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The Troubles

In 1801, the United Kingdom was established, incorporating England and Wales, Scotland, and the whole of the island of Ireland. From this period the history of Ireland naturally becomes intermingled with English politics. Great Britain proved chronically unable or unwilling to formulate a systematic policy toward Ireland. Numerous attempts to introduce home rule (which allowed the Irish to pass and enforce laws affecting Ireland while preserving allegiance to Britain), were thwarted by arguments over the type and amount of representation Ireland would have in British government, disagreements over taxation and concern by Protestant unionists over when and whether the British would intervene to protect their interests in disputes.

The Home Rule party, which demanded the restoration of a separate Irish parliament, showed increased activity, and the general election of 1874 gave it a strong representation at Westminster. By 1887 the attempt to govern Ireland under what was called "the ordinary law" was necessarily abandoned, and a perpetual Crimes Act was passed which enabled the lord-lieutenant to proclaim disturbed districts and dangerous associations, and substituted trial by magistrates for trial by jury in the case of certain acts of violence.

After the Anglo-Irish war of 1916-1921, two home rule parliaments were established. The Government of Ireland Act of 1920 partitioned Ireland into Southern Ireland with a devolved parliament in Dublin, which covered 26 counties in the south, and the other devolved parliament in Belfast with six, heavily Protestant, counties in Northern Ireland. While Nationalists overwhelmingly supported the notion of home rule for Ireland, their Protestant counterparts, who overwhelmingly resided in the six northeastern counties of the island, just as vigorously rejected the notion and instead advocated for continuation of the Union with Great Britain. Partition solved nothing. The more extreme Republicans saw it as capitulation to the British. And Unionists (those who wished to remain loyal to Britain) saw the partition as a failure of British will.

Independence came in 1922 in the form of partition, in which the "Fourth Province" of Protestant-dominated Ulster remained part of the United Kingdom. In the new Republic, divided opinion between the so-called Treatyites who supported an independent Free State and those, led by the Irish Republican Army (IRA), who unsuccessfully opposed the treaty, partition and the abandonment of the six northeastern counties, led to years of violent civil war in the newly independent Republic.

The revision of the Southern Irish Constitution in 1937 combined a claim to Ulster and the primacy of the Catholic Church. With what appeared to be the implicit approval of sections of the Southern Irish political establishment, the Irish Republic Army (IRA) continued its struggle to regain Ulster.

Following Eamon de Valera's clamp down on the IRA in Southern Ireland, the first campaign to free Ulster came in mainland Britain. Between January and July 1939 the IRA caused 145 explosions in England, mostly of nuisance value. The campaign rapidly ran into trouble due to effective action by the British security services and a crackdown on the IRA in Southern Ireland. The IRA also tried to make use of links with Nazi Germany but attempts to infiltrate German agents with IRA support failed. The security forces had dealt the IRA a number of serious blows and by 1940 it the IRA had been marginalised and was practically non-existent.

Despite efforts to steal arms from armouries in mainland Britain, the focus shifted back to terrorist operations in Ulster with the 1956 to 1962 cross-border campaign. This campaign was aimed at one of the focal points of republican attention - partition - but was a total failure. Internment for suspected IRA activists was introduced north and south of the border, severely restricting terrorist activities.

Long-standing discrimination against Catholics in Northern Ireland provided the next opportunity for republican terrorism. Since the early 1960s pressure had been mounting to end the provision of services and employment on the basis of religious beliefs, as Catholics suffered employment, housing and political discrimination. The American civil rights campaign and the increasing confidence of middle-class, aspirational Catholics provided the spur for the movement. First, in 1964 came the Campaign for Social Justice, but it was not interested in traditional nationalist and republican partition issues. By 1967 the civil rights movement had developed an umbrella organisation, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, which also concentrated on internal issues rather than pressing for change on accepted nationalist and republican grievances dating back to the Irish civil war and partition. The moderate unionist reaction was to accommodate some of the wishes of the civil rights campaigners, while hard-line loyalist wanted no concessions granted.

The history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland dates back to the civil rights marches organized by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) in 1968. Attempts at topdown reform within Ulster unionism were greeted with vehement opposition within the predominant Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and within the Protestant community. Inspired by the U.S. civil rights movement, Northern Ireland's Catholics mobilized under the umbrella of NICRA to demand an end to discrimination in housing and employment; an end to repression under the Special Powers Act; the disbandment of the B-Specials paramilitary police; and an end to gerrymandering of political districts.

On the 14th of August 1969, British troops were deployed to the province to restore the rule of law and separate the warring communities. The deployment spurred the rebirth of Republican resistance in the form of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). Hard-line British tactics turned the Catholic population away from the army and into the arms of the IRA. At that point, no amount of appeasement would be enough to bridge the divide.

