In Northern Ireland there are two main groups of people with different views and opinions on Ireland and its future. The two main groups are the Republican/Nationalists and the Loyalist/ Unionists. Within these groups there are a wide range of views, some extreme and some moderate.
The republicans are a mainly Catholic majority and wish to see a united Ireland in the future. One of the republican political parties is Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein is an extreme party who has been linked with the IRA (Irish Republican Army). The IRA is an illegal paramilitary organisation who uses violence to oppose British presence in Ireland to make their views clear. From the IRA the splinter group called the Real IRA has formed and they continue to use illegal weapons even now. A more moderate Republican Party is the Social Democratic and Labour Party, who do not use violence to show their views.
The Loyalists have a mainly Protestant majority and wish Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK. The Ulster Unionists (UUP) is a non-violent unionist party, which was set up in the late 19th century to defend the interests of Northern Protestants. The Ulster Defence Association/ Ulster Volunteer Force (UDA/UVF) are on the other hand violent Loyalist groups who were set up to fight back against the IRA, like the IRA the UDA and the UVF are both illegal paramilitary groups.
There have been many events in Irelands history, which have helped to shape the views and opinions of those who live there. The two events which I have chosen to illustrate this are the Plantations of the 17th century and the Partition of Ireland, 1920-21.
The plantations of the 17th century helped towards shaping the views, mainly of the Catholics in Ireland. The plantations gave English Protestants land that had belonged to the Catholics. The native Catholics were forced to leave their land as the Protestants came. The Protestants were "planted" mainly into the county of Ulster, which makes up Northern Ireland. In the county of Ulster the Protestants and Catholics remained strongly separated. Both sides kept their religions, the Protestants kept their English language and from the very beginning of the conflict between republicans it has not been purely about religion. It has been about political and economic power as well, which has helped to add to the problem that we see in Ireland today.
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The partitioning of Ireland was another turning point in its history. Ireland was separated into Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland being ruled by Britain.
Ireland was partitioned after the start of The War of Irish Independence in 1919. The fighting intensified in 1920 and the British government lost control over much of southern Ireland, although in the north the Ulster Protestants still gave their full support to the British. The British government decided that the only solution would be to partition Ireland. The six most Protestant counties of Ulster were given their own government (Stormont), which would have power over most aspects of life in the north, but overall would be part of the UK. The partitioning of Ireland is one of the major aspects of the modern argument over the future of Ireland.
After partition the north and south drifted further and further apart and Catholics living in the mainly Protestant north were seen as possible traitors. These Catholics were alienated and as un-employment was high, they were much more likely to be out of work that Protestants.
The Protestants saw the partition as better than a united Ireland and they would try to make it work to their advantage, whereas the Catholics saw partition as wrong. Many wanted nothing to do with "Northern Ireland" nor its new government. Unionists felt that they must keep control over Stormont. Lord Craigvon said " We are a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people". The Nationalists felt that the unionists did not want a democracy. Unionists also felt that they must keep control of the police force because of the suspicion that was felt against the Catholics. Catholics felt discriminated against and felt that the police targeted many innocent Catholics. Overall Unionists wanted to keep control and so felt that a divided Ireland was best, whereas Nationalists felt that there was nothing good for them in Northern Ireland.
By the 1950's Catholics started to accept that they were part of a separated Ireland and would be for the foreseeable future. Between 1956 and 1962 this attitude became clear with the IRA starting its campaign of violence. This campaign failed as many Catholics were not willing to support violence and many IRA leaders were then imprisoned. The IRA temporarily abandoned the idea of force and instead tried campaigning for improvements in wages and living conditions for all working people, mainly Catholics.
In the early 1960's political attitudes also changed with the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland wishing to end the unfair treatment of Catholics and the Prime Minister of the Republic becoming less hostile towards the Unionists of Northern Ireland. Finally, it seemed that real improvements could be made, until violence once again broke out.
The Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 by the British and Irish governments in an attempt to bring peace to Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement laid down new rules and ideas about how Northern Ireland would be governed and to make equal opportunities for both sides. The Good Friday Agreement was the final product of years of work and attempts for peace since 1972.
Some key elements in the Good Friday Agreement were that both British and Irish governments must abide by the wishes of the people in Northern Ireland as to whether or not they were to remain as part of the United Kingdom or to become a united Ireland.
A new assembly was also to be set up, consisting of 108 members from all groups- both nationalist and unionist. This assembly would appoint a first and deputy minister. Also, up to ten ministers would be appointed in proportion to the number of seats held by each party in the assembly.
