The Truth About Northern Ireland Essay, Research Paper
For those that understand no explanation is necessary;
for those that don t no explanation is possible.
-graffiti on a peace wall in Belfast
My interest in the conflict in Northern Ireland dates back to 1994, when Gerry Adams was granted a visa to visit the United States. The fact that Adams was granted a visa made news all over the world. Adams had previously been convicted of membership in the Irish Republican Army, which was considered by the U.S. State Department to be a terrorist organization. Up until the time that Adams was granted a visa the U.S. had a strict policy of not allowing persons with known affiliations to terrorist groups into this country. To me, however, Adams was not a terrorist but a freedom fighter. You see I am the grandson of four Irish immigrants and had heard about the awful English my entire life. I distinctly remember helping my grandmother do house chores as a young child as she would sing an old Irish ballad Four Green Fields over and over again. When I was younger, I really thought that my grandmother used to have four green fields, one of which was stolen from her. It was not until I got much older that I realized the song symbolized the partition of Ireland. I had the chance to see Gerry Adams address the Washington Press Corps Luncheon on C-SPAN that spring, in 1994, and it left an indelible impression on me. My thirst for learning about the Troubles was developed. The thirst increased when there appeared to be a chance for peace that autumn, when the IRA called a cease-fire. I tried to follow the news from Ireland the best I could in the local papers and read whatever books I could get my hands on. It was not until I undertook the task of writing this paper, however, that I came to realize the depth and complexity of the problems in Northern Ireland. I have tried to, despite of my upbringing, write this paper with an unbiased opinion. In attempting to see both sides of the issue, in Northern Ireland, my views on the subject have developed. In my youth I was strongly in favor of the Republican viewpoint, this was re-uniting Ireland by any means necessary. As I have studied this issue, I have become more moderate. Although I would eventually like to see the re-unification of the island of Ireland, I believe that the time has come to explore means other than military action. I hope that the powers that be in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, can find a way to make The Agreement of April 10, 1998 work. Until there is peace on the island of Ireland, and even throughout the transition period after the new peace agreement catches on, I will be a more informed observer because of the research that I have conducted for this paper.
The conflict in Northern Ireland originated more than four hundred years ago and has intensified since the late 1960 s. Understanding the conflict is a difficult proposition. Even top scholars, historians, political scientists, and sociologists can not agree as to what is really at the heart of the problem. Throughout the course of my research, I have studied commentary from a number of social scientists, historians and political scientists. I have read interviews of the people affected by the problems, and by the people trying to effect change. I have examined as much data as I can get my hands on in an attempt to gain an understanding of what the causes are and how peace can be brought about. There have been various hypotheses developed that religion is the root cause of the problem, or that the nature of England s conquest of Ireland is the problem. There have been hypotheses made that four hundred years of hatred for each other is the real problem, and that the two sides will continue to fight each other no matter what peace proposals may spring up. There are opinions of scholars that believe the root cause of the problem is economics. All of these hypotheses are valid in their own ways and do in fact contribute to the problem, but the conflict in Northern Ireland is an ethnic conflict. This ethnic conflict has lead to discrimination by one group over another. The problem is two-headed, one head being the ethnic division and the other being the occurrence of discrimination in Northern Ireland. The aim of this paper is to briefly explain the ethnic division and then examine how this division affects the discrimination that takes place in Northern Ireland.
Ethnicity is the term usually used to refer to the ancestry of a particular people who have in common distinguishing characteristics associated with their heritage. The people of Northern Ireland have very distinguishing characteristics that separate them from one another. Unlike some populations in the United States that are easily distinguishable by physical characteristics, the people in Northern Ireland look similar. So, you may be wondering just what are the distinguishing characteristics of the people in Northern Ireland, right? The characteristics that distinguish one group from the other are not physical, but they are deeper and more meaningful that physical characteristics, they are the characteristics that make a person who he or she is. Language, religion, national origin, and unique customs all make up the distinguishable characteristics of the people in Northern Ireland.
The two groups that are in opposition to each other have many different labels, but for the sake of simplicity, we will refer to them as Unionist and Nationalist. The people that make up the population of the Nationalist group tend to share the same religion, Catholicism. The Unionists are predominately Protestant. These religious labels are the basis for the ethnic dispute. The religious division goes back to the beginning of the conflict, before England s conquest over Ireland. In fact, the distinguishing characteristics of language and national origin go back to this time as well.
Before England conquered Ireland, a feat that took almost all of the 16th century and part of the 17th century to accomplish, Ireland was a Gaelic nation. The laws, language and customs of the two countries were completely different. Through their attempts to conquer the Irish, the English, instituted policies aimed at eliminating the customs in the Gaelic culture that were in conflict with English customs. These policies included banning the use of the Irish language, and forbidding the practice of Catholicism. Since the time of English conquest, until very recently, there has been the continued practice, by the English, of limiting the availability of Irish language classes. Freedom of religion, specifically the practice of Catholicism, was abolished completely by the anti-Catholic Penal Laws. King Henry VIII outlawed the Gaelic style of dress during his reign. Gaelic customs, music, dance, and sport, all integral parts of the Gaelic culture, where almost completely wiped out in the 17th and 18th centuries, and did not begin to make a wide spread return until early in the 20th century.
