Northern Ireland is a constituent country of the United Kingdom, and the only country of the UK that is not located on the island of Great Britain. Northern Ireland came into existence as a country of the United Kingdom following the partition of Ireland in 1921. Northern Ireland is also referred to as Ulster, the Irish province of which six of the nine counties are located in Northern Ireland, the remainder in the Republic of Ireland; however, this term carries certain political connotations.
History with Great Britain and partition
Rather than being created the UK accreted. In the same way as the Kingdoms of England and Scotland were united in the 18th century, the Kingdom of Ireland - which comprised the entire island of Ireland - was joined with the Kingdom of Great Britain on January 1, 1801, to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. England had been waging wars on and off on Ireland in an attempt to conquer it. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries protestants, mainly from Scotland, were lured to the northern counties surrounding Belfast (some of their descendants later immigrated to Appalachia and settled there. In the US these people are called Scots-Irish, in the UK they are known as Ulster Scots). Irish nationalists spent the next century or so continuing to struggle to free their land from British misrule. In 1916 they struck in what is now called the Easter Uprising. Although repressed, it elicited widespread support from the Irish populace. In the December 1918 general election, United Irish League (Irish nationalist) candidates won 80 of the 105 seats representing Ireland in Westminster. However in Ulster, Unionists, who feared that their rights would not be protected in a predominantly Catholic nation, won 22 of the 37 seats from the province. After a war of national liberation, London caved and agreed to recognize the independence of Dublin. In 1921, Ireland was partitioned into Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, both of which were constituent countries of the United Kingdom, with the former a figleaf to get on with it. Apart from the December of 1921, Northern Ireland has since remained a member of the UK.
Christianity is by far the most common religion in Northern Ireland, with the number of non-Catholic denominations together being greater than Catholicism. The UK Census of 2001 puts the number of Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland at 40.2%, with the number of non-Roman Catholic Christians at 45.6%. The same source puts the number of other or non-religious people at 3% of the population.
The politics of Northern Ireland can be generally divided between two main ideologies - unionists, who want to retain membership within the United Kingdom, mostly considering themselves British, and nationalists, who wish to secede from the Union and unite with the Republic of Ireland (or, in the case of the very doctrinaire ones, reject the legitimacy of that state in favor of the Irish Republic proclaimed by the 1916 rebels), mostly considering themselves Irish. The religious makeup of these groups is mostly Christian, unionists being largely Protestant and nationalists largely Roman Catholic. Due to this division, it follows that the main parties of Northern Ireland represent one of these two ideological groups; the two main unionist parties are the Democratic Unionist Party and the Ulster Unionist Party, the former currently the largest party in the Northern Ireland assembly and the fourth largest party in the House of Commons. Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic and Labour Party are the two nationalist parties, the former currently the larger while the SDLP enjoyed their popularity throughout the Troubles.
An idea of the divide between nationalists and unionists can be gathered from a speech made by Ulster Unionist Party leader Tom Elliot after winning a seat in the by-election for Fermanagh-South Tyrone. Referring to spectators waving Irish Tricolours - a sign of Irish nationalism in Northern Ireland;
“”I see many people here with flags today, some of them with flags of a foreign nation... I would expect nothing better from the scum of Sinn Féin than to come out like this... their counterparts in the IRA have murdered our citizens, have murdered the citizens of this province for years, for years and decades.
|—Tom Elliot, 7th May 2011|
See main article: The Troubles
"The Troubles" refers to a period of conflict between nationalist and loyalist groups in Northern Ireland in the latter half of the 20th century. The issues of both politics and religion concern this particular history of Northern Ireland; the main issues surrounding the Troubles being the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, and the discrimination of largely Catholic nationalists, who wanted a united Ireland separate from the United Kingdom, being discriminated against by the largely Protestant (and otherwise non-Catholic) loyalists, who wanted Northern Ireland to remain a member country of the UK.
Paramilitary activity since the end of The Troubles
Since the Provisional IRA ceasefire of 1998 a number of Nationalist splinter groups have formed, possibily in homage to the Judean People's Front / People's Front of Judea sketch in Monty Python's Life of Brian, but more likely simply because they enjoy murdering people and didn't want to stop. The amusing names of these new terrorist groups include 'The Real IRA', 'The Continuity IRA', 'The 32 County Sovereignty Committtee' and, most wittily of all, simply just 'The IRA'. In news media and within political circles these brave freedom fighters are usually referred to as 'dissident Republicans', and their identity is said to be unknown to the authorities. In reality however, they are mostly run by ex-Provisional IRA or INLA splitters (i.e. former colleagues of the current Sinn Féin), directing a new generation of youngsters. Most of their activity consists of shooting police officers, planting bombs that are discovered and diffused by the PSNI, beating up or shooting drug dealers and protection racketeering. They function more like an organised crime syndicate than a terrorist group these days and are to Northern Ireland what the Mafia were to New York and Chicago during the Prohibition era. Despite this they have a rather firm stance against drugs, and if anyone is accused of dealing drugs they are usually issued a warning. If this warning is not heeded they are given a "punishment beating" to dissuade them from continuing. They are ultimately shot in the elbows or knees (and sometimes murdered) if that doesn't work. The amount of evidence needed to determine whether or not to act is minimal and they usually just resort to violence unless the person in question is related to a member of another organisation or related to one. Though they aren't all like this, some of them are involved in the drug trade and they use it to fund their "cause."
- ↑ Apart from December 1922, when the rest of the island of Ireland established the Irish Free State, which included Northern Ireland until Northern Ireland opted out.
- ↑ http://www.nisranew.nisra.gov.uk/census/Excel/small_sett/ks07a_com_st.xls
- ↑ Tom Elliot attacks 'Sinn Féin scum' BBC News - 7th May 2011