Seminar Paper, 2009
16 Pages, Grade: 1,3
I. Historical Background of Today’s Politics in Northern Ireland
II. Political System of Northern Ireland
II.I. Political Parties
III. Unionist Parties
III.I. Democratic Unionist Party
III.II. Ulster Unionist Party
III.III. Progressive Unionist Party
IV. Republican Parties
IV.I. Sinn Féin
IV.II. Social Democratic and Labour Party
V. Cross-community Parties
V.I. Alliance Party
V.II. Ulster Third Way
VI. Conclusion: Northern Ireland’s political future
In the past few years an average European citizen could get the impression that the infamous bloody conflict in Northern Ireland had definitely been resolved. In March of 2009, however, the media covered a new act of violence in this part of the continent: the killing of two British soldiers by members of the radical “Real IRA”, a group formed in 1997 following a split in the Provisional Irish Republican Army, which opposes the clauses of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Subsequent emotional and expressive statements made by politicians of all major parties prove how precarious the “Irish question” still is. It is visible that today’s public discussions and political positions held by particular political groups are largely affected by different interpretations of the long lasting conflict between the Protestant and Catholic communities. The expression “long lasting” is in this case difficult to specify. Some historians argue that today’s view on the problem refers mostly to the “Troubles”, which were directly started in 1966 by the establishment of the Ulster Volunteer Force, which was supposed to be a determined response to the actions of the IRA. However, if one speaks of the “Troubles” that begun in the late 1960s, one will inexorably come to consider the previous events such as the Easter Rising and many others. The most precise and appropriate approach would probably consist in tracing the conflict back to its primary roots. This seems at this point necessary because only a basic knowledge about the past can help to explain attitudes, positions, and visions in today’s politics in Northern Ireland that will be the subject of this essay.
Without England's security and political interests there would have been no conflict in Ireland. In 12th century a conquest with land seizure and subsequent settlement by the English took place. Some four centuries ago the land in six counties of Ulster was taken by the English. The Protestants possessed already 41% of the entire land and were long since the dominant political power in Ireland. Further settlement of Protestant Englishmen and Scots was thoroughly planned and called euphemistically the 'plantation'. In 1619 the Catholic army of King James was defeated at the Battle of Boyne by the Protestant king William of Orange. In the years 1692-1829 the Catholics were excluded from Parliament and all professions. On 1st January of 1801 the Act of Union incorporated Ireland into the British state which from now was called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In the late 40s of the 19th century the Irish population was decreased due to a famine by more than two million people. It remains controversial if a proper reaction of the British administration could have reduced the impact of the famine to a decisive extent. 1916 there was the Easter Uprising aimed to achieve a Home Rule in Ireland. In the 1919 followed the 2 years long Irish War of Independence against Britain. The result was the Anglo-Irish Treaty which established an autonomous dominion within the British Empire called “Irish Free State”. In the same treaty the creation of Northern Ireland was confirmed. The state had a devolved government and parliament which means that it had local authorities but those were completely dependent on the British Crown (Home Rule).
The formation of two modern states of the island of Ireland clearly dictated that identity should become defined in terms of 'Irish' or 'British', but not both. The disputed status of Northern Ireland invoked a conflict between Irish Catholics and British Protestants which lasted since the 1960s and is today known as the “Troubles”. The conflict brought many deaths because the violence was carried out by numerous paramilitary groups. Because of a bad security situation it came to the Abolition of Stormont in 1972, after which Northern Ireland was ruled directly from Westminster. The need for local administration, however, became apparent very soon and there was a common opinion that direct rule should ultimately be replaced: the norm would be a normal government. All political parties that have developed throughout the last decades have a specific notion of the political development of Northern Ireland in general and of the “Troubles” in particular. Main positions of particular political parties in Northern Ireland on these issues will be the subject of this essay. First, however, follows a short characterisation of the political system of the country.
