- Eimear Flanagan
- BBC News Network
4 hours ago
On May 3, 1921, Ireland was formally divided and Northern Ireland was formally established. This day is the result of conflicts over the past 20 years. It originated from the conflict between the nationalists who supported the unity of Northern Ireland and Ireland and the coalitionists who supported the British rule in Northern Ireland.
This division divided the 32 counties on the island of Ireland into two parts. Six counties made up Northern Ireland, which is still part of the United Kingdom. The remaining 26 counties formed the “Free State of Ireland”, which eventually became the Republic of Ireland today.
Monday (May 3) is the first century anniversary of the partition. Although it has a long history, it still affects the development of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is one of the biggest concerns of the outside world during the Brexit negotiations. point.
Why does Ireland divide and conquer?
The British government has described divide and rule as a compromise for many years. This is because Irish nationalists have been fighting for self-government for many years, that is, demanding that the central government in London decentralize power and establish a parliament in Dublin.
But this also caused dissatisfaction from another faction. This camp called “associationism” differs from Irish nationalists in political attitudes and religious beliefs: most of them are Protestants, and they also support British rule in Northern Ireland. Hope to be governed by Dublin.
Most of these coalitionists live in Ulster in the northeastern part of the island of Ireland. They belong to the mainstream in this province. However, if you count the population of the entire island of Ireland, they are in the minority, because outside Ulster, most Of the population are Irish nationalists who believe in Catholicism.
When Britain participated in World War I in 1916, these nationalists took the opportunity to launch a brief violent uprising called the Easter Uprising.
The British authorities quickly quelled the uprising, but the London government later decided to execute many leaders of the uprising, which made the outside world sympathize with these uprisings. After the Irish War of Independence broke out in 1919, the outside world regarded the Easter Uprising as a factor in promoting this war of independence.
Britain finally decided to implement partition in Ireland in 1921, allowing nationalists who supported the secession of Britain to establish a parliament in Dublin, while at the same time allowing coalitionists who supported British rule to establish another parliament in Belfast.
How was the boundary between Northern Ireland and Ireland determined?
Historically, Ulster Province was composed of nine counties, but currently only six counties belong to Northern Ireland under British rule. This is because when deciding to divide and rule, the coalitionists feared that their mainstream position in the local area would be threatened. In order to protect their leadership, they had to abandon three of the counties in Ulster.
The three counties are Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan. Most of their population is Catholic, and most of the voters will vote for nationalism The political party in Ulster is different from other counties in Ulster.
The British government passed the Government of Ireland Act in 1920, which formally established the political structure of Northern Ireland and other parts of Ireland.
The “Irish Government Act” also established the borders of Northern Ireland: “Northern Ireland is composed of the following parliamentary counties: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh ), Londonderry and Tyrone, plus the following county-level cities: Belfast and Londonderry.”
This allowed Sir James Craig, who supported Unionism, to be elected as the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in 1921. The position is equivalent to the current Chief Minister of Northern Ireland.
This decree also provided for the establishment of a separate parliament in Dublin, but Irish nationalists who opposed British rule were not reconciled to this kind of autonomy allowed by Britain. In 1919, before this decree was passed, they had formed their own parliament to fight for full independence.
What do local people think of this border?
Nationalists do not like the border that separates Northern Ireland from Ireland, and they continue to promote the movement of reunification of Northern and Southern Ireland.
Even the coalitionists who supported British rule were not satisfied with divide and rule. Cormac Moore, a scholar who has studied Irish history for many years, said that Sir Faller, who was elected the first prime minister of Northern Ireland, promoted the transfer of only six counties in Ulster to Northern Ireland. This decision has angered many coalitionists. , Especially those supporters who live in the jurisdiction of the Dublin Parliament after the partition, because they are facing a very uncertain future.
He said that those coalitionists who were excluded from Northern Ireland described themselves as “abandoned” and eventually withdrew from the Ulster Provincial Assembly.
Are the boundaries established at the time permanent?
When the two sides delineated the border between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland, it was not clear how long this border would exist, nor whether it would change according to the wishes of one of them.
After the Irish War of Independence ended in 1921, Britain and Ireland signed a peace treaty, stipulating that Ireland will establish an “Irish Boundary Commission” after independence from the United Kingdom. The newly established Irish Free State and Northern Ireland will each send a representative and a three-person team with the chairman of the committee. , To review whether the border location is appropriate.