Reforms were announced in November. But in January 1969 loyalist extremists attacked a peace march and relations between the Catholic and Protestant communities continued to deteriorate. The Protestant marching season sparked massive sectarian rioting, in Londonderry and then Belfast. No-go areas were set up in Catholic housing estates and both Catholic and Protestant districts were cleared of people of the other religion by violent mobs.

The IRA was unsure what to do and in January 1970 it split between the 'officials' who rapidly lapsed into irrelevance, and the 'provisionals' who sought to bomb the British and Protestants out of Ireland. IRA members who supported violence left the main organization and formed the Provisional IRA. The violence provided an opportunity for the Provisional IRA to establish itself as the defender of Ulster Catholics from Protestant mobs. The Provos led violence against the government, the Army, and police. The Protestant community responded by forming vigilante groups.

The complete break down of civil order in Northern Ireland during the summer of 1969 caused the British government to commit the British Army to keeping the rioting factions apart. The arrival of British troops was welcomed by the Catholics in Northern Ireland who saw the soldiers as peacekeepers - troops who would protect them from Protestant mobs. Unfortunately, the targeting of the army by the IRA, and measures taken to try to stop provisional IRA attacks, led to the alienation of the Catholics from the soldiers who were trying to protect them by the late spring 1970.

Internment - detention without trial - was introduced on 9 August 1971 and there was a massive surge in sectarian violence. Unfortunately for the security services, high-quality intelligence about who was or was not involved in terrorism - needed to make internment a success - was not available. Coupled to a lack of political support from the nationalist community, it meant that this time, unlike during the IRA's cross-border campaign, internment was ineffective and merely heightened divisions within Ulster. Internment was finally abandoned in 1975.

Internment was extremely unpopular and saw a sharp rise in the level of violence on both sides of the sectarian divide. It also saw a concerted peaceful campaign against the policy. On Sunday 30 January 1972 about 10,000 people attended a rally and march in Londonderry organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. The Ulster parliament at Stormont had declared such marches illegal and the army had been ordered to prevent the march reaching the Guildhall.

What actually happened on the day has not been fully established. Soldiers from the Parachute Regiment claim they came under fire from gunmen within the march and from the nearby Rossville flats. The marchers say there were no terrorists, and that soldiers shot unarmed civilians without warning. The facts are that 13 people were shot dead, one died some time later of his injuries and many more were wounded. With the violence seemingly out of control and the ability of the Northern Ireland government to control its response in doubt, the Northern Ireland parliament at Stormont was suspended in March 1972 and direct rule from Westminster imposed.

The continued existence of nationalist no-go areas in Belfast and Londonderry was a serious problem for the security forces as they provided refuge for provisional IRA terrorists. At the same time, the establishment of loyalist no-go areas made a mockery of law within Ulster. The British Army had planned an operation to clear both nationalist and loyalist no-go areas, but the Westminster government held off authorising the plan, fearing heavy civilian casualties. After repeated warnings, which allowed many terrorists to move to other loyalist areas (or across the border into the republic in the case of nationalists), the operation was finally given the go-ahead.

The operation began on 31 July 1972. Thirty thousand troops were involved, including 38 regular battalion-sized formations (27 of which were infantry battalions and two armoured regiments) and 5,500 members of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The operation met with almost no resistance in either nationalist or loyalist areas.

With the clearance of no-go areas and the imposition of direct rule from Westminster there was a possibility of a political solution to the troubles. On 9 December 1973, at Sunningdale in Berkshire, the British Government and the Irish Republic, together with representatives from mainstream parties in Northern Ireland, set up a Council of Ireland to provide a forum for discussions about Ulster and a power-sharing executive to replace direct rule by Westminster.

Hard-line loyalists vociferously opposed the Sunningdale Agreement. The Ulster Workers' Council organised a seven-day general strike that saw Northern Ireland brought to a halt. The power-sharing executive collapsed on 28 May 1974 and direct rule from Westminster was re-imposed. Throughout the 1970s the level of violence generally decreased, with neither the security forces nor the nationalists able to decisively defeat each other. The situation became a stalemate.

Since 1969 more than 3,600 people had been killed as part of "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland. During "The Troubles" (the period of civil unrest from 1968 onwards) in Northern Ireland, more Catholic civilians were killed by the IRA, than had been killed by British security forces.

The Good Friday Agreement, signed in 1998, ended The Troubles. The Good Friday Agreement affirmed that Northern Ireland's status would be determined in a democratic manner. The agreement established an elected Northern Ireland assembly and other institutions, while also containing provisions on disarmament, policing reform, human rights, prisoners and demilitarization by British armed forces. The success of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) seems predicated on the acceptance of democratic principles by the IRA via its political wing, Sinn Fein and the acquiescence of the Unionist population to a power-sharing arrangement which includes representation from the Republican constituency. Neither position appears to have been sufficiently present in previous attempts at power-sharing.

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Page last modified: 09-06-2017 18:15:43 ZULU