual, family and community tragedies. Between 1974 and the ceasefires of 1994 there were seven attempts to reach a political and constitutional settlement. (OLeary 1997,p.663-667) Mostly initiated by London, it includes a power-sharing element between Catholics and Protestants and was foundered by local opposition. Until 1985, the political settlement between both communities was still unable to succeed and so the British Government made talks with people of Ireland to reach an agreement in unity with the  Ireland Republic.

            The Anglo-Irish Agreement  that happened in the 15th of November 1985 provided a consultative role for the Irish government in terms of the Northern Irelands affairs. this agreement made a permanent and institutionalized cooperation between the two governments in managing the conflict. It was a recognition by the British government that it held limited legitimacy among the nationalist community and could not secure a lasting political settlement on its own.

            The Irish government was now in the position to act as a formal guarantor for Northern Irelands nationalist community. In return, the Irish government recognized the existence of the State of Northern Ireland for the first time. For the first time it accepted the principle of consent, that Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom while a majority there wished it. The Agreement also paved the way for increased security co-operation between the two governments and was an important precursor of the post-1994 peace process  for better understanding and a lasting peace between the two communities.

Works Cited

Fay,Marie-Therese, Morrissey, Mike & Smyth, Marie. (1999) Northern Irelands Troubles: The human costs. London: Pluto Press.

OLeary, Brendan (1997) The Conservative Stewardship of Northern Ireland, 1979-97: Sound-bottomed contradictions or slow learning? Political Studies, pp. 663-676.

Timeline in Northern Ireland. (2007). History on the Net. Retrieved December 20, 2007 from:   

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