Irish 101 Take Two (Part 1)

So since Science Teacher Mommy was disappointed that my Irish lesson earlier this week was about the Irish language and not about what is going on in Northern Ireland right now (2 British soldiers and 1 police officer were killed by Republican dissidents in 2 different incidents on the 7th and 9th of March respectively) I thought I would provide her with my take of the situation (really I love to talk about this stuff so all you needed to do was ask STM--for all those who are groaning I provided a light-hearted fun post below). Now before I continue, I think it is only fair to tell you that I sympathize with Irish Nationalists (those who support the reunification of Northern Ireland and Ireland under the control of the Irish government). I, however, DO NOT support or condone the use of violence that has been used in an attempt to bring this about.

Let me explain a few points on why I sympathize with the Nationalists.

1. I don't think it is politically very wise to split up an island that has traditionally been recognized as one whole. Doing this causes problems (i.e. 40 years years of violence in Northern Ireland). The U.N. and the British both currently agree with this point.

2. A Good portion of my family came from Ireland and in doing my genealogy I have come to love them and identify with them. Add to that that much of my Irish family was in Ireland until the early 1900s and that I know through education (I studied this stuff as an undergrad and a grad) what the British did to the Irish to that point and beyond, and I feel angered by them.

3. As I mentioned above I studied this in school and most individuals who study this subject tend to at least sympathize with the Irish on the basis that the English/British/Northern Irish Protestants were just plain cruel in many instances and extremely discriminatory across the board. Fredrick Douglass, former slave and famed abolitionist, once said of the Irish, "no people have been more relentlessly oppressed on account of race and religion."

That said, may I also just add that London is my very favorite city in the world and that I love England a great deal. Still, I am a bit prejudicial and you should be aware of that in reading my take on Northern Ireland. Also I love the English and the Scottish (and the Welsh as well). As an American with no real first hand experience with the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland I can do a pretty good job of not being totally wrapped up in the passion of it all--I think.

Ok, now lets get some terms defined.

Nationalist: An individual who seeks the reunification of Ireland and N. Ireland but does not use or advocate violence in bringing this about. Tend to be Catholic--but please note that this is not a war of religion between Catholics and Protestants no matter how many times I refer to communities as being Catholic or Protestant it is just easier that way.

Republican: This term has changed a bit in the last 20 years. Initially, a republican was an individual who sought the reunification exclusively through the use of violence. Now though you might say it is an individual who seeks the reunification through any means necessary thereby allowing the use of politics--we'll talk about this more later. Always Catholic (to my knowledge). A small minority of the Catholic population in Northern Ireland.

Unionist: One who seeks to maintain the status quo (Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom) but doesn't not use or advocate violence to do this. Tend to be Protestant, but not exclusively so.

Loyalist: One who seeks to maintain the status quo (and to some extent to maintain N. Ireland as a Protestant state which actively discriminates against Catholics) through the use of intimidation and violence--and to some extent politics. Always Protestant.

Ok and now a brief history (there really is nothing brief about the Irish and this post is really bringing out the Irish in me--sorry):

Let's start with the 1960s:

The 60's in Northern Ireland saw the combination of many, many factors that ended up essentially exploding in every one's face.

First (in no particular order) let's start off with the discrimination. Protestants discriminated against Catholics in 3 primary areas: Employment, Voting rights/Politics, and housing. Without going into details here, the discrimination was often extreme.

Second: A Post-WWII education restructuring in the UK made higher education much more accessible to Catholics in Northern Ireland. By the 60's this meant a growing educated middle class who expected things like good jobs and voting rights.

Third: Northern Ireland was heavily industrial (ship building was big: Belfast is where the Titanic was built) and in post WWII Northern Ireland, industry didn't fair so well. This meant an economic down turn in N. Ireland and the loss of many jobs--jobs that were held by Protestants. So essentially, you have a Protestant community that feels economically at threat during the 60s.

