History about the Northern Ireland trouble
Some historians maintain that the partition of Ireland is not so much a cause of strife as a symptom of something that has existed long before the northern state was established, and that the British presence is not the cause but the result of a deep division between communities. It can be said with truth that the colonisation of east Ulster in the seventeenth century succeeded all too well. Not alone did the descendants of the settlers not assimilate, but they retained almost intact the siege mentality of settlers in a hostile land. Two aspects of the conflict puzzle outside observers and bewilder many Irish people as well. The first is the conflict religious or is it a political essence? The second concerns the attitude of the loyalists to the British government; why are they so frequently at odds with the will of the Westminster parliament if they are both British and loyal, as they claim be?
The conflict is not a religious one and neither side has any wish to convert the other, but it does contain a strong religious element, ever since the plantations of the early seventeenth century and the war of 1641. Most loyalist are of the Protestant persuasion and almost all nationalist Catholic. And while most of the Catholic bigotry tends to be political in origin, a lot of the more virulent Protestant bigotry is rooted in anti-Catholicism. The annual commemoration of King William’s victory over the Catholic, King James, at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, is more triumphalist ritual than a joyful celebration.
The state was established in 1922 as the lesser of two evils under the treath of civil war from the loyalists. Instead of the nine countries of Ulster, six where chosen to form the state, as they seemed to ensure a “self perpetuating”Protestant majority. Even as the state was established the warning signs were there and the British prime minister, David Lloyd George, in 1922, drew attention to the fact that the previous two years four hundred Catholics had been murdered and twelve hundred wounded, without a single person being brought to justice. Nevertheless the British government gave control of the organs of administration, including a huge armed police force, to one section of the community and without restraint from Westminster, as Northern Ireland had its own parliament at Stormont. The Stormont government manipulated constituencies by gerrymander to ensure that the minority got even less than fair representation in local and general elections. The loyalists justified their distrust of Roman Catholics, who had no choice but to share the state with them, on the grounds that they were basically disloyal, supported the IRA and wanted the new state merged with the rest of the island under a Dublin government. After the failure of the IRA campaign in the late 1950, coupled with the arrivl of Terence O’Neill as prime minister, it semed that an attempt wold be made to deal with Catholic grievances. Catholics were beginning to show signs that they would no longer be willing to put up with second class citizenship.
Captain O’Neill tried to convince the Unionist part that if Catholics were treated in the same way as Protestants they would begin to behave like protestants, particulary in matters in the same way as the Protestants, particulary in matters of the family planning. The traditionally large Catholic families were widely regarded as a threat to Protestant numerical supremacy in the future. in response to the demands of the militant and well organised Civil Rights movement Captain O’Neill introduced some mild reforms giving catholics a better deal in the allocation of local authority housing and public appointments. He was immediately attacked by the extreme wing of the Unionist party, wich turned out to be a majority and not a wing, and by the Rev. Ian Paisley, who had formed the more extreme Democratic Unionist Party. O’Neill was accused of being a traitor and preparing the way for an united Ireland. He was eventually forced out of office.
On the nationalist side a new type of politician came to the forefront. Bernadatte Devlin, a young student from County Tyrone, emerged suddenly as a parliamentary candidate and was elected to the Westminster. She created a sensation by bringing the conflict into parliament and by having scant regard for parliamentary conventions. On one occasion she rushed across the floor of the House and boxed Reginald Maudling’s ears. When asked by a reporter afterwards if she was not ashamed of herself, she said she was only sorry that she had not choked him. Another, more enduring figure on the nationalist side, was John Hume from Derry, who became even better known internationally than Bernadette Devlin.
It was in Derry that the police first responded to a peacful Civil Rights march with baton charge. Derry was the most glaring example of gerrymandering in local elections in the Northern Ireland. Because of careful manipulation of the electoral map, two thirds of the population wich was Catolich and one third Protestant elected a corporation two third unionist and one third nationalist.
Television Pictures of the events in Derry were shown all over the world. Even after a decade of peace and quiet the Northern Ireland government was unable to respond to moderate requests until the situation had degenerated into street violence. Catholic streets in Belfast were attacked and burned and, as the police made no effort to protect them, Citizens Defence Committees were set up. As the IRA had all but vanished, representatives of these committees were sent to Dublin to ask for guns to defend nationalist areas. In Derry the police ran amok through the Catholic Bogside, breaking into houses and beating people indiscriminately. This led to the arrival of the first British troops who were welcomed as protectors by the nationalists.
The plight of the beleaguered Catholics led to a major crisis in the Dublin government and the dismissal of two of the most prominent ministers in Jack Lynch’s cabinet, Charles J. Haughey and Neil Blaney, on suspicion of importing arms illegally. They were acquitted after a sensational trial. The problems of Northern Ireland began to cast a deeper than usual shadow over political life in the republic.
Northern Conflicts grows
The conflict in the north grew increasingly violent through the 1970s as the new prime minister, Brian Faulkner, tried to hold on to power. He persuaded the British government that the introduction of internment without trial would crush the newly ressurrected IRA. That resulted in a major outbreak of violence all over the north and particularly in Belfast. A new grouping of anti-unionist politicians came together, encouraged by the Dublin government, to form the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) which was anxious that nationalists should have a democratic outlet for their aspirations in constitutional politics.
Shortly after internment was introduced the SDLP withdrew from Stormont because of the fatal shooting of two unarmed men in Derry and the British government’s refusal to hold an inquiry. It was now clear that the situation was getting out of hand. On 20 January 1972 thirteen unarmed civilians were killed in Derry when British paratroopers opened fire on a crowd protesting against internment. It was a turning point.
The British prime minister, Edward Heath, abolished Stormont and decided to rule the state directly until such time as a different kind of assembly could be set up. Under much pressure it was decided to include the Dublin government in the discussions, and a tripartite conference was held in December 1973 between representatives of the British and Irish governments and both sections of the community in the north. This led to the establishment of a power sharing executive, representative of one strand of unionism and a larger strand of nationalist opinion. It took office in January 1974 with Brian Faulkner as leader.