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

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Political Access/Power

Politics in Northern Ireland have always been dominated by the necessity for Protestant control of the government and its processes. The requirement that a Protestant majority be created in Northern Ireland was a major determinant in drawing the boundary for the Partition of Ireland. Northern Ireland is composed of six of the original nine counties of the province of Ulster. The remaining three counties of Ulster were not included in Northern Ireland due to the fact that the higher percentage of Catholics in these counties posed a threat to Protestant control of the country. As illustrated (see map 1), only those counties of Ulster province that had a Protestant population of at least 30 per cent were included in the Unionist enclave of Northern Ireland.

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(Rowthorn and Wayne 19S8, 25)

At the time of Partition, the government of Great Britain devolved authority to the two governments of the Irish Isles. The Irish Free State in the south (which later left the Commonwealth to become the Republic of Ireland), and Northern Ireland were each allowed to elect their own parliaments, implement local laws, and, in general, conduct their own internal affairs. Stormont, the parliament of Northern Ireland, was given control over all of its own affairs, with the exception of the right to mint money, conduct foreign affairs, and raise an army; however, it was able to circumvent the latter through the creation of

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paramilitary 'police auxiliaries'.

Under representation of Catholics extended throughout most levels of Northern Ireland's government. For example, the proportional representation (PR) system left in place by the British ensured that the Catholics would control about 40 per cent of the local councils; but, the ending of PR and the redrawing of local government boundaries by the Unionist parliament at Stormont quickly reversed the trend. While Catholic Nationalists won control of twenty-five out of the eighty local councils in 1920, the gerrymandering of 1922 ensured that in the 1924 elections they controlled only two out of eighty local councils (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 29).

The redrawn boundaries were particularly effective as a result of new legislation introduced to restrict voting rights. Two categories of voters were formed to ensure Protestant dominance at the polls: (1) the 'ratepayers', primary occupiers of a household as either tenants or owners, and (2) persons who owned commercial property valued at £10 or more per year. As only two people per house were allowed to vote, the ratepayer category effectively excluded lodgers or adult children living at home. Both lodgers and adult children living at home tended to be Catholics due to their lower overall economic status and larger families; thus, Catholic franchise was restricted. People in the second category, that is, owners of commercial property, were allowed to nominate special voters for each £10 of value of their property, up to a maximum of six voters (Darby 1976, 50). Since over 90 per cent of the commercial property in Northern Ireland was Protestant owned, this provision expanded their voting franchise and, along with the ratepayer category, extended Unionist control over the ballot box and the government.

These types of discrimination were so blatant that the Cameron Commission investigation of 1968 issued a report critical of the local electoral system. The Commission reported that in Derry, while Catholics made up over 60 per cent of the electorate, due to the districting system, they won only 40 per cent of the County Borough seats (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 30). This is only one example among many in which the gerrymandering of districts produced Unionist majorities on local councils in communities that were predominantly Catholic.

Acts ostensibly aimed at increasing security but used to intimidate and discriminate against Catholics were utilised by the Unionist parliament at Stormont to ensure Protestant control of Northern Ireland. The most prominent of these was the Special Powers Act of 1922, which was implemented to stem the tide of Nationalist violence by splinter groups of the IRA who did not accept the terms of Partition. Although most of the secessionist violence ceased by 1927, the Special Powers Act remained in force until it was repealed by the British government in 1973, well after the beginning of the Troubles. Under the Act, government forces were given a considerable latitude in their conduct towards suspected individuals and broad powers of search and seizure. The Act permitted actions such as Internment without trial for unspecified periods of time, search and seizures without a warrant, and powers of censorship. The most interesting feature of the Special Powers Act was its clause that "if any person does any act of such nature as to be prejudicial to the preservation of the peace or maintenance of order in Northern Ireland and not specifically provided for in the regulations, he shall be deemed to be guilty of an offence against the regulations" (Darby 1976, 56). Thus, if the police suspected an individual of not preserving the peace or maintaining order, they could detain the individual for an indefinite period of time without charges or a trial.

