In the beginning there was violence: in the middle of the Irish War of Independence, Northern Ireland was born in 1921. The British province only left its bloody path decades later, with the peace treaty of 1998. But it crumbles. The Brexit poison continues to eat into the foundations.
Meanwhile they are also arguing about a stone. To mark the founding of Northern Ireland 100 years ago, pro-British Protestant parties wanted to erect a memorial in front of Parliament in Belfast. But the nationalist and Catholic party Sinn Féin vetoed the memorial because the monument was supposed to represent the contours of Northern Ireland – a provocation for those who want the Republic of Ireland to be reunified with the north.
It’s complicated in Northern Ireland. Like pretty much everything in the British province, which is now experiencing a comeback of violence as a result of Brexit and is close to political chaos. The past few weeks have once again revealed how fragile the laboriously worked peace in the former civil war area is. Enemy rhetoric, burning cars, attempted murder: it seems as if the region has been catapulted back into its gloomy past. Now is the 100th anniversary of the ominous emergence of Northern Ireland.
Violence was pervasive in Ireland from the time the province was first established. The War of Independence was raging when, in 1920, the “Government of Ireland Act” was passed in London for the fourth time. It leads to the division of the former colony on the doorstep of Britain: into the predominantly Protestant north and the Catholic south. The law came into force on May 3, 1921. As a result, Northern Ireland, unlike the south, remains part of the United Kingdom as a Protestant administrative unit where Catholics have been discriminated against for decades.
Discriminatory “Protestant State”
This discrimination is already well known from colonial times, now it is continued in a concentrated dimension. The systematic disadvantage of Catholics in the design of the constituencies becomes particularly evident: only six of the nine counties in the province of Ulster will become the newly created Northern Ireland. This ensures comfortable majorities for the Protestant and pro-British population groups. First Prime Minister James Craig raves about “a Protestant state for a Protestant people”.
Like Craig, all Northern Irish ministers from 1921 to 1968, with three exceptions, belonged to the Orange Order, a former secret society that campaigns for the preservation of the monarchy and Protestantism in the United Kingdom and is still influential in Ulster to this day. In the newly created Northern Ireland, people quickly talk about the “Orange State”. Anti-Catholic rhetoric is growing sharper, violence is increasing. On both sides.
Both camps, pro-Irish Republicans and pro-British unionists and loyalists, are developing a paramilitary culture. The most famous actors: IRA (Republicans) and UVF (Loyalists). The British military is also involved, for example at “Bloody Sunday”. They all contribute to the solidification of a civil war that is still belittled as “Troubles”. In order to pacify this “unrest”, Northern Ireland is ruled from London from 1972 onwards. However, the anger, discrimination, and killing remain.
After years of attacks with a total of more than 3,600 fatalities, the Irish and British governments and the Northern Irish parties signed the so-called Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998. The “Good Friday Agreement” not only makes the police and customs controls at the inner-Irish border invisible. It also creates a peace that was considered impossible: both ethnic camps share power for years. The long-term ability to compromise in a deeply divided society seems to have been proven.
Brexit poison gnaws at peace
But then comes the ominous decision from London to vote on Britain’s exit from the EU. Since the vote, according to sociologist Katy Hayward of Queen’s University Belfast, “the context of the peace process has changed completely – and in a bad way”. In the meantime there is “a feeling of insecurity, bitterness and betrayal” in both camps, she tells ntv.de. Peace is crumbling, the Brexit poison is eating its way deeper and deeper into the foundations.
The biggest point of contention in Brussels as in Belfast is the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol. This is intended to prevent a hard EU external border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but provides for a customs border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the Irish Sea. For the Unionists – the majority of whom voted for Brexit – this economic separation from the UK is a no-go, as they not only have to pay tariffs on British goods, but rather see it as the first step towards a unified Ireland. “There are fears of the future among the unionists,” said Hayward.
It seems that the Northern Irish conflicting parties are being reminded more and more of their differences than of what they have in common. Also at the top level: Northern Ireland will have no government from 2017 to 2020 because the pro-British DUP and Sinn Féin are bitterly quarreling. The political climate is poisoned.
The rhetoric often resembles old patterns. At the end of February, the Brexit spokesman for the DUP announced with a view to the additional protocol: “We will wage a guerrilla war against it until the opportunity for a great battle arises”. A little later, the paramilitary umbrella organization Loyalist Communities Council announced that it would no longer support the Good Friday Agreement. Although he insists on a “peaceful and democratic” protest, the old spirits have long since been reanimated.
Brandbrief an Boris Johnson
Around Easter, Northern Ireland experiences several days of violence, mostly initiated by young Protestants. Behind this, conflict researcher Hayward imagines both lockdown boredom and indoctrination by older men: “Young people are most susceptible to manipulation,” she says. And the paramilitary structures of yore are still active.
With street battles, the teenagers are protesting against the Brexit policy and the decision of the public prosecutor not to prosecute high-ranking Sinn Féin politicians for corona violations at a funeral. The deceased was an IRA commander in chief during the Troubles. Even after the days of chaos, the violence remains: At the end of April, a suspected UVF member barely survived an assassination attempt.
It fits into the chaotic picture that government and DUP boss Arlene Foster announced her resignation from both offices on Wednesday. The reason: The party base accuses it of complicity in the Northern Ireland Protocol and thus of betrayal of unionist values. Political pressure is increasing everywhere. According to Hayward, this is also due to the Brexit policy of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “The more Great Britain wants to deviate from the EU, the more the problems in Northern Ireland are exacerbated.” Accordingly, “more and more young people are criticizing the failure of political leadership in the peace process”.
After the Easter riots, four former ministers emphasize in one Brandbrief an Johnsonthat the peace process is not yet over – and appeal to the ambition of the Prime Minister: “Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have recognized this, as has John Major before them. They have each personally looked after the peace process, convened regular summits and were on a permanent basis Contact with all parties. ” They see an urgent need for action at Johnson in this regard. Conflict researcher Hayward is also concerned about the development: “There is a risk that the situation will worsen.” For the centenary, Northern Ireland looks politically dark.