A number of main players took part in what became known as "The Troubles". I thought it would be wise to introduce them.
His ethnic background is Ulster Scots. He was a Presbyterian preacher who founded his own church, after he was prohibited from preaching by the official Presbyterian church at the time. Paisley became famous during his campaign against homosexuality, and created the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee, from which the Ulster Protestant Volunteers, or UPV, split off. The UPV was close to the UVF, and many members belonged to both.
Ulster Volunteer Force.
The UVF would be the main paramilitary and terrorist organization backed by Loyalist forces. They would later set up the Progressive Unionist Party, or PUP, to be their political wing.
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.
I've had the chance to talk about both these men recently in another blogpost.
Provisional Irish Republican Army.
This is the faction of the IRA that became the main paramilitary and terrorist organization backed by Republican forces. Sinn Fein was their political wing.
Gerry Fitt, John Hume, and the SDLP.
Leaders of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, or SDLP. The party was founded as a merger between nationalist forces and pro-Labour forces
Oliver Napier and the Alliance.
Created as a cross-community bridge, Oliver Napier helped to found the Alliance, Northern Ireland's 'neutral' party.
You may be wondering what "Ulster Scots" is. These are people who are descendants of those brought in from Scotland in what was known as the "Plantation of Ulster." At the time, Ulster had a low population density, and protestant landlords brought in many protestants from Britain to settle these lands, many of which would later identify as "Ulster Scots".
Following the events of Bloody Sunday, the violence erupted as never before. With the local government paralyzed, the government in Westminster decided to have it suspended, and abolished. As such, in 1972, the Parliament of Northern Ireland came to an end.
The government in London then created the Assembly. Elections were held in 1973. 31 UUP members were elected, but 7 of them opposed the Assembly's existence. 19 SDLP members were elected, along with 8 from the Democratic Unionist Party, or DUP, which had been set up by Ian Paisley. 7 members were elected from the Vanguard Unionists, 3 from the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, and 5 others also won seats.
An agreement, later known as the Sunningdale agreement, would be worked out that would see the UUP, SDLP, and Alliance go into coalition. This angered many in the UUP and broader unionist community as they refused to share power with nationalists, and prefered a more traditional system where the majority party can form it's own government.
The response to this power sharing was the Ulster Worker's Council strike, which saw Northern Ireland basically shut down for 2 weeks and roads blockaded, all while Loyalist terrorist organisations shot civilians and refused access to petrol stations even for emergency vehicles (until the army showed up)
The assembly and sunningdale agreement collapsed.
The following year, a consultive assembly was set up to hash out an agreement for how to govern Northern Ireland. By this point, the UUP had become decidedly against power sharing, and a splinter faction, the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, was set up to support the idea. Elections to the assembly would spell it's doom, as 46 of the 78 seats, a majority, were taken by those committed to the United Ulster Unionist Council, an umbrella organization that opposed any form of power sharing.
This would mark the end of attempts to revive a devolved government in Northern Ireland for years.
All the while, the violence continued. Through the entire period, 50,000 were estimated to be direct casualties of the violence.
In 1981, 10 republican prisoners staged a hunger strike, during which Bobby Sands died. Over 100,000 attended his funeral. This convinced the IRA that a mass movement could be started, and as such, Sinn Fein decided to become more involved in politics.
An attempt was made in 1982. Nationalist parties, while participating in the election, refused to participate unless power sharing was on the table, while Unionist parties refused this. SF would win 5 seats in this assembly. As a result of the disagreements over power sharing, this assembly also collapsed.
It is after this that the more well known period of The Troubles began.
the IRA began receiving weapons from Libya, and money from the IRA organization in other countries like the United States.
1984 would see the Brighton Hotel bombing, where the IRA blew up a hotel housing guests for the Conservative Party conference, including Prime Minister Thatcher. The IRA had already killed Airey Neave, whom Thatcher considered a friend, in 1979.
1987 would see the Remembrance Day Bombing, where a time bomb set by the IRA killed 11 and injured 63.
Other, smaller events took place. For example, in 1990, the London Stock Exchange was bombed by the IRA, and in 1994, Heathrow airport was shelled with explosive motors. Given the critical nature of the locations attacked, I hope it is clear just how many "major bombings" I am skipping over as to focus on the background of the politics.
During this, Gerry Adams was determined to see a negotiated peace, and worked with John Hume and the British government to find a resolution. This would eventually produce results.
In 1996, consultative assembly was set up to propose rules for how to govern Northern Ireland. Unlike attempts in 1974 and 1982, this one was much more successful. This would spark off a negotiation process that eventually ended with what is now known as the Good Friday agreement.
The Good Friday Agreement, or GFA, was agreed to by not only the governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom, but 4 of the 5 major parties in Northern Ireland, with only the DUP under Ian Paisley saying "No."
The agreement stated that a majority of people in Northern Ireland wished for NI to remain part of the UK, but also that a substantial minority in NI, and a majority in Ireland, wanted a united Ireland. It accepted both views as legitimate, and as a result, saw Ireland accept that NI is a part of the UK. Ireland's constitution was also amended to reflect this. It was agreed that until both a majority in Ireland and Northern Ireland wanted union, that NI would remain part of the UK, and that when this happens, both governments will respect that decision.
The agreement had 3 strands; however strands 2 and 3 are not crucially relevant to this discussion. Strand 1 outlined the powers and responsibility of both the Assembly at Stormont, and the Executive (IE Cabinet). This will be looked at in greater depth when discussing the results of the first election under the system (in 1998)
Sinn Fein, the unofficial political wing of the IRA, and the Progressive Unionist Party, the unofficial political wing of the UVF, both agreed to disarm.
Since Ireland requires a referendum to change the constitution, a referendum on the GFA was held. On 56.3% turnout, 94.4% of voters agreed to the change, a majority of all registered voters.
Northern Ireland also had a referendum. Unlike 1973, when a referendum on NI joining Ireland or remaining in the UK saw only 58.9% turnout due to a boycott by the nationalist community, the referendum on the GFA saw high turnout.
With 81.1% turnout, 71.1% of voters voted yes to accept the agreement.
By in large, the GFA is similar to the Sunningdale agreement. While there are some significant differences, perhaps the only real change is the context. Sunningdale was proposed just after the collapse of the pre-existing Parliament, while the GFA came over 20 years later, while Northern Ireland had seen little to no government of it's own, and faced decades of violence.
Either way, this successful agreement lead to new elections for the assembly. The DUP, despite opposing the GFA, agreed to participate and sit in the new assembly, and so, in 1998, Northern Ireland went to the polls for it's most important election in decades; which, due to length of this post, will be looked at tomorrow.