The troubles in Northern Ireland are fuelled by many problems. Terrorism is a key issue that brings violence and death to the Irish people, this helps keep the fear, anger, distrust and sectarianism stay in the hearts and minds of the Irish people. Political disputes between the two sides politics doesn’t help solve the problem either. Arguments between the two sides only drag on the current situation and progress is not made. The same consequences appear because of the Republican/ Nationalist Unionist/ Loyalist spilt.
Previous peace attempts have failed like the early Sunningdale Agreement 1973-4 and the more recent Drowning Street Declaration 1993. Problems like decommissioning still exist and the problem won’t be fully achieved until more trust is gained on both sides. Others problems like splinter groups are also a big challenge. As even if main paramilitary are fully decommissioned then splinter groups still exist like the ‘Real’ IRA formed in 1997 a splinter group from the IRA and the Loyalist Volunteer Force formed in 1996 a splinter group from the Ulster Volunteer Force.
These splinter groups are thought to be more dangerous and with more of them forming all the time it is an ongoing task to decommission them. The Downing Street Declaration was an agreement between Prime Minister John Major and Taoiseach Albert Reynolds. The aim was to form a new government for Northern Ireland. They decided that parties could only partake if they rejected terrorism/violence. The Irish government then promised to set up a forum for Peace and Reconciliation to encourage trust and understanding between the two communities.
Nationalists welcomed the agreement and thought it was progress towards peace. Though some were still unhappy, as the agreement did not remove the partition. Unionists were reluctant and some wary about the new agreement but accepted it. A few saw it as a step towards the removal of the partition as Republicans were now allowed into government. The agreement didn’t solve everything but it was a step towards the right direction as opposite sides gained more trust of each other. It also showed that politics was the better way forward. Terrorism did get worse in 1994 but a ceasefire was then agreed.
Problems didn’t disappear there was still arguments about the partition. Decommissioning was also a problem even though some groups wanted to decommission both sides wanted the other side to do it first. This showed there was still some issues of trust that needed working on. Splinter groups were also a big problem because as some groups started to decommission more splinter groups appeared and were often more violent and dedicated than the original groups they had broken from. Marches now regular events with the Orange Order and AOH caused trouble too.
The marches often stirred feelings among the opposite side and provoked more paramilitary attacks. The next attempt towards peace in my lifetime was/is The Good Friday Agreement 1998. The aim was to establish a Northern Ireland Assembly with 108 members. It was decided that all decisions were to require consent of both communities in the province. Then a North-south Council of Ministers was set up. This was made of Ministers from the Assembly and ministers from the republic. There were a few conditions also made in the agreement.
One condition was that the Irish government had to remove Articles 2 and 3 of its constitution. Another requirement of the agreement was the early release of paramilitary prisoners. Last of all it was ordered that a review of policing in Northern Ireland would take place. The Good Friday Agreement was opposed by both Nationalist and Unionist splinter terrorist groups. To show their disagreement with the Good Friday Agreement on both sides they broke the ceasefire in 1996, the ceasefire had been agreed with both Loyalists and Republicans in 1994.
In 1995 Ireland had the lowest annual death toll since the troubles had began in 1968. So success was only partial, referendum saw that 94% of the Republic of Ireland was in favour of the Good Friday Agreement and 71% in Northern Ireland did as well. So it seems most people have trust in the Agreement and are happy it is helping achieve peace in Ireland. So the big question is how much process has been made. Well Political parties are now talking thanks to the Good Friday Agreement, which established the Northern Irish Assembly. The Assembly is based on mutual party co-operation. Parties are more committed to peace.
Gerry Adams they Leader of Sinn Fein has even publicly said ‘I can see a future without the IRA’ which is really important. Though the Assembly isn’t all good as at present it has been suspended due to accusations of IRA spying. As long as it is revived as soon as possible I think a lot of progress has been made on the political side. Sinn Fein is now the most prominent party in Ireland. Though this party has been connected to the IRA. It now seems that they want peace and this is a huge step in the right direction, as parties like the DUP and Sinn Fein influence radicals and extremists.
With the help of the Northern Irish Assembly parties are now talking and working together more but there is still a lot of trust that needs to be gained. The terrorist activity has decreased dramatically when compared to the 1970’s when it was at a peak with over five hundred people killed in 1972. There was also a lot of support locally for paramilitary because of events like Bloody Sunday. Then in 1994 both groups Republican and Loyalist declared a cease-fire. A programme was set up for the decommissioning of the IRA led by US Senator George Mitchell.
