Geopolitics

Northern Ireland: Born Of Strife, Erupting Again In Violence

After a century-long history of political strife, Brexit risks undoing the hard-earned two decades of reconciliation.

Police using water cannons on protesters in Belfast
Police using water cannons on protesters in Belfast
James Waller*

Sectarian rioting has returned to the streets of Northern Ireland, just weeks shy of its 100th anniversary as a territory of the United Kingdom.

For several nights, young protesters loyal to British rule – fueled by anger over Brexit, policing and a sense of alienation from the U.K. – set fires across the capital of Belfast and clashed with police. Scores have been injured.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, calling for calm, said "the way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality."

But Northern Ireland was born of violence.

Deep divisions between two identity groups – broadly defined as Protestant and Catholic – have dominated the country since its very founding. Now, roiled anew by the impact of Brexit, Northern Ireland is seemingly moving in a darker and more dangerous direction.

The island of Ireland, whose northernmost part lies a mere 13 miles from Britain, has been contested territory for at least nine centuries.

Britain long gazed with colonial ambitions on its smaller Catholic neighbor. The 12th-century Anglo-Norman invasion first brought the neighboring English to Ireland.

In the late 16th century, frustrated by continuing native Irish resistance, Protestant England implemented an aggressive plan to fully colonize Ireland and stamp out Irish Catholicism. Known as "plantations," this social engineering exercise "planted" strategic areas of Ireland with tens of thousands of English and Scottish Protestants.

Plantations offered settlers cheap woodland and bountiful fisheries. In exchange, Britain established a base loyal to the British crown – not to the Pope.

England's most ambitious plantation strategy was carried out in Ulster, the northernmost of Ireland's provinces. By 1630, according to the Ulster Historical Foundation, there were about 40,000 English-speaking Protestant settlers in Ulster.

Though displaced, the native Irish Catholic population of Ulster was not converted to Protestantism. Instead, two divided and antagonistic communities – each with its own culture, language, political allegiances, religious beliefs and economic histories – shared one region.

Over the next two centuries, Ulster's identity divide transformed into a political fight over the future of Ireland.

"Unionists' – most often Protestant – wanted Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. "Nationalists' – most often Catholic – wanted self-government for Ireland.

These fights played out in political debates, the media, sports, pubs – and, often, in street violence.

By the early 1900s, a movement of Irish independence was rising in the south of Ireland. The nationwide struggle over Irish identity only intensified the strife in Ulster.

The British government, hoping to appease nationalists in the south while protecting the interests of Ulster unionists in the north, proposed in 1920 to partition Ireland into two parts: one majority Catholic, the other Protestant-dominated – but both remaining within the United Kingdom.

Irish nationalists in the south rejected that idea and carried on with their armed campaign to separate from Britain. Eventually, in 1922, they gained independence and became the Irish Free State, today called the Republic of Ireland.

In Ulster, unionist power-holders reluctantly accepted partition as the best alternative to remaining part of Britain. In 1920, the Government of Ireland Act created Northern Ireland, the newest member of the United Kingdom.

In this new country, native Irish Catholics were now a minority, making up less than a third of Northern Ireland's 1.2 million people.

Stung by partition, nationalists refused to recognize the British state. Catholic schoolteachers, supported by church leaders, refused to take state salaries.

During the Troubles in Belfast in 1970 — Photo: Fribbler

And when Northern Ireland seated its first parliament in May 1921, nationalist politicians did not take their elected seats in the assembly. The Parliament of Northern Ireland became, essentially, Protestant – and its pro-British leaders pursued a wide variety of anti-Catholic practices, discriminating against Catholics in public housing, voting rights and hiring.

By the 1960s, Catholic nationalists in Northern Ireland were mobilizing to demand more equitable governance. In 1968, police responded violently to a peaceful march to protest inequality in the allocation of public housing in Derry, Northern Ireland's second-largest city. In 60 seconds of unforgettable television footage, the world saw water cannons and baton-wielding officers attack defenseless marchers without restraint.

On Jan. 30, 1972, during another civil rights march in Derry, British soldiers opened fire on unarmed marchers, killing 14. This massacre, known as Bloody Sunday, marked a tipping point. A nonviolent movement for a more inclusive government morphed into a revolutionary campaign to overthrow that government and unify Ireland.

The Irish Republican Army, a nationalist paramilitary group, used bombs, targeted assassinations and ambushes to pursue independence from Britain and reunification with Ireland.

Longstanding paramilitary groups that were aligned with pro-U.K. political forces reacted in kind. Known as loyalists, these groups colluded with state security forces to defend Northern Ireland's union with Britain.

Euphemistically known as "the troubles," this violence claimed 3,532 lives from 1968 to 1998.

