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Conflict in Northern Ireland: A Resolution for the Troubles

The small country of Northern Ireland has occupied a large part of the global headlines during the last 40 years. The “Troubles” in Northern Ireland trace their roots back to the Protestant Ascendancy of the 17th century, but they still exert a considerable influence on the contemporary landscape of the country and the political climate of the United Kingdom.


The current-day problems that are seen in N. Ireland can be viewed as a result of the historical context within which the country itself was formed. The religious basis of the disagreements was fueled largely by the Protestant Ascendency, which began in 1690. William of Orange, who was himself a Protestant, succeeded in driving James II, a Catholic, from the English throne. History knows this event as the Glorious Revolution. Once William had gained the throne, he established a large group of his Protestant allies in positions of authority in the traditionally Catholic country of Ireland. This Protestant group used its power in order to subjugate and discriminate against the Catholic people of Ireland. Catholics in Ireland were prohibited from holding any political office, they could not own firearms or serve in the militia, and even their marriages were governed by strict, segregationist laws. Because the Ascendancy lasted until the late 19th century, most of the Catholic inhabitants of Ireland became embittered towards the Protestant noblemen and sought to gain independence. This is where the current-day “Troubles” begin. The Easter Rising happened in the spring of 1916 when the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood organized an independence uprising in order to gain an Irish state free from British rule. This uprising was ultimately successful and was the main catalyst of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. This treaty created a fully autonomous Republic of Ireland comprised of the 26 southern counties of Ireland. The remaining 6 counties remained part of the UK and became known as Northern Ireland. The most distinguishable difference between the Irish Republic and N. Ireland is the religious makeup of the countries. The Irish Republic is overwhelmingly Catholic, 88% of its citizens claim to be Catholic. Northern Ireland, however, has a population that is about 45% Catholic, 55% Protestant. This relatively even split has led to bitter, sometimes violent tension over how the country itself should continue.


"The Troubles"

The dividing factor between the Nationalists and the Unionists is their belief about how N. Ireland should be governed. Nationalists believe that N. Ireland should be removed from British control and united with the Irish Republic. Understandably, almost all who hold to the nationalist view are themselves Catholic. The Unionists, however, wish to remain united with the Protestant United Kingdom, as they themselves are also Protestant. We can see here that at the center of the animosity are both political and religious differences. The period known as “The Troubles” is recognized for its decidedly violent tendencies, and they began early on in N. Ireland’s existence. The Irish War of Independence took place from 1920-1922 and was essentially a guerrilla war between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the British government’s forces. It saw a total of 557 people killed. The violence reached an escalated level during the 1960’s and 70’s. These years saw the creation of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a Unionist militia based in Ulster. The Provisional IRA was also formed by a split within the traditional IRA. Many scholars point to 1972 as being the peak of physical violence because 480 people were killed in 1972 alone. The infamous “Bloody Sunday” massacre also occurred in 1972 when 13 unarmed nationalist civil rights demonstrators were killed by British military forces. Sporadic violence continued into the 1980’s but has markedly declined since the advent of several ceasefire agreements in the mid 90’s. In all, the “Troubles” have claimed the lives of over 1,800 civilians and 1,100 security force members. These highly publicized deaths have contributed to the headline status of the problems in N. Ireland.

The Solution

To date, several different solutions have been explored in response to the escalation of violence in N. Ireland. The United Kingdom began devolving power to a representative assembly in Stormont during the 60’s, but this led to a rapid increase in violence and Britain eventually reassumed control in an attempt to curb the violence. As of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, however, it seems that a gradual devolution is the best solution. The Blair government was able to negotiate the Good Friday Agreement among the involved parties and platforms in N. Ireland. It was also approved by 71% of N. Ireland’s citizens when it was voted on in referendum. This Agreement made provision for another self-governing assembly in Stormont. When it was formed, it consisted of 108 members voted upon by the eligible voting population. An executive branch was added to the assembly in 1999, but this assembly was also short lived. Disagreements among the members led to the virtual ineffectiveness of the assembly and Westminster stepped in once again to assume control in 2003. Devolution was again restored in 2007 after Sinn Fein leaders and leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party leaders were able to reach agreements. What is the solution? The leaders of the various factions in N. Ireland must remain willing to work together in order to overcome the divisive violence of the last 50 years. Only through political discussion will the violent history remain in the past.


