Irish eyes: teens describe what it's like to live in Northern Ireland.
with Irish Prime Minister Bertie
with Northern Ireland's Ulster Unionist partyleader David
Former Senator George Mitchell speaks with Jim Lehrer about the
Northern Ireland peace process
discussion bewteen the Ulster Unionist and Sinn Fein political parties
Ireland's top United Kingdom official, Secretary
the quest for peace
Real Video Segments
of Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern
report on Northern Ireland peace talks
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facts on Ireland from the CIA World Fact Book
Dept. of State Background Notes on Ireland
Dept. of State Background Notes on Britain and Northern Ireland
Policy on Northern Ireland
Ireland: A Country Fighting For Peace
July 2, 2001
its population and size, Northern Ireland gets an enormous amount of
media coverage. The country, about the size of Connecticut, is home
to just one and a half million people -- slightly more than the population
of Philadelphia, Pa. So why does it receive so much attention?
Ireland is back in the news this week because there are new problems
with ending the war between two groups who have been attacking each
other for several years. The head of the government quit his job July
1and some of the worst fighting in years occured last month on the street
news from Northern Ireland has rarely been good - mostly bombings and
shootings - and the pictures accompanying these stories usually show
burning vehicles and frightened or angry people.
Over the past few
years, Northern Ireland news has gradually become more positive. People
on all sides of the conflict, with very different opinions, are trying
to work together.
governments rule Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (south).
On a map, it looks as if the obvious thing is for Ireland to be ruled
as one united country, since it is geographically separate from other
countries. Why, then, is this northern part of the island of Ireland
ruled from London?
British involvement with Ireland began in the 12th century when Anglo-Norman
troops first arrived on the island. As various British rulers tried
to colonize the island, the native Irish often would rebel against encroaching
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the British expanded their rule over
most of the island. Laws were passed saying Catholics could not hold
public office, gain a proper education or have guns.
At this time there were uprisings and massacres, both of Catholics and
Protestants. People of both religions began to leave Ireland to emigrate
to the "New World." With the passing of the Act of Union in
1800, Ireland officially became entirely under British rule.
After several different Irish independence movements, the British government
decided to let Ireland govern itself under "home rule" in 1921. But
some people in the North of Ireland wanted to remain under Britain.
Much of Northern Ireland was populated with Scottish and English settlers,
giving the area a Protestant character in contrast to the rest of Ireland.
Also, most were Protestants and did not want to be ruled by a government
in the South that would probably be dominated by the Catholic Church.
After years of British rule, they felt more British than Irish.
Britain divided Ireland between the self-ruled 26 counties of Ireland
and the six counties of British-ruled Northern Ireland. A local government
was set up in Belfast, the new Northern Protestant capital. A separate
parliament, called the Dail, was set up in Dublin, the new Southern
In 1949, the Republic of Ireland was formed and all the last few remaining
links with Britain were ended. But the resentment lingered. From 1969
until very recently, Northern Ireland was torn apart by frequent terrorist
bombings and shootings. This wave of persistent and deadly violence
between Catholics and Protestants were dubbed "the troubles."
There are many different groups in Northern Ireland working for a solution
to the political, religious and social conflicts there. There are extremist
organizations on either side of the conflict that prefer to attempt
change through violent means; however, there are also several non-military
political parties who hope to achieve similar goals but without using
force. Most people in Northern Ireland agree with the non-military political
parties but for years have lived in fear of the next act of terrorism.
The modern conflicts escalated back in 1968 when Catholics organized
a large demonstration protesting various discriminations against them.
Conflicts between the different sides began to escalate. The Republican
movement revived. The period of conflict known as "the troubles"
had started. Conflicts would escalate as one side retaliated for violence
caused by the other.
For example, on March 6 1988, three unarmed members of the Irish Republican
Army (IRA) were killed in Gibraltar, setting off two weeks of violence.
At their funeral in Northern Ireland, loyalist gunman Michael Stone
opened fire and threw grenades at mourners, killing three and wounding
50. A few days later, at the funeral procession of one of the three
victims, two British soldier drove near the mourners and were beaten
and fatally shot by a mob. Similar conflicts enraged people on both
sides of the issues.
The organizations mostly responsible for such violent confrontations
were extremist groups on both sides of the political spectrum. The IRA,
along with other republican organizations, wanted to see Northern Ireland
reunited with the Republic of Ireland. They hope to persuade the British
government to allow unification through violent and intimidating means.
They claim to represent the views of nationalists and Catholics.
On the opposite side of the conflict are loyalist organizations such
as the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defense Association. Such
groups claimed they were protecting the state of Northern Ireland and
the Protestant people from the IRA. They wanted Northern Ireland to
remain loyal to the British government and remain under British rule.
Both sides have resorted to staging violent acts against those they
thought opposed them and their ideas.
Many people did carry on a more-or-less "normal"
life. In many areas of Northern Ireland there was little evidence of
the troubles. There were always tensions and people kept their religions
and political views private but their day-to-day lives continued like
people anywhere in the developed world.
As killings continued on both sides, the British and Irish governments
began to encourage talks between the various political parties in the
early 1990s with hopes of calming the violence and reaching a peaceful
solution. Numerous cease-fire agreements were reached and quickly broken
by one side or the other.
In 1996-98, former United States senator George Mitchell led the complex
negotiations that culminated in the April 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The agreement gave Catholics a greater political
and social voice while keeping Protestant wishes that Northern Ireland
remained part of Britain. Seventy-one percent of voters in Northern
Ireland and ninety-five percent in the Republic voted to support the
Agreement. As a result, the Northern Ireland Assembly was set up so
that the people of Northern Ireland could begin to govern themselves.
The Northern Ireland Assembly is a local parliament with 108 elected
local politicians. These politicians represent the various political
parties in Northern Ireland. Britain has handed over governing power
of Northern Ireland to this power-sharing executive body. Almost immediately
the political parties began disagreeing with each other on their own
interpretations of the Good Friday Agreement. Meetings to elect new
leaders fell apart in July so by September of 1999, Senator Mitchell
returned to Northern Ireland to help bring peace back to the government
he helped create.
By February 2000, the British government introduced legislation to suspend
the Northern Ireland government and reintroduce direct rule from London.
The British government took control of the government until late May,
when the Northern Ireland Assembly was reinstated.
then, there have been minor fights but some of the worst rioting ever
occured in Belfast in June 2001, forcing police to shoot rubber bullets
into a crowd to keep them under control.
politicians are also frustrated with moving the peace process forward.
The head of the Northern Ireland government, David Trimble, said months
ago he would resign his job July 1 if the IRA did not get rid of their
various weapons and guns used to fight the British.
serious promises from IRA leadership, a government commission said they
have not yet given up their guns and bombs and so Trimble left his job.
Northern Ireland is now bringing in more police in anticipation of more
riots later this month.
There are still problems in Northern Ireland. There are many people
who continue to disagree
with each other and the current situation - on both sides of the community.
But there is peace, albeit fragile, in the country at the moment. Life
is definitely more positive and quieter for most. The people of Northern
Ireland live in hope.
What do you think? Is peace possible
between the Protestants and the Catholics?
contributed by Catherine Charley, Belfast