The chairman of this committee was Richard Feetham, appointed by the United Kingdom, but the Belfast government controlled by the United Kingdom refused to appoint a representative, and the British side appointed a well-known supporter of coalitionism as the representative of Northern Ireland.
Irish nationalists certainly would not accept any borders, but some leaders on the Irish side believed that they could obtain more land from Northern Ireland through this committee. But the historian Moore described the idea of the Irish side as “naive.”
Affected by the Irish Civil War, this committee could not start its work until 1924. These three years have had a profound impact on the border issue, because it not only allowed time for the existing border to take shape, but also allowed Northern Ireland to gradually no longer rely on the Irish Free State economically.
But Moore believes that the Irish Free State Government’s decision to set up customs checkpoints along this border is the biggest factor in shaping the border and making the border a reality. He explained that these checkpoints have a significant impact on ordinary people and “reinforced the borderline in many ways.”
What is the decision of the demarcation committee?
The members of this committee visited the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and talked with local residents. However, many historians believe that the wording of the peace agreement signed between the United Kingdom and Ireland is very vague, allowing the pro-British committee chairperson to interpret the committee’s meaning at will. Character.
Article 12 of this peace treaty stipulates that the demarcation committee “should take into account economic and geographical conditions as much as possible, and establish the border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland according to the wishes of the local residents.”
Political geographer Kieran Rankin said that nationalists who supported the unity of Ireland believed at the time that the meaning of “the will of local residents” in the provision should at least include the places where nationalist supporters live along the border and allow them to join Ireland. Free state.
But on the other side, the coalitionists who support British rule focused on the section of the article “as far as possible to give consideration to economic and geographical conditions”, believing that the committee would maintain the integrity of Northern Ireland as far as possible under this condition.
The final decision of the committee also reflects that it has taken the decision to a large extent from an economic point of view. An obvious example is Newry, County Down, which was a trading and transportation center at the time.
This city still belongs to Northern Ireland and is part of the United Kingdom. Rankin said that in fact, about three-quarters of the population at that time supported joining the Irish Free State, but the committee considered the city’s port income, coal transportation infrastructure, etc., that it was very important to the textile industry in Northern Ireland and should not be handed over to Ireland’s freedom. state.
Rankin described this as a “typical example of the committee overwhelming the will of local residents with economic and geographic factors.” In the end, the committee only recommended that some small villages on the border should be transferred to the Irish Free State, including Crossmaglen and Jonesborough. Some large cities where most residents want to join the Irish Free State, such as Strabane, are not on the list.
According to the committee’s recommendation, Northern Ireland will transfer about 730 square kilometers of land to the Irish Free State, while receiving about 202 square kilometers of land from the other side. The coalitionists who supported the British rule were satisfied with the result, but the Irish government was still dissatisfied. Eventually, the Irish, Northern Ireland, and British governments put aside the committee’s decision and the border remained in its original state.
At the same time, the committee’s report was kept confidential and was not made public until 1969.
What is the status of the border?
The position of the border has not changed, but the appearance of the border has undergone many changes. During the 1960s and 1980s, a series of conflicts occurred in Northern Ireland due to border issues. The British army set up many checkpoints on the border. These checkpoints were often targeted by the “Irish Republican Army”, an armed organization advocating the unity of Ireland.
With the advancement of the peace process in Northern Ireland, the facilities on the border began to be dismantled. First of all, the customs checkpoints on the border were removed in 1993 on the grounds of European economic integration, and the United Kingdom and Ireland signed the Belfast in 1998. Agreement (also known as “Good Friday Agreement”, Good Friday Agreement), the United Kingdom also began to dismantle military checkpoints on the border, and by 2006 the last military watchtower was demolished.
However, Brexit has once again brought the border issue to the focus of controversy. As the United Kingdom officially left the European Union on January 31 last year, this border has become a border between an EU member state and a non-EU member state in addition to the border of Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Part of the results of a poll commissioned by the BBC Northern Ireland show “Spotlight” in April
Brexit has prompted local voices to take the opportunity to hold a referendum on the border area in Northern Ireland, allowing locals to choose whether to join as a part of Northern Ireland, but whether to hold a referendum is determined by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Affairs, in other words, the decision is made. Power lies in the central government of London.
British Prime Minister Johnson said at the time that he could not imagine that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would consider holding a referendum of this kind, and that it would be “this way for a long, long time” in the future. The Prime Minister of Ireland (Micheal Martin) also opposed holding a referendum in the short term, thinking that holding a referendum at this stage of the peace process would cause division.
Opinion polls also found that most people do not support the removal of this border that has existed for a century.