Northern IrelandNorthern Ireland, a region of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, lies in the north-east of the island of Ireland. It covers 14,139 km² (5,459 square miles), and has a population of 1,685,267 (April 2001). The capital is Belfast.
The Government of Ireland Act 1920, enacted by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland parliament, set up Northern Ireland as a separate political entity in 1921. Faced with divergent demands from Irish nationalists and Unionists over the future of the island of Ireland (the former wanted an all-Irish home rule parliament to govern the entire island, the latter no home rule at all), and the fear of civil war, the British Government under David Lloyd George passed the Act, creating two home-rule Irelands: Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. Southern Ireland never came into being as a real state: the Irish Free State superseded it in 1922. (That state now bears the name of "the Republic of Ireland".)
These traditional counties are no longer used for local government purposes; instead there are 26 districts of Northern Ireland. The "six counties" remain in use for cultural purposes such as the GAA and The Orange Order.
Unionists often call Northern Ireland "Ulster" or "the Province"; nationalists often use the terms the "North of Ireland" and the "Six Counties". Ulster formed one of the historic provinces of the island of Ireland and consisted of 9 counties. Three of these now form part of the Republic of Ireland. The remaining six counties became Northern Ireland:
The area now known as Northern Ireland has had a diverse history. From serving as the bedrock of Irish nationalism in the era of the plantations of Queen Elizabeth and James I in other parts of Ireland, it became itself the subject of major planting of Scottish settlers after the Flight of the Earls (when the native governing and military nationalist elite left en masse). Today, Northern Ireland comprises a diverse patchwork of community rivalries, represented in Belfast by whole communities flying the tricolour of Irish republicanism or the Union Flag, the symbol of their British identity, while even the kerbstones in less affluent areas get painted green-white-orange or red-white-blue, depending on whether a local community expresses nationalist/republican or unionist/loyalist sympathies.
Early 20th century
Having received self-government in 1920 (even though they never sought it, and some like Sir Edward Carson opposed it bitterly) Northern Ireland under successive Prime Ministers from Sir James Craig (later Lord Craigavon) practised a policy of wholesale discrimination against the nationalist/Roman Catholic minority. Northern Ireland became, in the words of Nobel Peace Prize joint-winner, Ulster Unionist Leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland David Trimble, a "cold place for Catholics." Gerrymandered towns and city boundaries rigged local government elections to ensure Protestant control of local councils. Voting arrangements which gave commercial companies votes, and minimum income regulations also helped achieve similar ends.
Late 20th century
In the 1960s, moderate Unionist prime minister Terence O'Neill (later Lord O'Neill of the Maine) tried to reform the system, but encountered wholesale opposition from extreme fundamentalist Protestant leaders like the Reverend Ian Paisley. The increasing pressures from nationalists for reform and from extreme Unionists for 'No surrender' led to the appearance of the civil rights movement under figures like John Hume, Austin Currie and others. Clashes between marchers and the Royal Ulster Constabulary led to increased communal strife. The British army, originally sent to Northern Ireland by British Home Secretary, James Callaghan to protect nationalists from attack, received a warm welcome. However the murder of thirteen unarmed civilians in Derry by British paratroopers enflamed the situation and turned northern nationalists against the British Army. The appearance of the Provisional IRA, a breakaway from the increasingly Marxist Official IRA, and a campaign of violence by Loyalist paramilitary groups like the Ulster Defence Association and others, brought Northern Ireland to the brink of civil war. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, extremists on both sides carried out a series of brutal acts of mass murders, often involving or even targeting innocent civilians. The most notorious outrages included the Le Mon bombing and the bombings in Enniskillen and Omagh, carried out by republicans in an attempt to force political change through guerilla warfare.
Some British politicians, notably former British Labour minister Tony Benn advocated British withdrawal from Ireland, but successive Irish governments opposed this policy, and called their prediction of the possible results of British withdrawal the Doomsday Scenario, depicting widespread communal strife, followed by the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children as refugees to their community's 'side' of the province; nationalists fleeing to western Northern Ireland, unionists fleeing to eastern Northern Ireland. The worst fear envisaged a civil war which would engulf not just Northern Ireland, but the neighbouring Republic of Ireland and Scotland both of which had major links with either or both communities. Later, the feared possible impact of British Withdrawal gained the designation the Balkanisation of Northern Ireland after the violent break-up of Yugoslavia and the chaos that unleashed.
