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Britain and Ireland.

PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2004 1:14 pm
by Colin
Britain and Ireland.

Problems in Ireland go back a long time. The English began their conquest of Ireland in the Middles Ages, but at many different times the Irish fought back. When England became Protestant in 1534, the Irish stayed loyal to the Catholic Church and from 1590 the English Government encourged English and Scottish Protestants to settle in Ireland.

In 1649, England's puritan (Protestant) leader Oliver Cromwell crushed an Irish rebellion and in 1690 an Irish army supporting the deposed Catholic king of England, James ll, was defeated by the new Protestant English king William of Orange at the battle of the Boyne. From 1800, the Irish were not allowed their own parliament, and were ruled from London.

Then in 1845 and 1846, with many Irish farms owned by absent British landlords, the Irish potato crop failed. As it was the main food in Ireland then, many thousands died of starvation. Millions emigrated to Australia and America, and the population of Ireland dropped from 8 million in 1841 to just over 4 million by 1914.

Irish nationalists wanted home rule for Ireland. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the population of Ireland was roughly split into two main groups. Protestant unionists mainly lived in the North, who mostly wanted Ireland to be part of the United Kingdom. Irish nationalists were mostly Catholics from the South of Ireland. They wanted 1. Home Rule: Ireland to have its own parliament, but still remain loyal to the British King, and 2. Land reform: English landlords of Irish land to give up their land and the land to be fairly shared out between Irish tenant farmers.

Several attempts were made during the nineteenth century to get the British Parliament to vote for Irish Home Rule - but each failed. Then in 1912 a new Home Rule Bill was introduced. The Unionist Protestants hated idea, but the Catholics in the South were all for it. Both sides raised armies - the Protestant unionists recruited 100,000 militia, while the nationalists recruited 75,000 'Irish volunteers'.

There was violence on both sides, yet the Home Rule Bill was passed in 1914 but was suspended while Britain fought the First World War. Many Irishmen from both camps voluteered for the British army - though some nationalists felt it was time to break completely from British.

On Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, an armed nationalist group led by Patrick Pearse occupied several official buildings in Dublin, including the Law Courts and the General Post Office. They flew a green flag over these buildings, and declared an Irish Republic free of British rule.

Few supported this rising, and the British army won soon back control and the rebels gave up. A rebel plot to get help from the Germans was discovered and Pearse and fifteen other rebel leaders were shot by firing squads. Even people who hadn't supported the rising were shocked at the executions, which made many more sympathetic towards the nationalist rebels. The executions at the end of the Easter Rising changed the mood in Ireland, and many nationalists stopped volunteering for the war which angering many unionists.

The nationalist rebels of 1916 became heroes to many in Ireland. The surviving rebels from 1916 went to prison, and on their release they and others joined the Sinn Fein party - which said Ireland should be a free Republic. When there was a British General Election in 1918, Sinn Fein won a big majority of the seats for Irish MPs in Westminster - 73 out of 105 seats.

Sinn Fein MPs refused to go Westminster, and set up a new parliament in Dublin called the Dail - with a government, police force, and law courts. It was led by a survivor from 1916 called Eamon de Valera. Another survivor, Michael Collins, organised volunteers into the Irish Republican Army.

War broke out between the UK and the IRA, and the British arrested Republican leaders and banned all talk of independence. The British Government formed a special force of ex-soldiers called the 'Black and Tans' to support the police in Ireland and end the IRA's violence. They were brutal in their methods.

But Collins escaped from jail and began a guerrilla war against the British. Both sides committed terrible atrocities. On 21 November 1920, IRA men murdered 14 British agants in their homes or hotels. Later that day, Black and Tans fired into a crowd of 8,000 at a Gaelic football match, killing 12 people and wounding 70.

British Prime Minister Lloyd George offered to split Ireland into two parts, North and South. Micheael Collins accepted, though he knew many in Sinn Fein would not accept the partition. The largely Catholic South became a separate country by 1921, with both sides were sick of the war.

1) The 26 Southern counties of Ireland became a separate country, with its own government.
2) The new Irish Free State wasn't completely free of Britain though - it was still part of the Empire.
3) The other 6 counties in the North of Ireland stayed part of the UK, but with their own parliament in Belfast.

