BBC - History - The Troubles
Northern Ireland was formed from the six predominantly unionist counties in the north-east of the island. At the heart of the Troubles is the division in Northern Irish society. The majority population in Northern Ireland — the unionist community — identify as British and want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. As the nationalist community is predominantly Roman Catholic and the unionist predominantly Protestant, the conflict has often been portrayed as a sectarian one.
Certainly, sectarian attacks occurred throughout the Troubles. However, the conflict was a consequence of the competing national identities and aspirations of the two communities occupying Northern Ireland.
However, the civil rights movement was met by a loyalist backlash and violence flared. Finally, in August , the British government was forced to step in and deploy troops in Northern Ireland. They were to remain there until Out of the violence, the Irish Republican Army IRA re-emerged, and the focus of the conflict shifted from civil rights to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. The IRA dated to back to the Easter Rising and had launched sporadic campaigns since partition directed at trying to achieve Irish unity.
This caused a split in the republican movement in December , from which the Provisional IRA was born. Unionists fiercely resisted any moves towards a united Ireland. Loyalist paramilitary groups also formed and contributed to the developing violence. As the conflict deepened, the death toll rose rapidly. Events like Bloody Sunday, 30 January — in which British troops killed 13 unarmed civilians and injured several more one of whom later died from his injuries while taking part in a protest march — acted as a catalyst to the increasingly bitter conflict.
Over the course of the Troubles, British governments attempted to develop political initiatives that sought to end the conflict.
This combined a devolved assembly for Northern Ireland, involving power-sharing between unionist and nationalist parties, with the creation of a Council of Ireland to institutionalise links between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This again infuriated the unionists, who sought to bring the Agreement down. However, as the s progressed, some significant developments began to reshape the approaches of the participants in the conflict.
Republicans increasingly saw the benefits of combining a political strategy with the armed struggle. This caused deep concern in both the British and Irish governments and influenced the negotiations leading to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. While the Hume-Adams talks had no immediate successes, they were influential in steering the British and Irish governments towards the Downing Street Declaration, which would come in There was also some movement from the British government.
Instead it was for the people of Northern Ireland to decide its constitutional future. Coupled with this change in mood music, Brooke also approved the opening of a secret communication channel between MI5 and the republicans. He proposed that inter-party talks should cover three strands: the first dealing with relationships within Northern Ireland; the second dealing with relations between the two parts of Ireland; and the third dealing with links between the British and Irish governments.
The talks began in April , but quickly became bogged down in procedural disagreements. But the three-strand format was to be at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement.
The peace process picked up momentum in The British prime minister, John Major, worked closely with the Irish Taoiseach [prime minister], Albert Reynolds, on a joint declaration that was hoped would form the basis of a peace initiative. This resulted in the Downing Street Declaration of 15 December The declaration recognised the two different traditions in Ireland and stated that peace could only come through reconciling the differences between them. The two governments committed themselves to building that process of reconciliation and creating appropriate political structures to facilitate it.
This would involve nationalists in Northern Ireland, the Irish government, and Irish America, and would provide the republicans with access to the highest political levels in Washington. The visa was important as part of the wider choreography of peace making. But it did not lead to an immediate IRA ceasefire.
The Politics of British Defence 1979–98
However, the visit was important as part of the process of debate within the republican movement, and finally, on 31 August , the IRA announced its ceasefire. The ceasefire was followed in October by a ceasefire called by the loyalist paramilitaries. However, the ceasefires did not lead directly to all-party talks.
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In an attempt to break the impasse, the British and Irish governments created an international decommissioning body, chaired by former US Senator George Mitchell. Mitchell delivered his report in January , setting out six principles that should be endorsed by all parties to the talks.
This included a commitment to exclusively peaceful means. Mitchell recommended that all parties should sign up to these principles and that some decommissioning could take place during the talks.
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However, this was not enough to prevent the slide back to violence. On 9 February , the IRA released a statement announcing the end of its ceasefire. An hour later a massive explosion rocked Canary Wharf, killing two people.
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Blair was as committed to the peace process as Major had been, but had the advantage of being able to approach Northern Ireland without the baggage that Major had accumulated over seven years of talks. Store Locations. This book covers two decades of British defense policy. It starts at the end of the s as the Conservative Party comes to office with the Cold War about to enter an unusually tense period.
It concludes with the Labour Party back in office and seeking to develop a policy in line with the post-Cold War international system. As one of Britain's leading defense academics, and an advisor to government and parliamentary committees, Lawrence Freedman was well placed to observe and comment on the fast-changing defense scene.
Related The Politics of British Defence 1979–98
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