In the early 1970s, the Parliament of Northern Ireland was prorogued after the province's Unionist Government under the premiership of Brian Faulkner refused to agree to the British Government demand that it hand over the powers of law and order. London introduced Direct Rule starting on March 24, 1972. New systems of governments were tried and failed, including power-sharing under Sunningdale Agreement, Rolling Devolution and the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
By the 1990s, the failure of the IRA campaign to win mass public support or achieve its aim of British Withdrawal, and in particular the public relations disaster of Enniskillen (when there were 11 fatalities among families attending a Remembrance Day ceremony), along with the replacement of the traditional Republican leadership of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh by Gerry Adams, saw a move away from armed conflict to political engagement.
This change from paramilitary to political means was part of a broader Northern Ireland peace process, which followed the appearance of new leaders in London (John Major) and Dublin (Albert Reynolds).
Increased government focus on the problems of Northern Ireland led, in 1993, to the two prime ministers signing the Downing Street Declaration. The election of a new leader for the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, allowed that party to respond more flexibly. Contacts between Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Féin, and John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, were followed by all-party negotiations that in 1998 produced the Belfast Agreement. A majority of both communities in Northern Ireland approved this Agreement, as did the people of the Republic of Ireland, who amended their constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, to replace a claim it made to the territory of Northern Ireland with a recognition of Northern Ireland's right to exist and an acknowledgement of the nationalist desire for a united Ireland.
After the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement
Under the Good Friday Agreement, properly known as the Belfast Agreement, voters elected a new Northern Ireland Assembly to form a Northern Irish parliament. Every party that reaches a specific level of support gains the right to name a member of its party to government and claim a ministry. Ulster Unionist party leader David Trimble became First Minister of Northern Ireland. The Deputy Leader of the SDLP, Seamus Mallon, became Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, though his party's new leader, Mark Durkan, subsequently replaced him. The Ulster Unionists, SDLP, Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party each had ministers by right in the power-sharing assembly. The Assembly and its Executive are both currently suspended over unionist threats over the alleged delay in the Provisional IRA implementing its agreement to decommission its weaponry, and also the alleged discovery or an IRA spy-ring operating in the heart of the civil service. Government is now once more run by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy and a British ministerial team answerable to him.
The changing climate in Northern Ireland was represented by the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to the Parliament Buildings in Stormont, where she met nationalist ministers from the SDLP as well as unionist ministers, and spoke of the rights of those Northern Irish people who perceive themselves as Irish to be treated as equal citizens with those who regard themselves as British. Similarly, on visits to Northern Ireland, the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, met with unionist ministers and with the local Lord Lieutenant of each county, the representative of the Queen.
Demographics and Politics
Northern Ireland forms a complex entity, divided between two different cultural communities, unionists and nationalists. Both communities are often described by their predominant religious attachments; unionists are predominantly Protestant (the major Protestant faith is Presbyterianism, the second in terms of size is the Church of Ireland, while nationalists are predominantly Roman Catholic. However contrary to widespread belief, not all Roman Catholics necessarily support nationalism, and not all Protestants necessarily support unionism.
Once established under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, Northern Ireland was structured geographically so as to have a unionist majority, unionist fears as to what would happen to them forming the basis for their opposition to a united Ireland, which led to creation of the two Irish states. However the Roman Catholic population has increased in percentage terms within Northern Ireland, while the Presbyterian and Church of Ireland population percentages have decreased.
The religious affiliations, based on census returns, have changed as follows between 1961 and 2002:
Religious Affiliations in Northern Ireland 1961-2001
Most Irish Catholics (of both Gaelic and Anglo-Norman origin) still support reunification, while strong studies have shown that many from the Protestant community (especially the Scotch-Irish Presbyeterian community which produced many famous Irish nationalist rebels in the pastlike Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy and Robert Emmett) are beginning to move over to the nationalist/republican side again. Sinn Fein is currently the third largest party in all of Ireland and the largest in membership in Northern Ireland. For many decades the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) representated the more "respectable" side of Irish republicanism, however since Sinn Fein's decision to take part in the British political process and since the 1998 Good Friday Accord, Sinn Fein has quickly grown to replace them. While on the unionist/loyalist side the UUP (Ulster Unionist Party) which traditionally has held the balance of power in the Six Counties has been quickly loosing support to the more extreme DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) led by a radical Presbyterian preacher, and anti-peace process activist, Rev. Ian Paisley. Despite this the peace process has continued to make headway in Northern Ireland with free elections for a Northern Ireland Assembly expected soon. There are a small minority of Irish Catholics who support union with Britain, however they are for the most part a very small and usually silent middle class minority. The Catholic population has begun to outgrow the protestant population, but with Catholics beginning to use contraceptives, reunification will most likely only occur with consent from the Anglo-Saxon and Scotch-Irish Protestant community, which may one day happen as sectarian divisions and hostilities continue to be set aside.
