Cain web Service Northern Ireland: Troubles Brewing' by Landon Hancock

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CAIN: Background Essay on the Northern Ireland Conflict wysiwyg://15/

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Northern Ireland: Troubles Brewing' by Landon Hancock

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Text: © Landon Hancock ... Page Compiled: Martin Melaugh Material is added to this site on a regular basis - information on this page may change

The following paper was contributed by Landon Hancock who, at the time of writing, was a temporary intern student at INCORE (INitiative on Conflict Resolution and Ethnicity). Landon Hancock is a Ph.D. Student at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. This paper is based upon one chapter of his master's thesis, the patterns of ethnic conflict, published by San Francisco State University in 1996. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.

This article is copyright 1998) of London Hancock and is included on the CAIN site by permission of the author. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of the author. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Northern Ireland: Troubles Brewing by London Hancock

Section Headings:


Cultural Identity

Political Power/Access

Economic Participation

Onset of Conflict

... Changing Fortunes

... The Rise ofNICRA and Civil Rights

... Fears of the Protestant Community

... The Cycle of Violence: Onward to the Troubles



The Troubles, as they are known to the populace, did not erupt on any specific date, but emerged as the result of several years of escalating incidents between Catholics and Protestants. This latest episode of the long-standing conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland has been going on for thirty years, and although a peace

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agreement has been reached, a peaceful resolution to this costly struggle is not yet in sight. The Troubles have been protracted and costly in every sense of the word. From the time of the first civil rights marches in 1968 the cost, in both human and material terms, has been steadily mounting. Between 1968 and 1994, over 3,500 people died and over 35,000 were injured in Northern Ireland as a direct result of the fighting. Robberies, bombings, assassinations, and terror tactics spread to engulf Great Britain and the Irish Republic, greatly decreasing the common person's sense of security and impinging on the populace's personal freedom. Civil rights in Northern Ireland have been seriously eroded, and freedom in the name of safety has been sacrificed to some extent in both Great Britain and the Irish Republic (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 51). In material terms. Northern Ireland drains over £3 billion annually from the British treasury while increased security and border patrols cost the Irish Republic over one-quarter of its annual budget.

Figure 1 Manufacturing Employment


1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985

Nl = Northern Ireland, Rl= Republic of Ireland UK= United Kingdom (eluding Northern Ireland)

(RoiMhorn and Wayne 1988, 81)

The economy of Northern Ireland has also been deeply affected by the ongoing conflict. Manufacturing employment in Northern Ireland has declined by over 40 per cent since the beginning of the conflict, increasing the province's dependence on Great Britain for subsidies to maintain its current standard of living (see fig. 1). While part of this decline can be attributed to the decline of the world economy in the early 1970s, the 'branch plant' structure of industry in Northern Ireland has also contributed to the sharp deterioration in economic conditions within the region. These foreign-owned assembly or secondary production branch plants closed down when violence increased operating costs in the province. The fact that these plants lacked research and development or marketing facilities and were secondary (as opposed to main) plants meant that these low priority plants in Northern Ireland could shift their production elsewhere at minimal cost to their foreign owners. The constant threat of bombings, high cost of security, and lack of a stable internal

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market made plant openings unattractive and drove away large manufacturers in great numbers (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 84). In fact, only massive growth in government and security service jobs held off increases in unemployment figures until the second oil shock of 1979, when Northern Ireland joined the rest of the world in recession. It is estimated that without annual infusions of aid from Great Britain, the living standard of Northern Ireland would approach that of Mexico or Argentina (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 90).

In examining the events that led to this human tragedy, the case study of Northern Ireland is presented as follows: (A) Cultural Identity, (B) Political Power/Access, and (C) Economic Participation. Section D (Onset of Conflict) explores the reasons that a society heading towards real pluralism in the early 1960s degenerated into internecine violence by the end of the decade.

Cultural Identity

To understand the historical enmity between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, it is necessary to understand past conflicts between the two groups and to examine the reasons they have remained separate throughout their history. Catholic Ireland was ruled by Great Britain for a considerable portion of its history, from the twelfth century to 1920. During that time, there were numerous revolts by the Catholics against their Protestant landlords. The historic province of Ulster, a stronghold of Gaelic culture in the north of Ireland, successfully resisted British encroachments until the Plantation of 1609. Earlier waves of colonisation had supplanted the Irish gentry with Protestant British landlords, leaving the bulk of the population Catholic and Irish. The settlement of Ulster in 1609, by contrast, was massive in scale and resulted in the intrusion of a Protestant culture that was completely alien to its Catholic inhabitants (Darby 1976, 3). Massacres of both Protestants and Catholics took place throughout the 1600s, as the two sides battled for supremacy and the right to occupy the land each now called home. The most important of these to the folklore of Ulster was the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, in which the Protestants scored a massive victory over the Catholics.

