The breakout of "the troubles" - Inter-communal violence in Northern Ireland

Term Paper, 2007

17 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Introduction

2. Historical Background and the origins of the conflict

3. The main conflict parties

4. The Outbreak of “The Troubles” and first years of rioting

5. The Spatial Question – The segregation of the Communities

6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

The origins of the conflict in Northern Ireland are various and can be traced back to the seventeenth century. In the following work I explore the period from the late 1960s to the early 1970s with focus on the segregation issue of the Protestant and Catholic communities, its settings and reasons. Furthermore the social cohesion of the paramilitary groups and “their” communities is a discussed aspect. The conflict in Northern Ireland has a complex and deeply rooted history. My intention in writing about the start-up period of the inter-community violence in Northern Ireland was to give a deeper insight into this structure.

Following the statements of sociologists, the violence in Northern Ireland can be regarded as ”a surface expression of ‘deeper’ socio-economic and/or ideological contexts.” [1] Hence the outbreak of rioting in the late 1960s can be considered as a desperate attempt of an oppressed minority to acquit itself from a discriminating majority. Violence in Northern Ireland was a cycle of provocation and reaction, of misunderstanding and discrimination. It is a matter of fact that violence provokes violence in turn and that prejudices are handed over from one generation to the following generation. Cumulative factors to the violence were, inter alia, the direct involvement of British troops, a Northern Irish police force which was biased against Catholics, provocations running out from the opposing camps and a British security-policy, primarily directed against Catholics, which seemed to be the case especially at the beginning of the conflict.

The following work contains an overview about the historical origins of the conflict and a description of the main conflict parties inclusive the paramilitaries and leads then to the outbreak of “the Troubles” and the first years of violence. The last chapter explores some facts of the segregation between Protestant and Catholic communities.

2. Historical Background and the origins of the conflict

There are different points of view concerning the origins of the conflict in Northern Ireland and it is not possible to take all of them into account. In First of all should be mentioned the settlement of English and Scottish settlers in the Irish province Ulster during the seventeenth century. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. (1558-1603) the island of Ireland came under British rule except the northern province of Ulster. The Irish clans in Ulster resisted successfully against the Elizabethan troops. Finally they could not stand the British military campaigns and eventually Ulster went under British rule. After their defeat Irish leaders escaped to the European landmass and their land was given to British and Scottish settlers, who were Protestants respectively Presbyterians. It is documented that by the beginning of the eighteenth century less than five per cent of the land of Ulster was in the hands of Catholics.[2] Commonly known as “the plantation of Ulster” the colonization of the northern part of the Irish island is one of the main conflict causing events in Irish history. The native Catholic Irish population experienced this event as “their land been taken violently”. Contrasting, British Protestant settlers believed that “their tenure has been constantly under threat of rebellion”.[3] The positions of the two hostile groups became entrenched during the following centuries.

A series of penal laws which affected mainly the Catholics but also Presbyterians was introduced and in 1801 the Act of Union abolished the Irish government and parliament and Ireland came under direct rule of Westminster Government. The Act of Union was another conflict causing point during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Different attempts, the best known might be the Easter rising of 1916, to defeat Direct Rule and to introduce Home rule, occurred but were not successful until the Government of Ireland Act of 1920, which came into effect in 1921. The significance of the Government of Ireland Act is mainly the partition of the Irish island into the twenty-six southern counties of the Republic of Ireland, which gained independence and the six counties of Northern Ireland, which remained part of the United Kingdom. Population in Northern Ireland at this time was represented by approximately sixty-five per cent Protestants and thirty-five per cent Catholics. So it seems logical that Northern Ireland was the only part of Ireland which granted a majority in favour of a union with the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland gained a devolved government in Belfast and got authority over several powers for example education, social services and local government. Powers like foreign affairs and defence were held by the London government which maintained ultimate authority whereas Northern Ireland delegated representatives to the Westminster parliament.[4] Nevertheless was the partition of Ireland an unpleasing situation especially for Irish republicans who were in favour of a united Ireland. They held onto the purpose of a united and independent Irish state and were willing to secure it forcibly if there necessary.[5] Violent IRA campaigns during the 1920s, 1940s and 1950s approved this attitude. The Unionists on the other hand introduced constant vigilance to secure the union of Northern Ireland with Great Britain. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and additional A-, B- and C-Specials were established[6] and an open gerrymandering of the local government electoral boundaries took place.[7] Representing approximately on third of the population of Northern Ireland most of the time during the twentieth century the Catholic minority were afflicted with discrimination and inequality concerning for example social services, the allocation of houses, education and working opportunities. That caused a great potential of resentment and aggression against the British respectively local Northern Irish administration and also against the predominant and advantaged Protestant populace.

