Even though as human beings we strive for peace and tolerance, our ability to promote these aspects is difficult to put into practice and often inspires conflicts when political ideals, ownership of land, or religious beliefs are challenged. The challenges that involve religious, political, and geographical views are important and will be addressed. With the understanding that the Troubles in Northern Ireland was not solely a religious conflict, this essay will not suggest that those who were part of it were motivated by these aspects alone. This essay will instead discuss the way in which previous disputes culminated to the eventual conflict of the Troubles of Northern Ireland that began on October 5, 1968.
The Troubles involved several governmental and religious disputes over Northern Ireland’s geographical identity. Acknowledging that the complexity of the conflict was caused by many factors of civil and governmental injustices, this essay will examine: 1) the history of tension between England and Northern Ireland 2) how this conflict was an example of sectarian discrimination through England’s use of governmental power to influence unionist policies and religious views 3) this essay will show how England’s unionist government used its political presence as a strategic advantage to rid Northern Ireland of any undesirables who did not wish to conform to their policies. Furthermore, this essay will address the issues of separatism and brown colonialism to show how they influenced the tension of the two states that were involved in the Troubles of Northern Ireland and how the victims of past separatism and brown colonialism were physically and emotionally affected by these injustices. Ultimately, the purpose of this essay will be to enlighten those who are unfamiliar with this conflict so that they might gain an understanding and appreciation of the events that took place as well as give a glimpse into the lives of the citizens who experienced violence, discrimination, and oppression during this trying moment in history.
Once Northern Ireland separated from the state of England, the dominoes of civil unrest began to fall as both countries were disputing which government would claim control over the new colony. The tension between England and Northern Ireland can be traced back to two early regional disputes during the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1167 when England’s population began to accumulate in the region (http://www.history.co.uk/shows/soldiers-stories/articles/northern-ireland-conflict). Tensions began to rise as both English and Irish citizens refused to make peace with one another and unite the state. The aforementioned article suggests that political and religious disagreements played a crucial role in terms of inspiring hatred and mistrust among the separate states and that “[t]hese differences became more marked during the reign of Henry VIII. His break from Rome placed him at loggerheads with Catholic Europe and introduced religion into Irish politics for the first time. Resistance to the British Crown came in 1534 when the Kildare heir, Lord Offaly, led a Catholic revolt against the Protestant English King in Ireland. It was swiftly put down and those involved were executed” (http://www.history.co.uk/shows/soldiers-stories/articles/northern-ireland-conflict). The actions of Lord Offaly in his quest to remove the King of Ireland from power embody a resistance to brown colonialism. However, the efforts of Lord Offaly were in vain as England halted his revolt and spread the Protestant faith throughout the state. Aside from the aspect of brown colonialism, the geological positioning of Northern Ireland also was detrimental to the citizens in that area. In his article entitled “The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland 1868 – 2005,” Paul A. Strokes argues for this claim, stating that “[w]hereas southern Ireland absorbed a succession of invaders over the centuries so that a mixed culture was created, that pattern did not occur in the North.” He later suggests that “[t]here the Scottish and English Protestant planters of the 17th century, having seized the best lands developed their own identity as separate from the rest of the country which remained predominantly Roman Catholic” (17). Strokes supports the essence of resistance from the English Protestants in Northern Ireland stating “Ulster has been the English crown’s most rebellious province” (18). He further argues, “The plans of settlements were an attempt once and for all to quell rebelliousness in Ireland.” He concludes, “Nevertheless the conflicts were inevitable between the native Irish Ulster men and the plant settlers.” Sadly, Strokes’ suggests that if roles were reversed and Northern Ireland was more of a mixture of cultures the Troubles of Northern Ireland might have never happened. However, since this is entirely speculative, one could make a claim that the conflict of the Troubles might have taken place in southern Ireland instead.