Since then there has been far fewer murders, deaths and bombings. This is thanks to the 1994 cease-fire and because of the decommissioning that has been taking place. But violence hasn’t just disappeared. Though there are fewer deaths there are many more punishment beatings and the numbers are spiralling out of control. Also splinter groups are remaining active. As groups are being decommissioned and agreeing to cease-fire more splinter groups are appearing to replace them. The British government is now determined for peace.
It seems they have leant lessons from the past. Agreements like the Downing Street Declaration and the Good Friday Agreement have shown their long-term commitment to helping Ireland achieve peace. This has also increased trust for the British government from Nationalists and Republicans. With their constant intervention with issues like decommissioning and marching has helped Ireland keep on track. Though it’s not all good some Unionists/ Loyalists feel that Great Britain has let them down by going too far with concessions to Nationalists.
While Republicans/Nationalists feel not enough has been done for them and don’t want the British Army to stay in Northern Ireland. Progress has also been made now that worldwide support for terrorists has plummeted since 11th September 2002. In the 1970’s most paramilitary organisations were seen as freedom fighters and many countries aboard helped supply terrorist groups in Ireland with armour and money. This has now changed terrorism has lost all romanticism Al Qaeda, IRA, PLO e. t. c are all seen as dangerous, violent and at fault. The idea of ‘freedom fighters’ has been crushed.
Support from foreign countries is almost non-existent. So available arms to buy from outside Ireland have been limited as the fight on terrorism is tightened. The USA are now helping and supporting the on-going peace process in Ireland. Though Irish terrorists are not an international priority when compared to Al Qaeda. By some countries it is still seen as a British and Irish problem. Activities that are carried out by the terrorist groups in Ireland are also sometimes over looked for example the punishment beatings, which are a regular occurrence in Ireland. Overall progress is slowly being made.
This shows that Agreements are not entirely failing. Though problems still need to be over come if total peace is to ever be achieved in Ireland. The review of the policing in Ireland is important to the peace process. Police need to be trusted by both Republicans and Loyalists. The only way this will happen is if a full re-evaluation takes place reviewing policing and the RUC. As at present policing in Northern Ireland is seen to be biased as 9% of the force is catholic and the rest is Protestant. Even the Unionists are unhappy with the current police force as the RUC is a target of the IRA.
Three hundred and one of the force have been killed since 1968 and there have been 70 suicides because police members couldn’t cope with the threats and consent abuse. Punishment beatings are another issue that needs to be solved if peace is to succeed. Both Unionists and Nationalists are affected by the punishment beatings. As more happen, the communities lose more trust for the police and hatred is increased between the two sides. Punishment beatings also increase mutual suspicion because paramilitaries are still active and carrying out these beatings.
These beatings can be someone having there knees capped to as one boy Harry McCartan had done crucified for joy riding in 2002. Since 1998 it is estimated the punishment attacks are in the thousands. The beatings obstruct the Good Friday Agreement so also obstruct the peace attempt. Leading on from punishment attacks takes you to the problem of paramilitary groups. Both Unionists and Nationalists have them and they cause great problems and are one of the main reasons that the troubles in Ireland continue.
Some groups have agreed to a cease-fire but many groups break the cease fire and continue to kill and attack. The decommissioning of these groups is also taking place now but not with complete success. There is first the problem that some groups are decommissioning but not all of their weapons as they still feel vulnerable to an attack. So the issue of trust is brought up again. The second problem is that splinter group members are often harder core members of other groups that have agreed to a cease-fire or decommissioned.
Making it almost impossible to get splinter groups to decommission. Maybe the solution is more out side help not people from Britain that can seem biased. Marches also cause problems. They increase the tension for communities. Both Nationalists and Unionists believe it is there right for them to march. But marches often go through the opposite sides estates, which often insults and angers them. Then when marches are banned or re-routed marchers say it is an infringement on their civil rights. These marches often end in rioting even if they have been carefully organised.
In 1996 because of march riots ninety civilians and fifty RUC members were injured. This problem needs to be looked into as these marches anger and often provoke paramilitary attacks. It seems that however much progress is made or however many problems are solved new ones will appear and are created. It will be along time before anyone can even say Ireland is close to total peace. As long as Nationalists won’t budge and want to have a united Ireland and as long as Unionists won’t move either and want the partition to stay and Northern Ireland to stay united with the UK, the troubles won’t end.
If eventually people are prepared to forget the past and compromise then some kind of agreement may work. Though there are signs of development if you look at the span of time all the progress is over and compare that to how much has been made, you can see a lot more progress is needed, so a lot more time too. Agreements aren’t solving everything but they are helping. As time is going on were getting closer and closer to securing peace, with more negotiations and co-operation between the politics it does seem certain that peace will one day be achieved.