There are customs practiced in current day Northern Ireland, by both groups, which are bothersome to the other group. The Unionists look upon the formation of the Gaelic Athletic Association, an organization that was formed, by Nationalists to preserve their culture, with extreme hatred. The GAA sponsors sporting events, dances, and Irish language classes. The thing that bothers the Unionists most about the GAA is the fact that the Tricolor is displayed at sporting events. The Tricolor is the national flag of the Republic of Ireland and the Unionists believe that paying honor to a foreign flag is treasonous. The Nationalists meanwhile believe that they are not being treasonous but paying homage to the land of their ancestors. The Unionists practice customs that are bothersome to the Nationalists as well. Every summer the Orange Order, a fraternal Unionists organization, marches through Nationalists neighborhoods to commemorate the victory of William of Orange over James II at the Battle of the Boyne. That battle took place in 1690 , over three hundred years ago. The Nationalists see these marches as the Unionists flaunting their superiority, and openly displaying their racist attitudes, as well as violating the civil rights of the Catholics that live in the neighborhoods where the marches take place. These marches and the neighborhoods that they take place in have been the scene of some violent encounters between Nationalists and Unionists through the years and always has the potential to be a flash point for future Troubles .
In an attempt to practice important cultural parts of their heritage, present day Nationalists, are easy targets of ethnocentric Unionists. The Nationalists believe the customs that Unionists practice, to be a violation of their Civil Rights. On the other hand, Unionists believe that they are in their own country and therefore they are allowed to practice the customs of the land. Nationalists believe that it is their undeniable right to speak whichever language they wish, and play the games and music of their ancestors. Unionists, in contrast to the Nationalists beliefs, do not believe that the Nationalists originate from a separate country and since they are citizens of the United Kingdom, they should practice the customs and culture of that land. The Unionists believe that, because Nationalists want to practice cultural customs of their ancestors that they are not loyal to the Union. It is because of the discrimination that they face now, and have faced in the past, when trying to preserve these customs that the Nationalists are not loyal to the Union.
Although religion plays a big part in the conflict and may be the basis for discrimination, it is not why the two sides are fighting. It is easy to label a person by their religious affiliation because of the neighborhood where they live, and by the school or church that they may attend. Nationalists, i.e. Catholics are discriminated against, that is obvious and will be explained later, but the question is what came first the chicken or the egg? Are Catholics discriminated against because they tend to be Nationalists or are Nationalists discriminated against because they tend to be Catholic? It would appear that political affiliation is the cause of the discrimination, by the simple fact that Unionists and Nationalists have argued for years about the sovereignty of Northern Ireland, it s constitution, and who has the right to this piece of land, they have not been arguing about church doctrine. Never the less Unionists do discriminate against Catholic in all phases of daily life and it is this discrimination that the Nationalist are fighting against.
Discrimination, in present day Northern Ireland, limits a Catholic s and Nationalist s abilities to earn a living, receive an education, or get housing. First it has to be understood that according to the 1991 census approximately 40% of the population is Catholic, 50% are Protestant and 10% claim no religious affiliation at all. As the Unionists dominate the population so do they dominate the politics including public policy. The policies that the Unionist government makes into law reflect their anti-Catholic feelings. These policies are used to segregate schools, and discriminate against Catholics in the allocation of housing, and offer little recourse for a person who has been denied a job or terminated because of their choice of religion.
Segregation in Northern Ireland s school system is the norm rather than the exception. Although the government funds both Catholic and Protestant schools the result of this segregation has as much to do with the long standing animosity between the two groups as any other event. Children learn throughout their formative years, do to the curriculum instituted at the schools, that their group is on the moral high ground. It does not matter if the child attends a Catholic school or a Protestant school. Catholic students are taught that they have been oppressed and enslaved by the Crown since the 16th century and that Protestant children are illegitimate, because their parents were never lawfully wed in a Catholic Church. Protestant children on the other hand are taught about all of the great victories that the English have scored on Irish soil in an attempt to save the Irish from their pagan religion. Catholics are taught to revere the Pope, Protestants, the Queen. Protestant children learn to sing the anthem Land of Hope and Glory while Catholic children learn A Nation Once Again , both songs have the ability to stir nationalistic pride or incite the wrath of others. It is of little amazement that the product of segregated schools, children who learn to hate at such a young age, would go on to discriminate against one another for the rest of their lives.