De Valera refused to accept this treaty and Sinn Fein split and there was a bloody civil war. Collins became leader of the Irish Free State, but was killed in 1922 and the civil war ended soon after. And in 1937 under Eamon de Valera a new constitution was introduced and the country was renamed Eire.

During the Second World War, Eire declared itself a neutral country so Britain was unable to use its naval bases. But many Irish volunteered for the British army and Eire did trade with Britain and helped Northern Ireland with the worst effects of German bombling raids.

In 1949 Prime Minister John Costello took Eire out of the British Commonweath, it becoming the Republic of Ireland with no link to the British monarchy. And in 1955 Eire got international recognition when it joined the United Nations. Eire refused to join NATO, not wanting to be allies with Britian, the 'occupying force' in Northern Ireland.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, relations between Irish Republicans and the British became especially strained and violent as the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland felt mistreated. Protestant unionists dominated politics and appeared to have better jobs and homes. Many Catholics in the North felt like second-class citizens and wanted a united Ireland.

Problems for Catholics in Northern Ireland:

1) It was hard for Catholics to get on the electoral roll to get a vote.
2) Constituency boundaries were fixed to give Protestant candidates the best chance of election success.
3) The health services and public transport in Catholic areas were worst than in Protestant areas.
4) It was hard for Catholics to get a council house, or good jobs or education.
5) Catholics faced violent and unfair treatment from the police-the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), and the 'B Specials'.

In 1967 Northern Irish Catholics and sympathisers formed a Civil Rights Movement to organise protests and marches to complain about their treatment. So in October 1967 they had a Civil Rights march to Londonderry. which outraged Protestant orangemen and the march was broken up by the RUC.

Then in 1969 a militant Provisional IRA split from the official IRA, with these 'Provos' being committed to military action to drive out the British. By August 1969 fighting between Catholics and Protestants was out of control, and the Northern Irish government asked for British help. The British army was sent in to safeguard the rights of all citizens, not just Protestants.

Reform was needs fast and British Home Secretary James Callaghan began a series of measures to try to reassure the Catholic community.

1) 'B' specials abolished.
2) RUC reorganised and disarmed.
3) Fairer system for allocating council houses.
4) Fairer electoral district system.

But the fighting didn't stop. The Provisional IRA bagan a terrorist campaign and British troops had to start searching Catholic houses for weapons and suspects, often causing more clashes. In February 1971 a gunman killed a British soldier - the first to die in the troubles - and by August the Stormont government introduced internment, jail without trial.

The fighting got worse and by early 1972 Provisionals were controlling many Catholic areas which became 'no-go' areas for the police and army. Armed IRA and Provisional militia openly walk the streets of Belfast and Londonderry, and the Protestants had militia also in the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association.

On a 30 January 1972 ''Bloody Sunday'', British troops clashed with a Catholic civil right march in Londonderry and fired on the crowd killing 13 people and wounding many others. By March violence on all sides was out of control and much of world opinion condemned the British policy. The Stormont government was then abolished and London 'Direct Rule' was introduced to try to stop a civil war.

Obstacles to peace in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s weren't easy to fix as Protestants and Catholics wouldn't work together. Voting always tended to bee for somebody because he or she was a Catholic nationalist, or a Protestant unionist. This made it hard for Catholic minority to get fair representation, so the idea of power-sharing emerged.

In 1974, the British government tried to set up an Assembly and Executive to rule Northern Ireland, with a fairer share of power for Catholics ;

1) Members of the Assembly were elected, but Catholics had guaranteed seats on the Executive.
2) Many Protestants felt the Catholics got too many seats in the Executive - 4 out of 11.
3) Protestants held a general strike, and brought life in Northern Ireland to a standstill.
4) After five months strikes the British government dropped the power-sharing scheme.

In 1982 Margaret Thatcher's government had another go at setting up a new Irish Assembly, but this time the Catholics who refused to join and that attempt failed.

The police and army seemed to be anti-Catholic, with most soldiers and police officers in Northern Ireland being Protestants. Many Catholics saw the British army as an occupying force, mostly interested in protecting the Protestants and not in keeping the peace. The Royal Ulster Constabulary was the Northern Ireland police force and most officers were Protestants.