The reasoning behind Northern Ireland’s resistance to the early English plant settlers was largely due to the aspect of separatism. As Northern Ireland separated from England and made its own state, the citizens wished to remain unmolested and independent from the kingdom of England. However, when England refused to respect their wishes and placed a Protestant King in power in Northern Ireland, any chance of forming a respectable relationship with England at the time was impossible. Speaking on behalf of England, it can clearly be seen why they desperately wanted to gain a geographical advantage through the seizure of Northern Ireland. By controlling Northern Ireland, the English acquired more lands, giving them the opportunity to expand their country. Ultimately, this would also help them financially by allowing the government to further develop and evolve, taking more taxes and religious revenue as tribute to send back to England. From a political standpoint. England gained rhetorical power in the form of an ego boost by claiming Northern Ireland, signifying that the English government was now a superpower.
Coincidentally, the early atrocities committed by England to the Northern Irish during the invasion disrupted any chance of lasting peace. These atrocities created a sense of mistrust and disdain between the two states, making it nearly impossible to coexist. Another factor that worked against the English government was that of Lord Offaly being seen as a martyr for the Northern Irish community. Even though this conflict was not solely inspired by religion, Lord Offaly’s attempt to remove the English Protestant king inspired the people of Northern Ireland to revolt. Taking the inspiration of the actions of Lord Offaly into consideration, it can clearly be seen that the dispute of religion did have a role in inspiring what would eventually culminate in the troubles of Northern Ireland in 1968. Unfortunately, the early English government was well aware that selling plantations in Northern Ireland would give them a chance to claim the region entirely. As the majority political power, the English government would evolve and eventually promote the governmental aspect of brown colonialism, claiming connections with the United Kingdom and the laws and religious views within that state.
Even though there were many Catholic citizens living in Ireland, since the English unionist government was the majority they would abuse their political power, which in turn made life extremely difficult for the Irish Catholic citizens in Northern Ireland. The aim of the unionist government was to rid Northern Ireland of the Irish Catholic population. They attempted to accomplish this through the promotion of the Protestant religion by fusing religious and governmental policies. As a result of enforcing these policies, the English unionist government would repeatedly misuse their political power by using it as a tool to speak for the majority. This misuse of power resulted in changing the Irish population by forcing them to adopt Protestant beliefs.
By 1968, the majority English unionist government would take advantage of its political power by condemning and discriminating against the minority non-unionist Irish Catholic population and promoting institutional racism wherein which, “[The] established and customary social arrangements [are altered] to exclude on the basis of race,” and environmental racism, which is defined as “[t]he disproportionate exposure of some racial groups to toxic substances” (210). Aside from the Irish Republican Army’s use of tear gas with the purpose of dispersing minority civil rights marches (which will be discussed later), the English unionist government would exploit these types of prejudices among the Irish Catholic citizens. Even though these citizens were initially being exposed to hazardous materials, they were placed in poor living environments and would often have to forfeit their homes to citizens who identified as being unionist and of Protestant faith.
Finding jobs and maintaining them was also a challenge for the Irish Catholic citizens. Sadly, often times those who identified as Catholic were unjustly laid off or were placed in difficult working conditions. For those citizens that identified as Protestant however, they were often given the job that had been held by Irish Catholics who had previously been laid off. Coincidentally, the Protestant unionist citizens that acquired the jobs from Irish Catholic citizens were met with far better working conditions and expectations than those who identified as Irish Catholic. It should be noted that this institutional racism was allowed by the English unionist government because they saw the Irish Catholic citizens as socialists. Those who spoke for the minority further induced the conflict by wanting the Irish Republic to stay a socialist country and not conform to unionism.