The Special Powers Act was enforced by the police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), and its paramilitary reservists, the Ulster Special Constabulary. The RUC was unique at that time in that, unlike their British counterparts, its officers were required to carry arms and trained with heavy weapons in military tactics. The RUC also differed from the British police in that it was centrally controlled by the RUC Inspector General and the Northern Ireland Ministry of Home Affairs. Although the 3,000-man force (later raised to

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3,400) was legally required to reserve one-third of its spots for Catholics, the number of Catholics never reached higher than 12 per cent of the force. The small number of Catholics on the force is more reflective of the perception in the Catholic community that the RUC was a partisan force that bowed to political pressure than of discriminatory hiring practices. Numerous incidents of the RUC facing off with Catholic demonstrators while ignoring violence from Protestant corners testify to the differential treatment accorded the two communities (Darby 1976, 59).

In addition to the RUC, the government of Northern Ireland created the Ulster Special Constabulary in 1920 to combat IRA secessionist fighters, who were opposed to Partition. The Ulster Special Constabulary was divided into three corps: the A, B, and C Specials. The A and C Specials disbanded after Partition-related violence subsided, but the 'B Specials' survived until their group was disbanded by the British government at the beginning of Direct Rule by the British in 1972. Membership in the B Specials ranged from a maximum of 25,000 people to a minimum of just over 8,000 in 1969. The B Specials were usually several times larger in number than the police force and, given the task of combating potential subversion of the state, they were recruited as an exclusively Protestant paramilitary force. There were open ties between the B Specials the Orange Order and also with illegal Protestant paramilitary forces such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Many members of the B Specials were also members in the latter forces, and the units of the B Specials often used Orange Order lodges for training exercises and practice drills (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 37). The B Specials engaged in activities such as manning roadblocks and protecting selected installations during times of suspected IRA activity. Due to the large number of Protestant extremists in their ranks, the B Specials gained notoriety for their use of violence in the execution of their duties; offences included beatings, harassment, and body searches of Catholics at checkpoints. Some of the victims were known to the B Specials as neighbours, but were nonetheless subjected to harsh treatments, unlike Protestants who were merely waived through (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 38). The B Specials came to be universally loathed by the Catholic community as a tool of Protestant repression and intimidation as a result of these and other well-published incidents.

It has been well established that the police forces of Northern Ireland acted in collusion with Unionist political forces in the systematic discrimination and repression of Catholics. Several British-sponsored and independent commissions investigated allegations of discrimination against Catholics, publishing reports that universally condemned police actions; however, these reports usually produced little change in the situation. These reports, most of which were published in the 1960s (including the Report of the Cameron Commission, the Scarman and Hunt Reports, and investigations by James Callaghan and Max Hastings), were critical of the RUC and the B Specials, noting the poor leadership and lack of discipline of the B Specials; the lack of protection for Catholic areas; and the paramilitary character of the RUC, which increased the alienation of the Catholic community (Darby 1976, 62). While these reports, issued at the beginning of the Troubles, spurred some action towards reforms, they appeared far too late in the process to avert the impending crisis. By that time, even the disbanding of the B Specials and the attempted conversion of the RUC into a community-based police force did little to assuage Catholic demands, which had risen as their communal mistrust of the Unionist and British systems increased.

Protestant control of the judicial system and the courts was also maintained by Unionist control of the government of Northern Ireland. In the judicial system, Protestants outnumbered Catholics by sixty-eight to six in 1968. Fifteen out of twenty-eight appointees to the high court of Northern Ireland between 1921 and 1972 were either current or former members of the Unionist political party, strengthening the link between political control and judicial control (Darby 1976, 64).

Jury selection was also biased in favour of the Protestant community. Since potential jurors were selected from the voting roles, only ratepayers, who were predominantly Protestant,

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could be selected to serve on juries. This practice generally excluded Catholic participation in the court system, unless of course they participated as defendants. Surprisingly enough, evidence shows that sentencing among Catholics and Protestants was fairly even-handed. The judicial system, however, did not incarcerate the same number of people from each of the two communities. Discrimination within the judicial system stemmed from the severity of charges lodged against defendants by the police system. For example, charges against Protestant defendants were often reduced or dropped, while Catholics were usually confronted with the full force of the law.

