In 1920, the modern Irish conflict began. The United Kingdom, which had occupied the entire island of Ireland for most of the last 800 years, partitioned Ireland into two states: the Republic of Ireland, an independent nation governed democratically; and Northern Ireland, a loyalist enclave that continued to be a part of the United Kingdom. The Republic of Ireland, with a Roman Catholic majority, has been largely peaceful for the last half-century. Northern Ireland, split almost evenly between majority Protestants and minority Catholics, has not.
After decades of bombings, police occupations, and rule by the United Kingdom, home rule has finally returned to Northern Ireland. The local assembly became the authority in the territory in May of this year. The assembly is split between unionists, who favor the Protestant United Kingdom, and republicans, who favor the Catholic Republic of Ireland. Now that it is ballots, and not bullets, that are deciding Northern Irish policy, the status of Northern Ireland will have to be permanently established.
It is time for reunification in Ireland. The Irish island has had a unique sense of cultural identity for millennia. From its Celtic ancestry, to the Gaelic language, to Roman Catholicism, Ireland is simply not British in its heritage. The indigenous peoples of Ireland, including the six counties that now make up Northern Ireland, share a sense of family, community, and history distinct of the British, who arrived in the past few centuries. The rights of British people and Protestants in Northern Ireland will be fully protected by the Republic of Ireland, a modern democracy and a member of the European Union. The dignity of Irish people, both in the Republic and in the six counties, will only be honored by creating a united Ireland.
Ireland is a country with a rich heritage and culture. With the rise of Irish nationalism in recent years, the green, white, and orange tricolors are seen throughout the country. Gaelic is returning to the public schools. The dignity of the nation, after enduring centuries of oppression by the British, is finally being restored.
Northern Ireland had to fight for several more decades after the partition to receive respect and self-rule. The British suspended all home rule in the early 1970’s. Catholics were barred from the government, many jobs, social service programs, and housing in many areas. Discrimination was rampant. British police massacred fourteen Catholic civil rights marchers in 1972, on the day that would be known as “Bloody Sunday.” Both Catholics and Protestants started terrorist paramilitaries. Over 3,400 people were killed during the conflict. The Catholic community left Northern Ireland in droves, resulting in the current 51-49% religious split, with a slight majority in Protestants.
The past five years have seen rapid changes. Major Catholic and Protestant militant groups, including the Irish Republican Army and the Ulster Volunteer Forces, have disarmed. The assembly has finally been permanently restored. Elections in 2006 saw unionists receive only 20,000 more votes than republicans, in a vote of over 660,000 people. Republicans gained ground in the 2007 election, over results from 2003.
As the peace and reconciliation process continues to unfold, and as former republican militants make their way into the new mainstream, Irish nationalism is sure to grow. As the Catholic community recovers its numbers, both by growing more rapidly than the Protestant community and by welcoming expatriates home at last, sympathies with the Irish Republic will also grow.
As a Catholic of Irish, English, and Scottish descent, I have hope that Northern Ireland will be fully reunited with the Republic of Ireland in the very near future. All people have the right to fully embrace their heritage and culture. The partition of Ireland was yet another tragic event in the long chain of atrocities committed by the British Empire. It is time for freedom, independence, and unity to rule in Ireland.
Éire go Brách!