|Church of Ireland
Aside from this, there are indications that the religion/party system may start to disintegrate. There is for example, a Catholic member of the Northern Ireland Assembly who is a member of the Ulster Unionist Party. Party structures in Great Britain tend to be based on social class more often than in Northern Ireland. In the long-term, as the constitutional question may become less relevant due to the emergence of the European Union, a less sectarian political system may develop. Currently none of the major UK parties contest elections in Northern Ireland, although the Ulster Unionists have had links to the Conservative Party. The Labour Party is a sister party within the Source | Copyright
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Welcome to Northern Ireland
Information about the Protestant, Unionist Culture and Heritage in Northern Ireland.
Web-based discussion forum covering Music, Irish genealogy, and general discussions about life in Northern Ireland.
The Portadown News
Satirical news items, taking a poke at life in the province, and more specifically the Portadown area. Includes strong language.
Food Stuff Ireland
Magazine for food-lovers. Restaurant and book reviews, articles, and food events.
Letter to Slugger O'Toole
Reports on political and cultural life, with links to articles in papers, magazines and other knowledge resources.
Local humour and satire site that includes cartoons, animations and comic stories.
Youth drug awareness and support centre with a guide to services available and information about the helpline.
Provides student information, news and photographs.
The Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood Northern Ireland
Campaign for natural and unpasteurised beer. Includes aims and history.
Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey
Initiative launched in October 1998 with the aim of establishing a resource for everyone interested in the social attitudes of people living in the country.
Project Azure Door
Documents UFOs seen by members of the public from or in Northern Ireland.
Missing Irish People
Listings service for missing people in Ireland.
An informative look at the Twelfth of July celebrations.
Citizens Advice Northern Ireland
Advice and assistance with legal problems, debt and consumer issues, benefits, housing, legal matters, employment and immigration. Local addresses and contacts.
Age Concern Northern Ireland
Voluntary organisation concerned with the elderly. Membership , contact details and fact sheets.
A miscellany of things Irish, including photographs, stories, humour and items on people places and history.
The Rural Support Information Network
Providing information and contacts to support individuals and organisations on rural issues. Includes background, health advice, helpline information and details of financial assistance and benefits available to the distressed.
The Men's Project
An initiative within the Parents Advice Centre. Includes background, fact sheets, news and web directory.
NIPRA Irish Ghosts and Legends
Investigations from the Northern Ireland Paranormal Research Association, plus an archive of ghost stories.
Association of Independent Advice Centres
Includes newsletter and information about local resources.
The Ulster Cycle
An ongoing attempt to collect all the stories of the Ulster Cycle of Irish Mythology in one place.
ARK Northern Ireland
A resource dedicated to making social and political information on the province available to the widest possible audience.
Drugs Alcohol Info
Regional drugs and alcohol website for professionals in the province. Includes news, statistics, reports and surveys.
Mingy`s Guide to AA in Ireland
Includes events, contacts and a directory of Alcoholics Anonymous groups by province.
The Nexus Institute
Works to respond to the needs of adults who have experienced sexual abuse. Includes resources for survivors, fundraising information and contact details.
Supports projects that are designed to relieve poverty, distress and suffering in some of the poorest countries of the world. Includes annual report, current crises, advocacy and campaigns, programs and fundraising.
War On Want NI
Provides information on the charity's campaigns and projects.
The National Trust Northern Ireland
Charity dealing with the environment and conservation, as well as holiday accommodation, heritage sites and tourist attractions.
Lloyds TSB Foundation Northern Ireland
Independent grant-making foundation whose mission is to support and work in partnership with charitable organisations. Includes FAQ and application information.
Friends Of Salcia Foundation Trust
Collaborates with the Romanian based charity The Salcia Foundation to assist in funding the creation of children's homes. Includes background and information on making donations.
News stories, personal web logs and discussion for and about the province.
Northern Ireland Anti Poverty Network
Interactive network established to create a focus on poverty and social exclusion. Includes news, events and publications.