Other areas of Protestant domination included the public sector areas of employment, housing allocations, and educational revenues, where discrimination was more often the rule than the exception. These areas, along with private-sector employment and investment, are addressed in further detail in the following section on economic participation. In general, though, the political balance in Northern Ireland was weighted in favour of the Protestant community from its inception. The political power of the Catholics began to increase after the beginning of the violence, but still remains in contention today, due in large part to the indifference of Westminster and the willingness of the Unionists to use any means at their disposal to ensure their continued Protestant dominance. The following sections address the economic conditions and the shift in fortunes that precipitated the Catholic civil rights movement, which subsequently resulted in a violent response by the Protestants, signalling the beginning of thirty years of conflict.

Economic Participation

Control of the national and most local governments also gave the Unionist majority the power to determine Protestant and Catholic share of public sector benefits. In Northern Ireland, the construction of public housing has been regulated by the Unionist-controlled parliament and local councils. Subsidised housing was controlled by Local Housing Authorities (LHAs) that were appointed by the elected councils. The gerrymandering of districts effectively gave the Unionists control over the selection of LHA members. Generally, Unionist-controlled councils used their power to deny housing to Catholics, and occasionally Protestants, if the councils thought that Catholics could demand equal housing in the same districts. The main reason behind a council's willingness to deny housing to Protestants was to ensure Protestant political domination in those districts where their electoral majority was slim (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 31). By denying housing to Protestants in districts in which they feared Catholics would also demand housing, the councils effectively limited the number of Catholic ratepayers, ensuring Protestant electoral majorities. In addition. Unionist-controlled LHAs tended to build standard three-bedroom units, without regard to larger-sized Catholic families. Incidents have also been reported in which Unionist LHAs granting subsidised housing to bachelors or to married couples without children even though there were large. Catholic families who were desperately in need of housing (Compton 1991, 37). In the County of Fermanagh, despite the fact that they constituted a majority (albeit a slim one) of the population, Catholics were awarded only one-third of the 1,500 housing units built in the post-war period (Whyte 1980,19).

There are, however, indicators that abuse of this system ran both ways; that is, the few Nationalist-controlled councils practised discrimination as effectively as did the Unionist-controlled councils. Overall, due to the larger number of poor Catholics, the proportion of Catholics in public housing was slightly higher than Protestants. That there was a greater proportion of Catholics receiving public housing does not necessarily indicate a lack of discrimination in this area; but, the higher proportion of Catholics living in poverty points to employment and access to wealth as key areas of discrimination.

Catholic employment in the public sector (aside from the police and judiciary) averaged at about 30 per cent, a figure almost proportional to their percentage of the overall population. A closer look, however, proves that these statistics are misleading. While Catholics made

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up about 40 per cent of manual labourers, they held only 11 per cent of senior positions in 1951. This figure shrank to 6 per cent by 1959, but began to rise subsequent to reforms which followed the outbreak of violence, reaching almost 15 per cent by 1973 (Whyte 1980, 9). The Cameron Commission thoroughly investigated Local Authority employment and found that Unionist councils had used their power to discriminate against Catholics in the hiring process (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988,32).

In the private sector, two main categories of imbalance existed between Catholics and Protestants: the level of unemployment and the type of employment. Catholic employment tended toward the lower end of the job market. Catholics were employed predominantly in unskilled and lower-paying jobs, such as clothing manufacture and textiles. Protestants, on the other hand, dominated the relatively higher-paid areas of shipbuilding and engineering. As illustrated in figure 2, the more an industry paid (and the more regular the work) the fewer Catholics it tended to employ, while the lower-paid and less regular positions (like seasonal building work) employed Catholics at a rate close to their demographic representation.

