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Conflict in Northern Ireland: A Background Essay

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Conflict in Northern Ireland: A Background Essay By John Darby This chapter is in three sections; first, an outline of the development of the Irish conflict; second, brief descriptions of the main contemporary parties and interests in conflict; and third, an overview of approaches to managing or resolving the conflict. 1. DATES AND SLOGANS Dates are important in Ireland. This section will select four critical dates, each of which represents a major lurch in the already unstable chronicle of Anglo-Irish relationships. What follows, therefore, is not an abbreviated history but an attempt to identify a succession of themes. 1170: The Norman Invasion More than a century after the Norman Conquest of England, Henry II of England claimed and attempted to attach Ireland to his kingdom. He succeeded in establishing control in a small area around Dublin known as the Pale. Over the next four centuries this area was the beach-head for the kingdom of Ireland, adopting English administrative practices and the English language and looking to London for protection and leadership. A number of attempts were made to extend English control over the rest of Ireland, but the major expansion of English dominion did not take place until the sixteenth century. For the Irish clans who disputed the rest of the island with each other, England became the major external threat to their sovereignty and customs. 1609: The Plantation of Ulster By the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign, military conquest had established English rule over most of the island of Ireland, with the principal exception of the northern province of Ulster. The Ulster clans, under Hugh O'Neill, had succeeded in overcoming their instinctive rivalries to create an effective alliance against Elizabeth's armies. After a long and damaging campaign, Ulster was eventually brought under English control and the Irish leaders left the island for Europe. Their land was confiscated and distributed to colonists from Britain. ...read more.


The IRA campaign developed strongly from 1972. Instead of the riots between Catholics and Protestants which had characterised 1969 and 1970, the conflict increasingly took the form of violence between the Provisional IRA and the British Army, with occasional bloody interventions by loyalist paramilitaries. The violence reached a peak in 1972, when 468 people died. Since then it has gradually declined to an annual average of below 100. Themes Since the twelfth century therefore, it is possible to discern significant shifts in the Irish problem. Until 1921, it was essentially an Irish-English problem and focused on Ireland's attempt to secure independence from Britain. From 1921 the emphasis shifted to relationships within the island of Ireland, between what later became the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland; this issue has somewhat revived since the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement in 1985. Finally, since 1969, attention has focused on relationships between Catholics and Protestants within Northern Ireland. 2. THE MAIN PARTIES Unionists Unionists are the successors of those who opposed Home Rule in the nineteenth century, and eventually settled for the state of Northern Ireland. The main unionist parties are the Ulster Unionist Party (OUP), which formed all governments from 1921 to 1972; and the more recently established Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is more populist, more anti-nationalist, but less popular in electoral support. Both are opposed to the involvement of the Irish Republic in Northern Ireland, and are unwilling to share executive power with non-Unionist parties. They also share a suspicion of Britain's commitment to the union. The DUP holds all these positions more extremely than the UUP, and also is more preoccupied with the power of the Catholic church. In 1994 the leader of the UUP was James Molyneaux, and Ian Paisley led the DUP. Nationalists The basic tenet of nationalists is the aspiration to unify the island of Ireland. The main constitutional party is the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), which contests the nationalist vote with Sinn F�in, generally accepted to be the political arm of the IRA. ...read more.


This initiative followed the introduction of the Anglo-lrish Agreement in 1985, an agreement signed by the governments of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, but which did not involve local politicians and has been bitterly opposed by unionists. A major survey in 1990 confirmed that, for Protestants, the Anglo-lrish Agreement is still perceived to be the biggest single obstacle to peace. Prior to 1993 Sinn F�in was excluded from all major political talks, mainly because unionist parties refused to talk with terrorists. In 1988 and 1993, however, those whom they regarded as the leaders of the SDLP and Sinn F�in held two series of bilateral talks. The consequences remain to be seen. 1993: The Downing Street Declaration, jointly announced by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, John Major, and the Irish Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, introduced for the first time the possibility of Sinn F�in becoming involved in talks. The condition was an ending of violence for at least three months. In return, the Irish government accepted that any constitutional change in the status of Northern Ireland required the support of a majority within Northern Ireland. At the time of writing, three months after the Declaration, the unionist parties were divided on the initiative and Sinn F�in was still considering it. The Declaration offered, for the first time, the possibility of addressing the constitutional and security problems together as part of a peace package. In summary, then, if a broader definition of conflict management or resolution is accepted, Northern Ireland has experience of a wide variety of approaches: * Majority domination, from 1921 to 1972; * Integration, for a three-month period in 1974 when a power-sharing executive was formed and failed; * Administrative reforms, since 1969, when legislative changes covering housing, employment, social and educational reforms were introduced, with varying results; * 'Holding the fort' with a standing army, since 1969; * Political talks, as detailed above; * Superordinate agreement between the two main governments, as with the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. ...read more.

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