Another element in the Good Friday Agreement was to set up a new North/ South Ministerial Council to discuss and take action on matters of mutual interest.
Decommissioning of illegal paramilitary weapons was an integral part of the agreement, but an independent commission would monitor the process of decommissioning.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary was to be reformed as it was seen as a mainly Protestant force. The police force, after reform would represent the whole community and would be unarmed if in a peaceful environment.
There was also to be a programme to release prisoners convicted of terrorist offences in Northern Ireland. This accelerated release of prisoners should be completed within two years.
A referendum was arranged to take place within six months of the Good Friday Agreement being signed and if there was a majority in supporting the Good Friday Agreement it would be put into place.
Since 1972 attempts have been made at achieving peace in Northern Ireland. In 1972 the British government suspended Stormont and took direct control from London. Stormont was suspended because the Protestant politicians could not control the growing violence experienced since 1968. Stormont had tried to end the increase in violence through; reforms-to meet Catholic demands; internment (introduced in 1971) of suspected terrorists; and through introducing the presence of the British army. All three attempts failed as the reforms still did not meet catholic demands; internment, instead of weakening the IRA strengthened it; and although the initial atmosphere of the British army presence was good it soon end on the event of Bloody Sunday. As a result the British Embassy was burnt down and the IRA increased its bombing campaign in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.
After 1972 the British government introduced the idea of power sharing as they believed that Stormont had failed due to its Unionist majority. The Power-sharing executive soon failed as some Protestants had condemned it before it had even started to work.
The next attempt for peace was the Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985. The agreement did not receive the support expected and instead Protestants felt betrayed by the British government because of the agreement. Protestants felt that the involvement of the Dublin government in the affairs of Northern Ireland was a step towards Britain withdrawing and a united Ireland. The Anglo-Irish agreement confirmed the Unionist fears that the British government was not to be trusted.
In the late 1980's Unionists continued to oppose the Anglo-Irish agreement. They organised a general strike, and all Unionist MP's resigned from the House of Commons in January 1986. Despite all these protests the government would not change the agreement. Some Protestants turned to Loyalist paramilitary groups instead and violence escalated with "tit-for-tat" killings until 1993.
By the early 1990's there was no progress being made in Northern Ireland- there had been no decrease in the level of violence and there was still large support for Sinn Fein. In 1993 the two governments produced the Downing Street Declaration which stated that the two governments wanted to hold talks among the people of Ireland.
Also, on 31 August 1993 the IRA declared a cease-fire and was soon followed by a Loyalist paramilitary cease-fire. This cease-fire still did not lead to progress- Sinn Fein would not be allowed into peace talks until the IRA had started to decommission weapons. The IRA refused and ended the cease-fire in February 1996. The next step taken towards creating peace in Northern Ireland was the creation of the Northern Ireland Forum, where parties who agreed to the "Mitchell principles" could take party in the All Party Negotiations. Sinn Fein was not included because of the end of the IRA cease-fire. The next small step was to set up the parades commission, which took the decisions about marches away from the police who proved ineffective when keeping peace and order during the marching season.
The all party talks continued throughout 1996 and 1997- and in May 1997 a new government, with a new Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam came to power. At this time Sinn Fein also increased its vote. The IRA announced a new cease-fire in July and by September Sinn Fein where allowed to join the talks. Mo Mowlam set a date for referenda in the Republic and Northern Ireland for May 1998, even though there was no agreed outcome for the talks.
Towards the end of the talks there was outrage shown by various splinter groups, yet still intensive talks carried on and eventually resulted in the Good Friday Agreement. The referendum was held on May 22 1998 and the outcome meant that the Good Friday Agreement was implemented, although many problems still remain- some a result of the Good Friday Agreement.
There is still mistrust among the two sides. They are suspicious of each other's actions and so violence still continues. The decommissioning of weapons has happened in a way, but no weapons have been handed over. The IRA says that their weapons have been "put beyond use" and so therefore they have been "decommissioned ". As there have been no major IRA attacks this dispute has not been dealt with. The releasing of political prisoners has been completed, although now violence in Northern Ireland has started to increased- this maybe due to these released prisoners. The reform of the police force has also been completed, although it has not attracted the amount of Catholics that was hoped for and is still a Protestant majority police force.
Another remaining problem is with the assembly. The assembly is not working together as well as planned and so this part of the agreement, although fulfilled is not working as well as hoped.
So, the Good Friday Agreement can work if the existing problems are overcome and any new problems that may arise are dealt with quickly and efficiently. Although if problems are left and continue, the Good Friday Agreement will fail and new attempts for peace will have to be worked upon.