The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Monday, peaceful Monday

After decades of mutual suspicion, hostility and violent retribution, Northern Ireland’s longtime rival groups have reached a historic power-sharing agreement. Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and Protestant leader the Rev. Ian Paisley met Monday to discuss a united Northern Ireland administration.

The two parties agreed to form a government for the region on May 8. It is not clear why there is a delay, but the occasion is one to be celebrated regardless.

Brian Feeny, a historian at St. Mary’s University College in Belfast, said, “The word ‘historic’ has to be used. It was the only way it was ever going to work. The two leaders of the two traditions had to do the deal.”

This was the first time the two leaders have met. Traditionally, the two groups have viewed any contact with one another as anathema. Paisley, known as “Doctor No” for his utter refusal to conciliate, once condemned the Roman Catholic Church as “the mother of harlots and the abomination of the earth.”

The history of the conflict is complex and multi-faceted, but several key issues can be delineated. Historians trace the roots of the conflict back to the beginning of the 17th century, when in 1609 the British government established the Plantation of Ulster in what is now Northern Ireland, confiscating native Catholic land and settling Ulster with mainly Protestant English and Scottish settlers. Tensions between the Protestant English community and the Irish Catholics erupted into two conflicts later that century.

Because of British backing, the Protestants won these conflicts and several more that would follow, ensuring Protestant dominance in Northern Ireland for centuries to come. From the 17th century until the start of the 19th, the idea of Northern Ireland self-government, known as “Home Rule,” fell in and out of favor, mostly due to the Protestants’ reluctance to be a minority in a Catholic-dominated Ireland (Ireland was about 75 percent Catholic at the time). Starting around this time, continuous low-intensity violence between the two groups became a constant facet of the conflict.

In 1800, the Act of Union was passed by the Parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland, merging the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland into the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This permanently divided the two camps into the Unionists, or Loyalists as they are alternately known, who supported Northern Irish union with Great Britain and most of whom were Protestant, and the Republicans, or Nationalists, who desired Northern Ireland to be subsumed into the Kingdom of Ireland and most of whom were Catholics.

The peak of violence, known as “the Troubles,” occurred in 1970-1972. The tit-for-tat violence escalated almost into full-scale civil war with the formation of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, a splinter group from the Official Irish Republican Army. The Northern Ireland government became incapable of controlling the security situation; the police were often viewed, not entirely incorrectly, as being on the side of the loyalists, so the government itself lost much of its legitimacy.

The British government sent troops to Northern Ireland, who were at first welcomed by both sides. Over time, though, they also came to be seen as loyalist forces, and were often attacked by the PIRA or “Provos,” resulting in more than 600 British casualties by 1972.

Conflict between paramilitaries of both sides continued throughout the next two decades. Sinn Fein, often seen as the political arm of the IRA, emerged in the 1980’s and began contesting elections in Northern Ireland and the Republic. During the late 1990’s, various ceasefires were signed. By themselves they were ineffective at ending the conflict, but collectively the ceasefires and agreements worked to bring a gradual end to the conflict.

In 2005, the Provisional Irish Republican Army announced its renunciation of violence as a means of achieving its republican goals. This is often seen as the first clear watershed moment, a sign that the Troubles were finally at an end, and led to hopes that further progress would be quickly forthcoming.

Which brings us back to the events of Monday. Given the enormous strife between the republicans and the loyalists, and the centuries of conflict that have occurred in this small region over a single issue, it is truly a welcome sign to see Paisley and Adams sitting side by side.

In their official statements, the two struck similar tones: “We are very conscious of the many people who have suffered,” Adams said. “We owe it to them to build the best possible future. It is a time for generosity, a time to be mindful of the common good and of the future of all our people.”

Paisley, who spoke before him, said: “We must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future. In looking to the future we must never forget those who have suffered during the dark period from which we are, please God, emerging.”

About the writer:

John Jose is a first-year finance, economics and international studies major. He can be reached at [email protected].

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