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If the political conflict in Northern Ireland from 1968 - 1998 was not a religious war, what factors explain the violence that took place?

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Introduction

If the political conflict in Northern Ireland from 1968 - 1998 was not a religious war, what factors explain the violence that took place? The political conflict in Northern Ireland which took place between 1968 and 1998, also known as The Troubles, took lives of over 3,500 people. Some believe that it was a religious conflict. They admit that economic and social differences were very important as well but they argue that religions were the major causes of the conflict as the rival sides adhered to different religious beliefs (Bruce 1986, p. 249 in: Tonge 1998, p. 94). Others, however, say that religion was an important factor but was not centre to the conflict and that there were other crucial reasons for the long-lasting violence (Tonge 1998, p. 94; chapter 2 in: Darby 1995). In my essay I am going to write a brief history of The Troubles, then show why some people believe that religious differences were the most important reason for the thirty years of violence. After that I am going to present contrary arguments in order to show why religion was, indeed, an important element in the conflict but certainly not the most crucial one. In order to understand the reasons for the outbreak of the conflict, I anticipate it is necessary to know at least a brief history of Northern Ireland. The roots of the conflict date back to 1169 when the Anglo-Norman invasion took place and since then England has had a dominion over Ireland. In the sixteenth century England became Protestant whilst Ireland remained Catholic. At the beginning of the seventeenth century the conquest of Ireland was accomplished and later in the century Protestant settlers, mainly from Scotland, were given the land in Northern Ireland which had belonged to the Catholic Irish. ...read more.

Middle

As the Chief Whip of the Ulster Unionist Party, Major Curran said, it was done in order to prevent nationalists from getting control of Derry and the three border counties (O'Leary and McGarry 1996, p. 120). In general, Unionists were in charge of 85 per cent of councils despite the fact that they only made up 66 per cent of the population (Tonge 1998, pp. 19-20). Catholic discrimination existed in employment, too. Firstly, Catholics suffered from industrial localisation. Most businesses were located in the east, which was more Protestant than the west. Catholics were also twice more likely to be unemployed than Protestants. In 1972 one-third of Roman Catholic males were unskilled. Thirdly, they were excluded from the public and private sectors. The security services, as I have already mentioned, clearly favoured Protestants. Besides, there were very few Catholics among civil servants. Finally, local councils would have rather employed unionists than nationalists (e.g., in the mid-1960s, Derry Council only had 32 Catholic employees among 177 workers) (Tonge 1998, pp. 20-21). Housing was another arena of discrimination against Catholics. Both Protestants and Catholics had to cope with poor housing, however the latter had to bear with being discriminated as after the Second World War competition in this domain increased. Discrimination occurred in three ways. First of all, Catholics were often continued to being resided in slum areas. Even though they often belonged to the poorer groups of the population, they were tended not to be rehoused. Secondly, unlike in the rest of the United Kingdom, in Northern Ireland housing decisions were arranged within local councils. Therefore, Catholics assumed that councils' decisions were against them. ...read more.

Conclusion

It differs depending on a source but between 51 and 55 per cent of Protestants and between 96 and 99 per cent of Catholics supported the Agreement (Dixon 2001, pp. 269-274). The purpose of my essay was to show what type of conflict the Troubles in Northern Ireland were. Some people say that the conflict was driven by religion and that it was a purely theological war. I presented a couple of reasons to show why it can be believed the conflict was a 'holy war' such as very high religiosity of Northern Ireland compared to other western countries and quite a high level of religious voting. However, the majority argues that it was not true that the conflict was just theological. In fact there were several major causes of the conflict. Catholics were seriously discriminated against in the last few centuries. During the 20th century there were major abuses in economy, employment, electorate, housing and security forces on the Protestant side. Catholics were much more likely to be unemployed, local councils would have rather given houses to Protestants, gerrymandering was very common, unionist areas of Northern Ireland were more well economically developed and the Northern Irish security forces had mostly Protestant members. However, we should remember that discrimination also existed on the Catholic side. It was just not as common since nationalists had less room for discrimination. Besides, the Catholic and Protestant churches did not approve of the conflict and in spite of that fact it still existed almost until the end of the twentieth century. Also, the British Army was a reason that the conflict escalated even further in the 1970s. Eventually, in 1998 the conflict ended and all sides declared ceasefire and agreement. To sum it all up, I agree with those who argue that the conflict in Northern Ireland was not religious. ...read more.

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