The troubles subsided in April 1998 when the British and Irish governments, along with major political parties in Northern Ireland, signed a landmark U.S.-brokered peace accord. The Good Friday Agreement established a power-sharing arrangement between the two sides and gave the Northern Irish parliament more authority over domestic affairs.

The peace agreement made history. But Northern Ireland remained deeply fragmented by identity politics and paralyzed by dysfunctional governance, according to my research on risk and resilience in the country.

Violence has periodically flared up since.

Then, in 2020, came Brexit. Britain's negotiated withdrawal from the European Union created a new border in the Irish Sea that economically moved Northern Ireland away from Britain and toward Ireland.

Leveraging the instability caused by Brexit, nationalists have renewed calls for a referendum on formal Irish reunification.

For unionists loyal to Britain, that represents existential threat. Young loyalists born after the height of the troubles are particularly fearful of losing a British identity that has always been theirs.

Recent spasms of street disorder suggest they will defend that identity with violence, if necessary. In some neighborhoods, nationalist youths have countered with violence of their own.

In its centenary year, Northern Ireland teeters on the edge of a painfully familiar precipice.


*James Waller is a Holocaust and Genocide Studies professor at Keene State College

**This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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New Delhi, India: Fumigation Against Dengue Fever In New Delhi

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 வணக்கம்*

Welcome to Thursday, where America's top general reacts to China's test of a hypersonic weapon system, Russia is forced to reimpose lockdown measures and Venice's historic gondola race is hit by a doping scandal. French daily Les Echos also offers a cautionary tale of fraud in the crypto economy.

[*Vaṇakkam, Tamil - India, Sri Lanka, Singapore]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Top U.S. general says Chinese weapon nearly a "Sputnik moment": China recently conducted a "very concerning" test of a hypersonic weapon system as part of its push to expand space and military technologies, Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg News. America's top military officer said that this was akin to the Soviet Union's stunning launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, 1957, which sparked the Cold War space race. Milley also called the test of the weapon "a very significant technological event" that is just one element of China's military capabilities.

Brexit: France seizes British trawler: A British trawler has been seized by France while fishing in French waters without a license, amid escalating conflict over post-Brexit fishing rights. France's Minister for Europe said it will adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards Britain and block access to virtually all of its boats until it awards licenses to French fishermen.

COVID update: Russia confirmed a new record of coronavirus deaths, forcing officials to reimpose some lockdown measures, including a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November. Germany also saw its numbers spike, with more than 28,000 new infections yesterday, adding to worries about restrictions this winter there and elsewhere in Europe. Singapore, meanwhile, reported the biggest surge in the city-state since the coronavirus pandemic began. Positive news on the vaccine front, as U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck granted royalty-free license for a COVID-19 antiviral pill to help protect people in the developing world.

Iran nuclear talks to resume: Iran's top nuclear negotiator said multilateral talks in Vienna with world powers about its nuclear development program will resume before the end of November. The announcement comes after the U.S. warned efforts to revive the deal were in "critical phase."

First U.S. passport with "X" gender marker: The U.S. State Department has issued its first American passport with an "X" gender marker. It is designed to give nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people a marker other than male or female on their travel document. Several other countries, including Canada, Argentina and Nepal, already offer the same option.

China limits construction of super skyscrapers: China has restricted smaller cities in the country from building extremely tall skyscrapers, as part of a larger bid to crack down on wasteful vanity projects by local governments. Earlier this year the country issued a ban on "ugly architecture."

Doping scandal hits Venice's gondola race: For the first time in the history of the Venice Historical Regatta, a participant has tested positive to marijuana in a doping test: Gondolier Renato Busetto, who finished the race in second place, will be suspended for 13 months.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"End of the ice age," titles German-language Luxembourgish daily Luxemburger Wort, writing about how the ice melting in the Arctic opens up new economic opportunities with a new passage for countries like Russia and China but with potentially devastating effects for the environment. The issue of the Arctic is one of the topics that will be discussed at the COP26 Climate Change Conference which kicks off in Glasgow on Sunday.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$87 billion

A new United Nations report found that extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, floods and droughts have caused India an average annual loss of about $87 billion in 2020. India is among the countries which suffered the most from weather hazards this year along with China and Japan.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Air Next: How a crypto scam collapsed on a single spelling mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy from Laurence Boisseau in Paris-based daily Les Echos.

📲 The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system. Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation.

📝 On Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, the CEO admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

⚠️ What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond". Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


📣 VERBATIM

"A weapon was handed to Mr. Baldwin. The weapon is functional, and fired a live round."

— Following the Oct. 21 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Sante Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza told a press conference that the "facts are clear" about the final moments before Hutchins was shot. The investigation continues to determine what led up to that moment, and any possible criminal responsibility related to how the "prop" gun that actor Alec Baldwin fired was loaded.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Share with us your favorite gondola memories or worst crypto scams — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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