Today's political system in Northern Ireland is the result of several treaties and events that took place in recent years. The most important treaty for today's political reality was the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 which in first place was intended to stop the ongoing violence. Due to this agreement Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom as long as the majority of its citizens will not opt for leaving the union. Refusing any means of violence means that only democratic and peaceful parties are legal. The Republic of Ireland has abolished any territorial claim and the state has been empowered with devolved legislation. This means that the Westminster Parliament keeps on having the supremacy over the land, but the executive authority lies in the hands of the government of Northern Ireland.
Since Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom its political system is based to a large extent on the British law. Some legislation is directly voted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom (so called “reserved matters”), but specific laws concerning the country are passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly with 108 members. The local government is called Northern Ireland Executive. In the House of Commons there are 18 seats for delegates from Northern Ireland. Religious background does not mean in this case any disadvantage in representation. To the House of Lords, however, no Catholic politician has been appointed so far. In the Privy Council several Unionists are represented but there is no single Republican. Catholic bishops cannot become Lords Spiritual.
Six historic counties of Ulster are today no more administrative entities. Northern Ireland is instead divided into 26 districts. It is interesting to note that a district council does not have the same range of responsibilities as in all other parts of the United Kingdom (for instance they cannot decide about education or road building). As part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland joined the European Community in 1973. The referendum conducted in 1975 resulted in a marginal majority (52%) in Northern Ireland for continued membership. Today the country is represented by three MEPs in the EU. On the Council of Ministers the province is represented by the UK government's ministers. Within the EU Northern Ireland has special status as an Objective One region, which means that the region enjoys considerable financial support from the EU's structural funds.
Most of the political parties in Northern Ireland can be classified as Unionist or republican. Unionist parties want Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom and are opposed to Irish nationalism. Republican parties strive for a possibly strong connection of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. Historically, one could speak of two periods in the development of today's party system in Northern Ireland: before the Civil Rights Campaign and after that. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, which campaigned for civil rights for the Catholic minority, „produced a seismic shift in Northern Ireland's politics“. From then the voting system is based on single transferable vote and makes it easier for Republican parties to gain more seats in the legislative bodies. This is of big importance because whom people elect depends not on the social class but on the religious background.
In the election to the National Assembly in 2007 36 out of 108 seats were taken by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), 22 seats by Sinn Féin, 18 seats by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), 16 by the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and 10 seats by other parties. In the election to the Westminster Parliament in 2005 DUP won 9 seats out of 22, Sinn Féin took 5, SDLP got 3 seats, and the UUP one seat. In the election to the European Parliament in June of this year, DUP, UUP, and Sinn Féin took one seat each out of three seats scheduled for Northern Ireland.
In the following two chapters the Unionism and republicanism will be explained in a more explicit way and the leading parties will be presented separately in detail. The structure of each party description will consist of: short characterisation, history outline, domestic and foreign policy, and a presentation of party’s position on the “Troubles”. The last part is meant to be for this essay the essential one.
 It is however important to note that all major political parties condemned the attacks without exception. Moreover, thousands of people protested against the violence. British and Irish ministers met for a security summit and pledged the attacks would not be allowed to derail the peace process. (see the article “Thousands attend murder protests” at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/7936332.stm, posted on 11th March 2009)
 This very general but decisive assertion can be found in: Johannes Kandel: Der Nordirland-Konflikt. Von seinen historischen Wurzeln bis zur Gegenwart, Bonn 2005, p. 32.
 It remains controversial for how many deaths The British Army and Northern Ireland's police force Royal Ulster Constabulary bear direct responsibility.
 The information about Northern Ireland's relations with the European Union used in this essay are largely based on the Paul Hainsworth's article Northern Ireland and The European Union, in: Northern Ireland Politics, ed. by A. Aughey and D. Morrow, New York 1996, p. 129-138.
 Paul Arthur: Political Parties: Elections and Strategies, in: Northern Ireland Politics, p. 67.
 See Arthur Aughey: Political Parties: Structures and Platforms, in: Northern Ireland Politics, p. 74.
 All data taken from the website of a social and political information organization “Access, Research, Knowledge in Northern Ireland”: http://www.ark.ac.uk/elections (version last seen on 15th May 2009).
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