Housing is an issue that has been a continuous source of contention for Catholics for a great many years. The government of Northern Ireland allocates, to those that are in need of it, housing. The determinants as to who shall receive housing are clearly laid out in laws established by the Northern Irish Parliament. The Troubles sprung up from a dispute about fair housing, Unionists were getting housing and Nationalists were not, and if Nationalists did receive housing it was allocated in such a way as to benefit the Unionists. The only reason that Catholics were being deprived of housing was because they were Roman Catholic or because they were Nationalists it was not because they were unqualified under the guidelines set forth by the government. Discrimination of housing was an easily accomplished feat in Northern Ireland. The distribution of housing that was being built was often left in the hands of the local politicians in whose districts the houses were being built. Being able to know whose was Catholic and who was Protestant was simple to figure out, by school records, and often enough by their name or address. Catholics were discriminated against in housing for two reasons. First the Catholics, because of their close affiliation with the nationalist movement, oppose the state and this led the Unionists to ask why should they subsidize housing for a population that does not support the state that supports them? Secondly, by moving Catholics into suburban estates, the Unionist government could predetermine how many Unionist or Nationalists would be elected to Parliament. When Catholics were provided housing, it was done in such a way as to keep the Nationalist electorate powerless. Londonderry is a great example of this gerrymandering (see Table 1). Sixty-percent of the district are Catholic but the Unionists hold sixty percent of the elected positions. There were 14,429 Catholic votes in this district and only 8,731 other votes, with 20 seats available. Unionist garnered twelve seats while the Catholic vote garnered only eight. This was accomplished through drawing the ward boundaries, and placing catholic homes within those boundaries, in such away as to favor the Unionists. The district was divided so that there were three wards; two of the wards would have a slight edge in Unionist population, while the third ward would be stacked with 71% of the Catholic populace in the district. The NorthWard had 2,530 Catholic voters and 3,946 others, the waterside ward, 1,852 Catholic to 3,697 others and the southward 10,047 Catholics to 1,138 others. These policies were a direct result of cultural differences namely political and religious. Because of the policies created by the people in power the housing issue was discriminatory and became explosive.
Table 1: Catholic Votes Other Votes Seats
North Ward 2,530 3,946 8 Unionists
Waterside 1,852 3,697 4 Unionists
South Ward 10,047 1,138 8 Non-Unionists
Total 14,429 8,781 20
Job discrimination is as evident as housing discrimination. Catholics while only representing 40% of the total population in Northern Ireland represent over half of the unemployed, and in some cases, the disparity is much higher. Some Unionists try to argue that the reason that Catholics are over-represented in the unemployment lines is that they lack a serious work ethic. This notion has been challenged by several social scientists and results to the contrary have been published recently that discount the notion that Catholics have less of a work ethic than Protestants, in fact it showed that the work ethics of Catholics was equal to or greater than Protestants. Some have also suggested that Catholics do not live within traveling distance of the jobs that are available. David Smith and Gerald Chambers (Table 2) have in turn, discounted this.
Table 2: Rate of Unemployment and travel-to-work areas: CHS 1983-1985,men
Travel-to-work areaa Unemployed Economically active
Protestants Catholics Protestants Catholics
% % No. % No. %
Ballymena 14 27 162 5 41 2
Belfast 15 33 2,077 60 947 39
Coleraine 13 37 278 8 94 4
Cookstown 21 33 72 2 46 2
Craigavon 13 39 246 7 250 10
Eniskillen 5 34 138 4 186 8
Londonderry 26 46 125 4 290 12
Magherafelt 12 29 76 2 77 3
Newry 13 31 116 3 231 9
Omagh 23 24 35 1 105 4
Strabane 15 44 55 2 99 4
Total 15 35 3,472 2,455
Even in areas where Catholics and Protestants are competing for the same jobs, within the same travel distance, and both have adequate means of commuting to work, Catholics are still more likely, in this case, twice as likely to be unemployed. Catholics, when employed are under-represented in white collar and managerial jobs. The lack of adequate education to perform these jobs or any others for that matter has been discredited as well. When Catholics and Protestants have received an equal education, Catholics are still more likely to be unemployed or under represented in front office jobs. It is apparent that, because all other possibilities have been eliminated, the only reason Catholics are over-represented in unemployment data is because of out right discrimination.
It is of no surprise that there is a dispute between the Nationalists and Unionists, given the evidence of an ethnic conflict, the disputed use of customs, language, religion, and the claim that both groups have ancestral rights to the same piece of land. The vast amount of events and practices that both groups debate over is overwhelming. The level of discrimination that takes place is apauling. It is to this authors amazement, that a deal could be struck like The Agreement in the hopes of bringing peace to Northern Ireland. Essentially, for the conflict to be resolved, both groups would need to unlearn everything that they have been indoctrinated with throughout their entire lives. The ethnocentric racism would need to end. Schools would need to be desegregated. A Fair Housing Authority that could actually enforce fair housing would have to be enacted. An Equal Opportunity Commission that could actually enforce equal opportunity for all would have to be enacted. Peace in Northern Ireland would, really take a monumental effort from every individual that is a citizen of that province. The Agreement has addressed some of these very issues and it passed a province wide referendum by an overwhelming majority, but the new Northern Irish Parliament has not yet been formed. I fear that all of the courage that members of the peace process, both Unionists and Nationalists, mustered to broker this deal may be for naught because of the stubborn ignorance of a very small minority. If peace is not achieved in this attempt, and the acts of The Agreement are not fulfilled, then we may never see peace in Northern Ireland in our lifetime. Both side have compromised so much, and tried so hard to make a deal that would stick it, would be difficult to envision any leader of any party, either Unionist or Nationalist, that would be willing to make the same concessions again.
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