The Troubles did not begin on a specific date, but emerged fromthe built-up tension between the Protestant and Catholic communities. In 1920,the whole of Ireland was a part of the UK, however tension was rising betweenthe Unionist Protestants and the Nationalist Catholics.
Great Britain ruled theCatholic Ireland from the 12th century until 1920. During that time,there were various instances of the Catholics rebelling against their Protestantrulers. The Easter Rising in 1916, was one of the many rebellions held by theCatholic community in search for freedom. The Catholic population felt as ifthey were being colonised by the Protestant settlers.
When William of Orangedefeated the Catholic King, James II, different laws were enacted by the allProtestant-Parliament of Ireland, barring Catholics from offices, landownership and schooling. They did this to block all paths to wealth andeducation for the Catholic Populace (Darby, 1976). These policies passed incitedmore violence between the two communities. The escalating violence forced theBritish government to intervene and propose that Ireland should have a limitedform of Self governance -the Home Rule. Both parties rejected this proposal, asthe Catholic community- led by Sinn Fein- felt that only full independence couldsatisfy them, and the Protestant Unionists feared being ruled by the Catholicmajority and threatened a secession of Northern Ireland from Great Britain intoa sovereign state. A compromise was met in 1920, in the form of a partition ofIreland into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (Rowthorn, 1988).
After the partition, however, sporadic violence continued between the twocommunities. It was observed that these violent outbreaks regularly occurred duringeconomic downturns, for example the riots during the depression in 1930, andwhen the economy boomed, the violence subsided – when the IRA was unable tolaunch a successful secession bid due to apathy in the Catholic community(Darby, 1976). In Fig.1 we can see that the two communities were physically separatedwithin Northern Ireland, and this was not all due to the fear of violence andbeing attacked. Catholic and Protestant families were likely to live in areas nearschools that were run by their respective religions, as Catholic and Protestantchurches use the education system to retain control of their respectivecommunal identities.
According to Darby, marriages took place within the local areafrequently in Northern Ireland. Over the years, these local areas became afamily based structure that tends to be exclusionary and segregated. TheUnionists had control of the national, and most of the local governments inNorthern Ireland. They had the power to determine and alter the distribution ofwealth and resources within Northern Ireland. Catholics and the working-classprotestants suffered socio-economic deprivation and discrimination. Unionist controlledcouncils used their power and authority to deny housing to the Catholicpopulace (Coughlan, 1991).
Catholic citizens were driven out of their homesbecause they were in Protestant-dominated local areas. In the county of Fermanagh,Catholics were awarded only 30% of the 1,500 housing units present (Whyte, 1980).The Nationalist run councils also discriminated against the Protestantcommunity, so the discrimination was reciprocated, however, due to the largenumber of poor Catholics, more Catholics were subjected to public housing. The largenumber of poor Catholics can be explained by the high rate of unemployment inthe Catholic community compared to the Protestant community as seen in Fig.2. Withinthese local areas, old beliefs and traditions were kept alive, and the hostilitycontinued to fester between the groups. The two groups had little contactbetween one another, intensifying the feelings of distrust between them.
Hostilitybetween the two groups did not manifest daily, but after specific events. Conflictand violence intensified with the formation of the Irish Republican Brotherhoodfrom decades of oppression by the British. In 1969, violence between theUnionists and the Nationalist increased, leading to the intervention from theBritish Army. The British Army was called to separate the combatants afterfighting for two days during the “Annual Protestant Apprentice Boys of Derry”parade, after the Catholic people threw stones and petrol bombs at themarchers. In 1971, the Northern Ireland government introduced internmentwithout trial, resulting in 324 men being taken by the British Army. After theCatholics retaliated, in January 1972, the British Army fired into a Catholiccrowd and killed 13 people, that day is known as Bloody Sunday in Derry(Rowthorn, 1988). Between 1968 and 1994, over 3,500 people were killed and over35,000 people were injured. There was a ceasefire in 1994, leading to theBelfast agreement being signed in 1998.
However, there is still mistrustbetween the two communities, and tension continues to run high.