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Some Frequently Asked Questions
Page 6 - Brief notes on some longer questions

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Text: Martin Melaugh   [last update: 3 Feb 2006]
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Brief notes on some longer questions

Have all Nationalists tried to achieve their aims through violence this century or have there been other techniques?

In the context of the most recent conflict in Northern Ireland the term Nationalist is taken to mean those people, mainly Catholics, who support the aim of re-uniting Ireland through constitutional, non-violent, means. The term Republican is usually taken to mean those in the Catholic / Nationalist community who support the use of violence to achieve the reunification of Ireland.

The CAIN site deals with the period of the recent conflict, that is, from 1968 to the present. Only brief comments are included in the following discussion about the earlier part of the 20th century.

Not all Nationalists have resorted to violence to achieve their aims, though at various times, for example during the Anglo-Irish War (or the War of Independence) 1919 to 1921 a majority of Nationalist supported armed conflict against Britain. At other times democratic constitutional means, such as participation in the parliament at Westminster (until January 1919), and later at the Dáil (the Irish parliament), and at Stormont (the parliament in Northern Ireland), were used to try to end British control of Ireland.

Alongside efforts at change through parliamentary means Nationalists have also used other methods. Presenting Nationalist and Republican arguments to audiences in Ireland, Britain, and other countries, particularly the United States of America (USA), has been a technique employed at various times during the 20th century. Some of the lobbying took the form of trying to bring international pressure to bear on the British government. Some was targeted at trying to change British public opinions about Ireland - for example in the 1970s and 1980s attempts were made to increase support for the option of removing British troops from Northern Ireland. The use of lobbying of government and influential figures has also been used throughout the 20th century. Street demonstrations and protests have also been important and were used to a large extent in Northern Ireland by the civil rights movement.

What problems will need to be overcome if there is to be a lasting solution to the Irish problem?

Anyone attempting to answer this question firstly needs to be aware that there is an implicit assumption in the question that would not be accepted by everyone. The reference to "the Irish problem" implies that the Irish alone are at fault and are causing a problem for Britain. Some Irish people would argue that the 'problem' is one that resulted from Britain's gradual colonisation of Ireland over a long period of time.

The conflict in Northern Ireland stems from the fact that there are two distinct traditions among the population, one British the other Irish, each of which wants a different political outcome. Broadly speaking many of those who are Catholic are also Nationalist and support the reunification of Ireland, while most of those who are Protestant are also Unionists and wish to see the constitutional link with Britain maintained.

There is a deep lack of trust between the two traditions and this is apparent in the attitudes of many politicians in Northern Ireland. Trust is something that is only likely to develop over a very long period of time. In an attempt to reach a political settlement in the absence of trust the Good Friday Agreement was drawn up following negotiations that involved most of the political parties in Northern Ireland. The main weakness of the Agreement was the fact that some issues, notably the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons, were dealt with in a vague manner. Following the signing of the Agreement, Unionists and Republicans argued over what the text actually meant. There were many delays while the British and Irish governments attempted to implement the Good Friday Agreement. Following the establishment of the various institutions of government that were outlined in the Agreement, the issue of decommissioning came to dominate politics once more. With Unionists threatening to withdraw from government in Northern Ireland the British government took the decision to suspend the Assembly. The Assembly was reconvened and suspended on a number of occasions and then an indefinite suspension began on 14 October 2002.

Even though the IRA announced the end of its 'armed campaign' on 28 July 2005 and also decommissioned its weapons on 26 September 2005, there remained deep distrust among Unionists about entering into another power-sharing Executive with Sinn Féin. Following further political talks, which were held at St Andrews in Scotland in October 2006, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) led by Iam Paisley agreed to enter into a power-sharing government with Sinn Féin. The new devolved Assembly took power on Tuesday 8 May 2007.

More fundamentally, substantial change to the ethos and nature of society in Northern Ireland will be needed if the Good Friday Agreement, or any similar agreement, is to form the basis for a long-term solution to the conflict. The increasing Catholic population in the region will mean that society and politics will have to reflect a shared state rather than the previous domination by one section of the population. Violence has been a recurring theme of the last 400 years of history in Northern Ireland. At the moment Northern Ireland is experiencing an imperfect peace and there is no guarantee that large-scale violence has been consigned to the history books.

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CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
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