Figure 2 Catholic Employment by Industry in Northern Ireland 1971

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In each profession. Catholics tended to occupy the lower ranks. Thus, in white-collar sectors, Catholics would be far more likely to have clerical than managerial positions, mirroring their distribution in the public sector (Whyte 1980, 15). Catholics also tended to work in industries (e.g., construction) that were more sensitive to economic downturns and, therefore, more likely to layoff workers during periods of economic recession.

In addition to discrimination in hiring practices, several other factors account for this disparity between employment in the two communities, including policies that affected the location of new industries through zoning and tax incentives and those that encouraged placement of industries in areas difficult or dangerous for Catholics to reach. Discrimination was also sanctioned and promoted by officials. For example. Sir Basil Brooke, who served as Northern Ireland's prime minister for twenty years, actively promoted a system of employment wherein jobs were offered through social organisations such as the Orange Order. In the Londonderry Sentinel (20 March 1934), Sir Brooke stated that:

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I recommend those people who are Loyalists not to employ Roman Catholics, 99 per cent of whom are disloyal; I want you to remember one point in regard to the employment of people who are disloyal....You are disenfranchising yourselves in that way....You people who are employers have the ball at your feet. If you don't act properly now before we know where we are we shall find ourselves in the minority instead of the majority. (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 33)

In addition, trade unions often acted as employment representatives; thus, since the unions were sectarian in nature, Catholics were effectively banned from employment in many instances. When word spread among the Catholic community that a company would hire only Protestants, most often Catholics would simply stop applying.

The segregation and imbalance of the educational system also affected Catholic employment opportunities. Religion and education in Northern Ireland have been linked for almost the entirety of Irish history and remain so today. Due to persecution after the victory of William of Orange, Catholics have been deeply suspicious of state involvement in education and have fought to retain church control of their own schools. Likewise, the Protestant community has argued against the secularisation of the educational system, successfully defeating proposals that were suggested immediately following Partition to integrate the school system and place religious education on a voluntary after-school basis (Darby 1976, 126). The result was an educational system that allowed bible teaching of predominantly Protestant ethics and the withdrawal of Catholics to religious schools that received funding equal to only 65 per cent of that given to the state-sector, Protestant-affiliated schools (Darby 1976,128).

Onset of Conflict

The patterns that signalled changes in Northern Ireland's peace and stability took place over more than a decade. Beginning with changes in the economic outlook following the recession of the 1950s, Catholics in Northern Ireland experienced a rise in economic fortunes (albeit smaller than their Protestant neighbours) as a result of stimulus programs instituted by Stormont and Westminster. These changes generated a rise in Catholic awareness of their political shortcomings, creating the perception of relative deprivation. Demonstrations for redress interacted with a culturally-generated fear of extinction (fanned by extremists on both sides) on the part of Protestants, creating the spark which set all of Northern Ireland ablaze for more than twenty-five years. This section examines (1) the shift in economic fortunes between the 1950s and 1960s, (2) the rise of relative deprivation and its manifestation in the civil rights movements in Northern Ireland from the mid to late 1960s, (3) the source and meaning of the Protestant fear of extinction, and (4) the dialectical cycle of demonstrations and violence that culminated in the Troubles of the early 1970s.

Changing Fortunes

Although unemployment in Catholic sectors has always been higher than in the Protestant community, several changes that benefited both communities in Northern Ireland were brought about by modernisation programs initiated in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In the early 1950s demand in areas such as shipbuilding and textile manufacturing began to decline, as the United Kingdom moved from war production to rebuilding Great Britain's economy. Between 1951 and 1954, linen production in Northern Ireland fell 15 percent, causing a corresponding increase in unemployment. Shipbuilding and agriculture also experienced sharp declines, as other nations began to realise their own post-war recoveries. Since shipbuilding, textiles, and engineering represented almost 50 per cent of the manufacturing jobs in Northern Ireland, the effects of the slowdowns were devastating to the province's economy (Bew et al. 1979, 133). Unemployment jumped by over 40,000 jobs, offsetting gains in the public and service sectors over the same period. Figures show that unemployment in Northern Ireland at this time was more than twice that of the rest of

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the UK, hovering between 5 per cent and 7.5 per cent (Bew et al. 1979,135).

