British soldiers no longer patrol the streets of Belfast, but walls continue to separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods, and their gates continue to be locked at night. However, the conflict in Northern Ireland is a forgotten issue for most Europeans. The beginning is in 1921, when the Irish war of independence ended in a civil war between the Irish and the island was divided between the northern area ruled by the British, and the newly created Irish Free State in the south. The creation of this artificial political border would change the course of Ireland and the United Kingdom for the next hundred years.
Catholics were a minority (40%) in the new Northern Ireland, and Protestants took advantage of this to govern for decades and favor a unionist majority parliament. In cities like Derry, Catholics are prohibited from participating in the political life of the city by enforcing various restrictions, and they are also excluded from social life even though Catholics make up two -third of the population. In addition, the Northern Irish police of the Royal Ulster Constabulary were mostly Protestant and were also discriminated against Catholics.
In this nest of chaos and subjugation the old Irish Republican Army (IRA), now a clandestine organization, tried to confront the British from the border, but many were trapped. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the IRA re-emerged as a terrorist gang that killed British soldiers, Protestant police and political leaders with the goal of uniting the entire island under a republic.
Operation Banner deployed 300,000 British troops on the streets of Belfast and Derry to support local police and end violence
The Troubles (the Northern Irish conflict) was a dark period in the history of Ireland and the United Kingdom where Northern Ireland became a battlefield with many armed groups on both sides.
Daily life is complicated by kidnappings and murders carried out by members of the IRA, but also by other counter-terrorist groups that advocate staying in the United Kingdom. In 1969, London ordered the intervention of the British army on Northern Ireland soil to fight its own citizens. This is undoubtedly unusual, although today it seems normal because it is common to see the military patrolling Rome or Paris after various jihadist attacks.
Operation Banner deployed 300,000 British military personnel to the streets of Belfast and Derry to support local police and end violence. The role played by the army was discussed a lot and criminal proceedings were later opened for actions such as Bloody Sunday. On January 30, 1972, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) organized a demonstration in the Catholic Bogside neighborhood of Derry. They wanted to protest the imprisonment of many Catholics in Ireland. Some protesters shouted and threw objects at British soldiers, who responded by opening live fire into the crowd and killing 14 people, most of them young men in their early teens. twenty years old. However, the military was also the target of IRA terrorists and in the whole deployment 763 British soldiers were killed. In total during the Northern Irish “trouble” 3,500 people died, including civilians, paramilitaries and British armed forces.
After several months of negotiations, in 1998 the British government, the Republic of Ireland and some parties in Northern Ireland signed the Good Friday Agreement, a text that ended a bloody conflict and outlined a new Northern Ireland’s status as “part of the United Kingdom and this can only be changed by a referendum, if the majority of the people of Northern Ireland want it,” was one of the points set out. It was also demanded that terrorist groups hand over their weapons and that no paramilitary or politician associated with direct action could hold a position in the new administration. The points agreed that day were approved by the Northern Irish and were followed by elections that favored the political groups in favor of the agreement.
Despite the peace efforts, in the following years there were many murders carried out by the new splinters of the Provisional IRA, which in 2007 surrendered its weapons. As a result of the disarmament, the British Army ended Operation Banner, British paratroopers stopped patrolling the streets and the contingent was reduced to 5,000 soldiers who resumed the usual defense functions outside the territory .
Sinn Féin, the most popular party
The effects of the conflict and the peace agreement are visible today. At the beginning of September, the British government approved the law of amnesty for all those investigated for killing during the armed conflict in Northern Ireland between 1968 and 1998. This decision was able to bring five republican and unionist parties consisting of Northern Irish parliament to an agreement for the first time. . Even the regional government is studying the criticism of the United Kingdom before the Strasbourg Court for this law, which leaves more than a thousand cases open in the air, which cannot be clarified despite the fact that some have been investigated for five decades.
It should be noted that Sinn Féin, the political arm of the IRA, is the party with the most votes in the regional elections and has achieved a historic victory in the municipal elections in April 2023. This political panorama will change the relationship between the Northern Irish parliament and Westminster. In addition, the political border that separated Ireland more than 100 years ago continues to play an important role in the relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union after Brexit. Without further ado, in February 2023 the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, were able to close an agreement to solve the problems of the Protocol for the Northern Ireland.