The Ulter Defence Regiment was the main army regiment operating in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s. The force was again mainly Protstant, and was unpopular with Catholics. But in 1993, the UDR became the Royal Irish Regiment and was meant to be more Catholic-friendly.

British military strategies got tougher and tougher:

1) Plastic bullets used to break up riots.
2) Informants planted in terrorist groups.
3) Undercover SAS missions.
4) Suspected IRA terrorisys shot dead.

The IRA continued their campaign in and out of prison. IRA prisoners were kept at the Maze prison, in high security 'H' blocks. They kept up protests from the prison - they wanted to embarrass the British government, and keep nationalist support.

In 1972 The British government agreed to treat IRA prisoners as political prisoners, not required to work in prison or wear prison uniform.

1976 These privileges were abolished. IRA prisoners began the ''Blanket Protest'', going round in nothing but blankets, so they wouldn't have to wear the uniform.

1980 IRA prisoners began hunger strikes at the Maze as a protest.

1981 Bobby Sands died of starvation-followed by 10 others that year.

The last twenty years British and Irish politicians, the people of Northern Ireland, and politicians from abroad have tried to find a solution to the problems.

In 1980 talks started with Eire about reuniting Ireland;

1) After 1980, Margaret Thatcher's government tried a new approach. They said they would let Northern Ireland join Eire if that's what the majority of people wanted.
2) In 1984, Eire suggested combining the Northern and Southern parts of Ireland without waiting for majority agreement. Margaret Thatcher refused to go this far, but talks continued.
3) The Anglo-Irish Agreement (sometimes called the Hillsborough Agreement) was signed by Britain and Ireland (Eire) in 1985. A joint committee of the two governments would discuss the big issues in Northern Ireland-the security forces, policing, the law and the judicial system.

Talks were held with the nationalists in the 1990s;

1) Senior British civil servants started holding secret talks with Sinn Fein in 1991.
2) In 1993 Bill Clinton (President of the United States) urged Sinn Fein to cooperate, and invited their leader Gerry Adams to vist the USA. Sinn Fein was by now seen as the IRA's political wing.
3) The SDLP (another republican political party) and the IRA had their own talks. The IRA agreed they would consider a ceasefire if the British government came up with a way of beginning talks.
4) The Dowing Street Declaration was made in 1993 was a joint statement by the British and Irish Prime Ministers, saying they would to encourage talks between all people in Ireland.
5) The IRA and the main unionist terrorist groups called a ceasefire in 1994.
6) The British than began to demand that the provisional IRA give up their weapons, and the IRA felt they were being pushed too far, too fast. They broke the ceasefire in 1996, bombing Canary Wharf and Manchester city centre. Sinn Fein were now excluded from the peace talks.

The new Labour government elected in May 1997 began fresh talks ;

1) Tony Blair wanted peace talks and the IRA declared a new ceasefire and talks began again between Britain, Eire, and political parties from Northern Ireland. The talks were chaired by US Senator George Mitchell.
2) These talks ended on 9 April 1998. On that day, it was announced that a new power-sharing assembly would be set up in Northern Ireland, and Eire would give up the idea of a United Ireland. This was called the Good Friday Agreement.
3) All the people of Ireland, North and South, vote on the Agreement in a referendum with 71% of people in the North for it, and 94% in the South.
4) There were elections in June 1998 for a new Assembly, and Stormont reopened for business in July.
5) Part of the Good Friday Agreement said all sides should begin 'decommissioning' their weapons and Canadian general, John De Chastelain, held talks with different terrorist groups.
6) Unionists at first didn't believe that the IRA would give up their weapons, and they refused to join talks on setting up an actual government for Northern Ireland. But on 1 December 1999 Direct Rule was ended and the new Stormont government was headed by the Unionist David Trimble.
7) Since than all sides have worked at finding a permanent peaceful settlement - but weapon decommissioning continues to be a long-running major issue.

PostPosted: Fri Jul 16, 2004 10:46 pm
by Clare
Good stuff Colin, but though things have got quieter in Ireland for now the problem started in the 16th century still seems to continue now in the 21st century but maybe with at least some of the issues solved ?

PostPosted: Fri Apr 08, 2005 10:11 am
by Adam

Yes Clare it is good that there has been much less political violence regarding Ireland lately.

But the different groups involved there certainly don't seem to trust each other much still !!