Nick Hanlon from Chiang Mai on July 24, 2012:

A key point to remember is how conservative the Republic was back in the day.This was a scary prospect for anyone who wanted a contraceptive,an abortion,sexual education...etc.The I.R.A.,for all the talk of revolution against British Imperialism we're actually quite conservative people when they started out.After a while they got into crime and lost the respect of their supporters in the Nationalist population.

Kat on April 03, 2011:

I've always been curious about this. Great topic!

lobonorth on April 01, 2011:

Congratulations on your Hubnuggets win!

William Elliott from California USA on April 01, 2011:

I really enjoyed this hub. So true there is a long history there.

I visited Northern Ireland a couple of times in the early 2000's and found the country very beautiful. But as an Englishman I was more woeeied by the presence of Union Jacks and Portraits of "Good King Billy" and 'No Surrender" banners in some areas. Hopefully the days of "the troubles" will soon just fill the pages of history books and not be an ever present threat.

bewhuebner (author) on March 31, 2011:

Thanks for the firsthand knowledge lontach! It does seem to be more calm now than it has been for years and, like you said, let's hope it remains that way and even improves more in the years to come! Thanks for stopping by.

Iontach on March 30, 2011:

A very nicely written Hub bewhuebner! Lots of clear and concise info.

I myself live in the republic and we find the religious tensions up north just ridiculous. Protestants and catholics have no problems with each other down the south and we even make religion-related jokes with each other.

Even though the conflict up north seems to be over for now, I do still feel uncomfortable travelling through certain sectarian areas and I remember once we drove through a protestant area with our republican car reg and got some awkward looks. No maybe we were being paranoid, but they did seem awkward. I remember the lamp posts, sides of houses, the pathways were all covered in British symbolism and the union jack.

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Lets hope the peace remains up the north and we can all get along.

Cheers Iontach

cardelean from Michigan on March 29, 2011:

Very interesting information that I had not known before. Thanks for sharing!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 29, 2011:

I enjoyed your hub. Congrats on your nomination.

bewhuebner (author) on March 26, 2011:

Thanks to everyone for the encouraging and insightful comments! :)

lobonorth on March 26, 2011:

The little understanding I have from Irish friends is that things changed so the greatest division in Northern Ireland was down the lines of generation rather than religion. The young, they claim, just want a peaceful country to live in with their families. The strong desire for the old religious divisions are to be found in the ranks of the old rather than the young, I'm told.

I do hope that everyone finds a way to live in peace rather than the violence that, as you point out, has dominated so much of Northern Ireland's past. Having a sense of Northern Ireland's violent history should help everyone see the importance of moving forward peacefully. Great stuff.

Cindy2011 from Canada's West Coast on March 26, 2011:

Nice to read about the history of these struggles. We often only hear about the consequences and not the cause. Good hub.

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on March 25, 2011:

Working together to help solve a problem is indeed the best solution. I believe this is what we need in our country as well. Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination.

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ladyjane1 from Texas on March 23, 2011:

I enjoyed your hub very much. Thanks for sharing it with us. Cheers to you.

bewhuebner (author) on March 03, 2011:

Mr. Happy - I think that there a huge differences between Protestantism and Catholicism and that they are well worth examining. That being said, you are right to say that they should not be the cause of violence at any level, let alone at the level we see in N.I. There is no excuse for such violence and it is unfortunate that some people use religion as an excuse to commit violence. Thanks a bunch for reading my stuff and taking the time to post!

Clare-Louise - Thanks a lot for the encouraging comments! History can be exploited very easily and it's nice to see someone who also strives to be accurate with it. I also look forward to reading your work. Thanks again!

Clare-Louise from Birmingham UK on March 03, 2011:

Hi bewhuebner! You've done very well to offer the facts without bias, which I believe is the true art of the historian. It's very important to inform people accurately about these things. Thanks for doing so, and being keen on history myself, I look forward to reading more.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on February 10, 2011:

Yet another example of how religion is bad for one's health. Protestant or Catholic, is there such a gigantic difference that is so intolerable? Are the differences worth killing each other for?

Bloody religions ...

Good blog. Cheers!

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