3. The main conflict parties

Primary there are three main parties which were involved into the conflict: the Catholic-Republican-Nationalist camp, the Protestant-Loyalist-Unionist camp and the United Kingdom. Catholic-Nationalist as well as Protestant-Unionist interests were represented on the one hand by political parties and on the other hand by paramilitary groups.

The republican camp is represented by Sinn Féin who is regarded as the political wing of the IRA paramilitary.[8] As the largest nationalist party the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), which attracts mainly the middle-class, encouraged non-violence and was a critic of all paramilitary groups and the British military presence in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) dominated Northern Irish politics from partition in 1921 until its collapse in 2005 which means that all governments form 1921 to 1972 were formed by the UUP. Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party is more populist and more anti-nationalist than the UUP but gained less electoral support.


[1] Allen Feldman. Formations of Violence: The Narrative Body and Political Terror in Northern Ireland (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 19.

[2] John Darby. “Conflict in Northern Ireland – A background Essay.” In Facets of the Conflict in Northern Ireland, ed. Seamus Dunn. (Hampshire: Macmillian Press Ltd., 1995), Belfast: Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN), (accessed September 7, 2007).

[3] Ibid.

[4] John Darby, . “Conflict in Northern Ireland – A background Essay.” In Facets of the Conflict in Northern Ireland, ed. Seamus Dunn. (Hampshire: Macmillian Press Ltd., 1995), Belfast: Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN), (accessed September 7, 2007).

[5] Ibid.

[6] The Royal Ulster Constabulary was the police force in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 2001. It had a reserve force which consisted of A-specials (full-time and paid officers who were not allowed to be active outside their home areas), B-Specials (part-time, unpaid officers who served under their own command) and C-specials (unpaid reservists). The RUC and the Special forces were almost exclusively Protestant, equipped and paid by the British government and used to counter IRA campaigns. The Catholic population regarded them as brutal and violent and more as a Protestant vigilance group than as police force.

[7] John Darby, . “Conflict in Northern Ireland – A background Essay.” In Facets of the Conflict in Northern Ireland, ed. Seamus Dunn. (Hampshire: Macmillian Press Ltd., 1995), Belfast: Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN), (accessed September 7, 2007).

[8] Irish Republican Army (IRA), founded in 1922, was then the army if the Irish Republic who fought in the Irish War of Independence. In 1969 the IRA split into the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA. Both groups opposed the partition of Ireland and refused to recognize the Governments of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. OIRA favoured creating a socialist Ireland by preferable political means. PIRA, the main republican paramilitary group, in contrast advocated violent confrontation which means terrorist methods (bombings, assassinations, etc.). Between 1969 and 2005 approximately 1,800 people were killed by PIRA terrorist acts. In this text I use the expression IRA, when I speak about the PIRA.

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The breakout of "the troubles" - Inter-communal violence in Northern Ireland
Martin Luther University
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Inter-communal, Northern, Ireland
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Annekathrin Albrecht (Author), 2007, The breakout of "the troubles" - Inter-communal violence in Northern Ireland, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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