Fourth: Martin Luther King Jr. (didn't expect to see that name here did you?) and his Civil Rights' campaign in the US inspired many in Northern Ireland to seek, through non-violence, civil rights reforms in Northern Ireland. As noted above, for economic reasons the Protestant community already felt at threat. Potential civil rights reforms exacerbated these feelings of threat.

Ok so basically in the 1960s you have a Catholic population who through education and world events feels that it should have equal rights with Protestants--specifically in the areas of voting, housing, and employment. And you have a Protestant population who feels threatened and is ready to fight back. And fight back they did with tactics of intimidation and violence. The real explosion, though, occurred August of 1969 when clashes between parading Protestants and Catholic residents of Derry escalated and then spread throughout Northern Ireland.

Where were the IRA in all of this? They weren't. And that was seen as a problem by many Catholics. At this time the IRA was reconsidering is stance on violence and moving toward the use of politics (especially socialism which they had hoped would unite working class Protestants and Catholics in rejecting British rule). As a result of this shift in ideology, IRA weapons in N. Ireland had been recalled leaving the Catholic population nearly defenseless. The RUC (the Northern Irish police force which was almost exclusively Protestant--and which was disbanded in the 90s as part of the peace process) both attacked Catholic crowds and rioters and lost control of the Protestant rioters who were attacking Catholics and Catholic homes. It was a pretty nasty situation.

With the whole thing out of control, The British eventually sent in the army. Initially the army was greeted positively by the Catholic community and were seen as restorers of the peace. But the army was placed in the difficult position of having to choose sides between the two communities. Either defend a discriminated against community that essentially wanted you and your government out (the Catholics) or defend a community, the government of Northern Ireland, and its police force that supported you and your government. Unsurpisingly, they picked the latter.

Now going back to 'where was the IRA' question, Republicans in N. Ireland were mad that they had been left defenseless by the IRA and this led to a split in the organization with those preferring political tactics toward reunification forming the Official IRA (OIRA--who still employed some violence for their cause) and those preferring violent tactics toward reunification forming the Provisional IRA (PIRA). The OIRA faded off and isn't really heard of much and the PIRA became what you probably think of as the IRA with Gerry Adams and 30 years of war against the Brits which began two years later in 1970. Since then over 3,700 people have been killed in the violence (perpetrated by all sides)--which if the US had been involved in a similar conflict the equivalent number of death would have been over 600,000--and over 30,000 people injured.

So now fast forward 10 years or so to Bobby Sands and the Hunger Strikes of 1981 who were striking to reinstate Special Category Status which basically was a prisoner of war status. The status had been revoked in an attempt to criminalize and undermined paramilitary organization. None of the paramilitary organization felt they were criminals and were sensitive to this labeling (remember this for tomorrow). Additionally having POW status allowed for special privileges under the Geneva Convention that paramilitary organizations did not want to lose. 10 Republicans died on Hunger Strike and within 2 years all five of the hunger striker demands would essentially be granted but without any political status.

The hunger strike in 1981 was important because it would begin Sinn Fein's and the PIRA's move toward electoral politics (ironic since their very formation was based against the use of electoral politics). This, in brief, led to the break aways of the Continuity IRA (CIRA) and the Real IRA (RIRA) who both reject the use of politics in reuniting Northern Ireland with Ireland under Irish rule.

Ok, so I think you have enough background information for me to start talking about what is going on today. Except, I suppose, you should also probably know that since 1998 the PIRA has been on ceasefire (The US no longer considers it a terrorist organization), the peace process is moving forward nicely, and Gerry Adams is working in/with the Government of Northern Ireland while trying very hard to keep hard-line Republicans in line with his view that the time for violence is over.

We'll finish up tomorrow.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Well hello, you have a lot to say. And educationally speaking, I appreciate a good read where I can learn something. I learned not to have my next luxury liner manufactured in Belfast. You're on a roll Yankee Girl!