Vocal demands from both communities for Stormont to address the problem resulted in the government's grudging willingness to implement a series of welfare state programs similar to those in effect in Great Britain. Massive increases in medical services and educational expenditures were coupled with incentives to attract foreign capital investment to the province. The implementation of the programs and services reduced disparities between the two communities, although full equality was not achieved (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 79).

In the fields of health care and education, massive grants enabled medical workers and teachers to be hired on a larger scale than before, and improvements in facilities and training increased both Catholic access to these services and employment in these fields. Catholic schools experienced a sharp rise in standards of education, with government funding improving both the facilities and the quality of Catholic teachers. By the mid to late 1960s teaching facilities for Catholic students, including the number of schools and the student-teacher ratio, were rapidly approaching the quality of the Protestant-dominated state educational system (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 73).

While private employment did not favour Catholics to the extent that the public sector did, Catholics experienced increased opportunities in private employment as well. The formation of a Northern Ireland Development Council in 1955 speeded the implementation of policies to jump start industrial production. By the mid-1960s, 230 new firms had been established, and 200 others had expanded. Companies from Great Britain, the United States, and continental Europe were lured to Northern Ireland with generous tax incentives and low land prices. The number of foreign multinational companies in Northern Ireland climbed from seven in 1958 to twenty-seven in 1968 (most of which employed more than 500 people) and resulted in over 22,000 new manufacturing jobs (Teague 1987,164). Even though many of these new branch plants were established in areas dominated by Protestant communities, the background of the owners of the plants and their lack of direct connection to the conflict meant that their hiring practices were less discriminatory. This was especially true in the areas of semi-skilled labour, where larger numbers of Catholics and women were employed by the new multinational plants (Wichert 1991, 89).

The Rise of NICRA and Civil Rights

The rise in employment in Northern Ireland during this time was certainly not remarkable in the overall scheme of the province's economic fortunes, nor did the Catholic community benefit out of proportion to its size. On a case by case basis, it is not possible to determine that the practices of individual multinationals were overall less discriminatory than the previous regime. Some companies implemented non-sectarian hiring practices, while others employed the existing Unionist-dominated hiring systems. One major difference, however, was a change in perception on the part of the Catholic community. With advances in some areas of employment (particularly following the recession of the 1950s) and increased educational opportunities available to Catholic children, members of the Catholic community began to believe seriously in the possibility of an improved future (Wichert 1991,81-2).

Inspired by the civil rights movements in the United States and elsewhere, in the late 1960s groups of Catholics and liberal Protestants gathered together to form the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). NICRA set out to right wrongs through the dissemination of information, street protests, and later the use of civil disobedience campaigns aimed at changing the discriminatory practices and policies of the Unionist government. Centred around equalising the political and continued economic disparity between Catholics and Protestants, NICRA's demands called for universal suffrage; the repeal of the Special Powers Act; the disbanding of the B Specials; the re-drawing of electoral boundaries; and the imposition of laws designed to end discrimination in public employment and public housing (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 39). NICRA, unlike the IRA

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By the mid-1960s there were several movements to expand Catholic awareness and participation in Northern Ireland's politics. Foremost among them was NICRA, but others (including the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the Campaign for Social Justice, and the People's Democracy) were all advocating the return of Catholics to the ballot box and the revamping of Northern Ireland's legal structure to provide more equality for Catholics (Crighton and Mac Iver 1991, 135). Furthermore, Northern Ireland's Prime Minister, Terence O'Neill, had launched a mostly symbolic campaign to enlist Catholic support for the Unionist Party. During his tenure in office (1963-69) he attempted to move toward greater accommodation with the Catholic community by offering limited reforms that were primarily economic in nature (though some were political reforms). These reforms, while not enough for most of the Catholic community, did result in the Catholic Nationalist Party ending its twenty-five-year boycott of Stormont in 1965 (Crighton and Mac Iver 1991, 134).