Mistrust and bad feelings resulting from the colonisation of Ireland by Protestant settlers were followed by centuries of political and social segregation of Catholics and Protestants in all of Ireland. After the victory of William of Orange (the Protestant challenger who deposed the Catholic king, James II), laws were enacted by the all-Protestant Parliament of Ireland barring Catholics from all offices, land ownership, schooling, and other avenues leading toward wealth and education (Darby 1976, 4). These laws effectively entrenched the existing hatreds between the two communities and glorified violent action by one community to 'defend' itself from the other. The conditions created as a result of these laws became important during the early part of the twentieth century, when escalating violence and rebellion forced Great Britain to consider granting Ireland some form of 'Home Rule', a limited form of self-government. Both Catholic and Protestant extremists rejected the plan out of hand. The Catholics, led by Sinn Fein, felt that only full independence could satisfy them. The Protestant Unionists, on the other hand, greatly feared being ruled by the Catholic majority and went as far as to threaten the secession of Northern Ireland from Great Britain into a sovereign state if the British did not back away from their plans to give all of Ireland Home Rule. The resulting compromise was the partitioning of Ireland into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in 1920 (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988,24).

The Partition of Ireland did little to ease the sectarian mistrust and separateness between Catholics and Protestants left in the six counties of Ulster which were devolved to Unionist rule. Each community continued to be defined by its religious affiliation, with little mixture between the two groups. Education, neighbourhoods, workplaces, entertainment, and numerous other social activities remained segregated. The names of places also continue to be used to denote religious and national affiliation. For example, those aligned with the Protestant Unionists call Londonderry1 by its official name, while those of Nationalist

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sentiment refer to it as Derry (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 15).

After the Partition of Ireland in 1920, sporadic violence continued between the two communities. The violence was cyclic in nature and often coincided with downturns in the local economy (e.g., riots during the depression of the 1930s). Conversely, when the economy picked up, as it did in the post-war years, ethnic violence subsided; for example, during a peak of the economy in the 1950s, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was unable to launch a successful bid for secession due to apathy in the Catholic community (Darby 1976, 13). The pattern of separate settlements, school districts, and employment, however, continued as before.

The physical segregation of the two communities can be attributed to various reasons, not all of which stem from a fear of violence. For instance, as most schooling is conducted by religious denomination, it makes sense for Protestant and Catholic families to find housing closer to their schools. Church attendance is high in Northern Ireland, with the church community providing the structure for social interaction. In addition, marriages in Northern Ireland primarily take place with people from the same local area, creating elaborate family-based structures that tend to be exclusionary and segregated (Darby 1976, 37). These trends tend to isolate and insulate local communities from outside influences, preserving old attitudes towards outsiders and considerable conformity within the community.

Like most cultural differences, the roots of the Protestant-Catholic enmity in Northern Ireland are buried in the distant past, with fresh incidents only serving to reopen old wounds and solidify negative stereotypes. The siege mentality of the Unionists continues to stem from the fortified townships in which they were forced to live following the 'Plantation' of 1609. Thus, each new threat is perceived as dire, within the context of brutal pogroms which took place hundreds of years before. For example, in 1964, the Unionists rioted in response to the legal Nationalist opposition party flying the Irish Tricolour, rather than the Union Jack, from their local headquarters in Belfast (Darby 1976,14).

The Catholics still feel as if they have an alien culture living amongst them. This feeling has been enhanced through the separation of the two communities and the continued enforcement of the Special Powers Act of 1922. This act, designed to combat IRA resistance to Partition, was left in force until well after the beginning of the Troubles, thus perpetuating a climate of mistrust that has yet to be dispelled (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 28).

With the exception of their competition for the same resources, the two communities can be characterised by a lack of contact. Their lack of contact has created feelings of deep distrust between the Catholic and Protestant communities. This work argues that those deep feelings do not condition daily relations, but flare up in response to specific events. For example, the IRA started a new campaign for secession between 1956 and 1962; however, its decision in 1962 to renounce military activity resulted from the fact that its "defeat owed more to apathy than to the efficiency of law enforcement machinery" (Darby 1976, 13). In other words, since the Catholic community did not have a strong perception of relative deprivation, the feelings of mistrust and hatred did not surface. As a result, the IRA was unable to generate support for its secessionist campaign.

The IRA was able to re-establish itself and its military methods in 1969 /1970, as a result of the rising frustrations of the Catholic populace, rather than the continuing ethnic hatreds between the two communities. Many authors have noted that violence in Northern Ireland stems from reactions to real (or perceived) discrimination between the two groups. This discrimination has a long historical record, dating to the fifteenth century when it was sanctioned as a tool to pacify an occupied land and settle a Protestant populace who would prove more loyal to the Crown than its Catholic inhabitants. Sections B and C address the extent and forms of the discrimination in terms of political influence and economic participation, respectively.

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