by SR Urie
Essay on the conflict between England and the divided country of Irland.
|The Irish Conflict
The Atlantic island country of Ireland has been in a social conflict for well over eighty years. This conflict has its origins in clashes of the Protestant religion established by the English government and the Catholic minorities that remain faithful to the Vatican. These two Christian denominations have many differences in community spiritualism and political loyalties. Both the Protestants and the Catholics have a very strong sense of history in which both sides believe themselves to be the victims. The British government fostered political division between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants through a system of political, social and economic privilege that has empowered today's Unionists in the Six Counties of Northern Ireland. Yet because both religious denominations had that extreme sense of history, they all believed that they could do anything in the present and use that history to justify their actions; History is a very potent force in the Irish Conflict.
When the island was partitioned in 1920 the Catholics in Northern Ireland thought that whey were on the wrong side of that border drawn by the British, believing they had been swindled out of their political heritage of freedom. But the Protestants affiliated with the English Crown ensured that they remained in control of the six counties that makes up Northern Ireland because they had lost control of the rest of the island to the Catholics. The Unionists sought the maintenance of British rule on their terms for a variety of reasons, including the perception that it protected their vested interests as conferred by privilege by the British government, which is the major reason for its continuing presence in Ireland.
Partition ultimately divided the national territory of Ireland, and spawned the Civil War in 1922 which has molded politics in the 26-County state ever since. It made acute divisions between nationalists of the Republic of Ireland and unionists in the Six-County state of Northern Ireland, between the general populations of the two states, and it created real and lasting divisions among nationalists themselves. Self made (wealthy) Protestant Unionists were granted the power of Veto as a powerful minority by the English, and their rights to veto were supported to the point of introduction of British troops onto the streets of Northern Ireland. The unfair advantage given to the Unionists created anger in the whole of Ireland’s lower Catholic classes, against both the Unionists and the English for many years.
In the late 1960’s a group of nationalists called the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association began to work for change, cataloguing discrimination in housing and employment practices against Catholics, and demanded equal voting rights for all in local government elections. The group moved its protests onto the streets highlighting inequality and civil liberties in Northern Ireland. The march was met by the Unionist government’s RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) that used force to break up the march and increased hostility in the nationalist community of Catholics. In the early 1970s legal incarceration without trial was introduced by the British Prime Minister which instigated battles in the streets and bombings by the IRA. Much more bloodshed has happened in Ireland over civil rights and religious discrimination where even today there are still conflicts between the Northern Irish Protestant minorities and the Nationalist Irish Catholics.
Irelands society is best described using the Conflict theory. The Northern Irish Protestants whose Unionist party tenaciously holds on to its vested interests of political veto empowered by the English Crown. This money, prestige, power, money, and religious values grants the Protestant minority group a great deal of advantage over the majority Catholic Nationalists who represent of conspicuous interest group that shares a colorful history, but also shares distinct social concerns for everyone in Ireland. The advantages that the minority Protestants have is unfair, their money and their influence with the British government lends that shadow of that ruling country’s military support, and this disadvantage, both moral and financial, creates an imbalance in the social system.
When you have such an imbalance of societal resources and political power a change is inevitable. One-sided politics where a small group has obvious advantages over a larger group creates intense anger, especially when you have a mitigating super-power like the English government supporting the minority. By differentiating these groups on the basis of religion intensifies the anger, clearly separates the opposing sides, and the result is violence.
The turmoil has been going on in Ireland between vested interest groups for centuries. Some strides have been made to promote peace between the Protestants and the Catholics, the rich minority and the oppressed majority. There is still that imbalance to be evened out among Catholic Nationalists that have been oppressed by the Unionists of Northern Ireland for so long. I would like to compare the situation in Ireland, and what has been going on there for many years, to that of the situation in America in the 1700’s. One can only speculate that the reason that the Irish have not won independence from “Mother England”. Maybe it’s because they are located too close to London. Maybe there are not enough natural resources to enable them to put up a successful revolution. Or is it that they are just not as lucky as we “Yankees” were some two hundred twenty years ago. For some reason the English have the notion that the ruled classes accept unfair politics on an ongoing basis without demanding social and political change.
Still the social stratification goes on. The structured inequality of access to resources and privileges still exist there, even more than here in America. The Unionists apparently are using so trivial an excuse as religion and the Catholic’s unwillingness to throw the Vatican’s edicts out the window to appease the English Crown as an effective excuse, or reason, to repress a people and cash in on the forced inequality. Again I’ll compare this system to America, and its practice of forcing inequality based on race, except we are getting better at our fallacy of social stratification. Both the United States and Ireland have those imbalances to redistribute; blatant caste systems that are so unfair to so many people .
But America is getting better and better, slowly but surely. And Ireland is getting better, too. For an American who is neither Protestant nor Catholic, and who has not been exposed to such turmoil in the immediate community, it is very difficult to understand the conflict that has gone on in Northern Ireland for so long. To be sure there are many countries whose political systems are much worse than either country ever was. And the social violence in Ireland has decreased, just as it ultimately faded away in Scotland. But that is another story, isn’t it?