The dominant Unionist Party in Northern Ireland was not sufficiently separated from its Protestant support base to safely seek to bridge the gap between Catholics and Protestants by offering economic and political reforms. This can be seen in the harsh rhetoric and reprisals from hard-liners in the Protestant community. One such hard-liner, the Protestant fundamentalist leader lan Paisley, stated that O'Neill was selling the Protestants down the river with his reform campaigns (Crighton and Mac Iver 1991,135). By using the threats of O'Neill's reforms; NICRA's actions (which Paisley thought was merely a cover for the IRA); and the SDLP's call for an Irish dimension to Northern Ireland's politics, the Protestant fundamentalists fragmented the Unionist front through their creation of the hard-line Democratic Unionist Party in 1971.

The violence itself began in 1968 at the beginning of NICRA's campaign of peaceful demonstrations to enlist the support of the Catholic community. Their first march, from Coalisland to Dungannon, took place peacefully in March 1968, but the second march in Derry was violently broken up by the RUC and the B Specials (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 39). Three months later the more radical student group, the People's Democracy, staged another peaceful march from Belfast to Derry. Police and Unionist crowds both attacked the marchers outside of Derry and within the city itself. The Cameron Commission investigation of these outbreaks of violence established (par. 40) "that on the night of 4/5 January a number of policemen were guilty of misconduct which involved assault and battery, malicious damage to property in the streets in the predominantly Catholic Bogside area....and the use of provocative, sectarian and political slogans" (Rowthom and Wayne 1988,171; Cameron Report, paragraphs 97-101 and 177).

By the summer of 1969 increasing violence between the Unionist demonstrators (and police) and the Catholics (and a rejuvenated IRA) led to the intervention of the British government, in the form of the military. The main incident was the annual Protestant Apprentice Boys of Derry parade, which marched through the city and around the city walls and close to the Catholic Bogside area. Instead of the usual stony looks and silence from the Catholic community, stones, petrol-bombs, and barricades met the marchers. After two days of fighting between the Catholics and police, the British Army was finally called in to separate the combatants. Between 1969 and 1971, the British government tried to introduce a number of reforms including many that had been demanded by NICRA and the SDLP. These included universal suffrage; the re-drawing of electoral districts; the disbanding of the B Specials; and the establishment of a new housing executive to handle distribution of public housing through an objective needs-based system. These reforms, however, were only partially implemented and (by that time) were not enough to satisfy the demands of the increasingly polarised Catholic community. For example, even though the B Specials were disbanded and the RUC disarmed, many of their members were allowed to enlist in the new Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) attached to the British Army (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 41). This only served to strain the relationship between the Catholic community and the Army, which was increasingly seen less as saviours and more as oppressors as time passed without significant lessening in violence.

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The final straw, which escalated the violence to an insurgency, was the 1971 introduction of Internment without trial by the government of Northern Ireland. Using legislation from the Special Powers Act, Stormont introduced interment in August of 1971, with 342 men picked up in the first dawn raids. Since the British Army was instructed to carry out the Internment raids, they then became the focus of Catholic anger and demonstrations. The most famous of these anti-Internment demonstrations resulted in the Bloody Sunday killings in Derry in January 1972, when British solders fired into the Catholic crowd, killing thirteen people (Rowthorn and Wayne 1988, 42). By March of that year, the British government had dissolved Stormont (to rule directly from Westminster), Internment was in full swing with the implementation of the 'Diplock Courts', and the IRA had reconstituted itself fully by providing defence from police and Protestant paramilitaries to Catholic areas. The Troubles, which have lasted thirty years to date - resulting in thousands of deaths and millions of Pounds of damage - moved on that fateful morning from small-scale clashes to a full-blown sectarian conflict. At the time of this work, tensions between Unionist and Nationalist, Irish and British, Protestant and Catholic continue to run high. Regardless of the optimism generated by the recently signed Good Friday agreement mistrust between the two communities remains high and a host of difficult issues - such as the routing of Loyalist parades - continue challenge leaders and ordinary residents on all sides. One can only hope that this agreement, unlike many that preceded it, can provide the basis for better understanding and a lasting peace between the two communities.


1 For ease of use, this paper will subsequently use the common term Derry for the city of

Londonderry / Derry.


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