The unionist majority government also had several advantages in terms of military and police support. This support reached far beyond the local cities and organizations within Northern Ireland, spanning across the entire Republic. Being well aware of the fact that the unionist government had the support of the Republic of Ireland, the English government used its influence to enforce governmental policies and values. From the standpoint of the Republic of Ireland, since the majority were unionists as well, they had a mutually respectful relationship and offered a variety of support to the military and police with the aim of enforcing unionist policies. The support from the Republic of Ireland intensified the conflict further through the involvement of loyalist paramilitary organizations such as the provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), and other factions. The UVF in particular was especially brutal and infamously responsible for massacring more than 500 civilians during the worst conflict, according to a BBC news article written in 2011. Additionally, they also had the support of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). According to the online Encyclopedia Britannica, “[The] UDA [is a] loyalist organization founded in Northern Ireland in 1971 to coordinate the efforts of local Protestant vigilante groups in the sectarian conflict in the province.” This idea of a sectarian conflict is how many people would have described the situation at the time.
The true essence of this conflict was embedded within the feuding sects in Northern Ireland. Environmental and institutional racism was promoted by the government to eradicate what they viewed as a threatening sect of the population of their state. The term sectarian is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as: “Pertaining to a sectary or sectaries; ‘belonging to a schismatical sect.’” It is evident that the English unionist government disliked the Irish Catholic sect, because it viewed their behavior as a form of radicalism that threatened their desired governmental order. As with any common political dictatorship, the English government was also afraid of losing power and therefore resisted those who opposed them.
The aspect of sectarian discrimination when examining the Troubles of Northern Ireland in 1968, shares many similarities with the hardships of those in the American Civil Rights Movement. It is evident that many who were influenced to stand up for the rights of Irish Catholic citizens and Northern Ireland were inspired by the actions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to address African-American civil rights in the United States. In a documentary entitled, The Day the Troubles Began, many Irish civil rights activists expressed their appreciation for Dr. King and his efforts in combating the issue of civil rights. Many of them implied that they had taken inspiration from Dr. King himself and created forms of nonviolent protest such as community marches and gatherings. However it should be noted that some of these nonviolent acts of resistance were harmful to the Irish Catholic community as many nonviolent protest marches for civil rights would elicit oppositional violence.
As a result of these actions committed by the police and paramilitary forces, many Irish Catholic citizens would be seriously injured or killed in their attempt to promote their cause. There were also widespread hunger strikes during the conflict that claimed a large portion of Irish Catholic citizens. When the institutional racism was at its worst, the English unionist government extended its political power to the paramilitary organizations and local police, giving them the right to use lethal force on those who were participating in the civil rights marches if necessary. The oppressive and discriminatory hardships placed upon Irish Catholics by the English Protestant government are very similar to the hardships placed upon African-American citizens during the civil rights movement.
Although a few Irish Catholic citizens were bold enough to stand up and promote the idea of civil rights throughout the state, the physical violence combined with the emotional strain of fighting for such a cause was psychologically damaging too many of these citizens that protested in civil rights related activities. According to Andrea Campbell, Ed Cairns, and John Mallett, the efforts of the Irish Catholic civil rights marches to attempt to keep the Protestant faith a part of England was a battle that might not have been easily won. The authors reveal the troubling truth of the violence throughout the entire conflict. They state: “The violence in Northern Ireland lasted for 30 years, causing 3,585 deaths.” They continue, stating, “The violence impacted people’s lives through mental health and intergroup relations. While some individuals were deeply scarred by ‘the troubles,’ most learned to cope partially by habituation distancing and/or denial” (175). This state of habituation or plain denial exemplifies the effect of the oppressive abuse of the English government placed upon the Irish Catholic citizens.
Even though we all strive for peace and harmony, humanity is imperfect. In actuality, the conflict that inspired the Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1968 was largely due to a refusal to leave one state alone and a failure to listen, as well as the challenges that arise when attempting to combine political and governmental power with religious beliefs. Moreover, this conflict exemplifies the importance placed upon land and how governments can become oppressive in their quest to gain power. Through gross misuse of governmental privilege and power and the accumulation of oppressive acts, the British government left the citizens it seemed to have claimed both physically and emotionally damaged.
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