Bmc chapter4(b) conflict in multi-ethnic societies_northern_ireland
Case Study 2: Northern Ireland
By the end of the lesson, students should be able to:
Understand the background to the conflict in Northern
Appreciate the causes of tension between Catholics &
Appreciate the consequences for this conflict for Northern
Before the 12th Century, Northern Ireland and the
Republic of Ireland were one country called Ireland.
In the 12th Century – England conquered Ireland.
English allowed Scottish and English landowners to
take over large tracts of land formerly owned by Irish
Most of these settlers were Protestants and they
settled in the northern areas of Ireland (Northern
As a result, Northern Ireland had more Protestants.
The English Kings were Protestants.
This meant that Protestants were able to gain complete
control over Ireland through a series of laws that
limited their freedom and rights.
In 1800 – The whole of Ireland was brought under the
United Kingdom – Irish in southern Ireland, were
unhappy with British rule and violently protested –
British government eventually lost control of the
In 1921 - Ireland divided into two separate parts based on
the majority religion of each part.
Eventually, the South, known as the Irish Free State
became an independent country with a largely Catholic
Both Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State had their
own parliaments but continued to recognize the English
monarchy and the laws regarding foreign affairs.
In 1949 – Irish Free State cut ties with the United Kingdom
and renamed itself the Republic of Ireland
Before 1972, Northern Ireland had its own parliament
at Stormont, near Belfast.
Since 1972 – It has been ruled directly by the British
Parliament in London.
Though a part of the UK, Northern Ireland takes
charge of its own commerce, health and
education, while Britain handles foreign affairs and
defence matters. The majority of the ministers in the
Northern Ireland government are Protestants.
Differences in political beliefs between Catholics & Protestants
contributed to the tension and conflict in Northern Ireland
Most Protestants see themselves as British and wish the country to
remain as part of the UK – don’t want union with ROI – fear that
Catholics would not be tolerant of Protestant beliefs.
Catholics - see themselves as Irish and want to be reunited with
Republic of Ireland. Catholics also resent the history of English
conquest - harsh treatment during Home Rule.
This loyalty to different countries make the Protestants and
Catholics intolerant of each other.
Unequal allocation of housing
The provision of public housing by N.I city councils was carried out
unfairly. City councils consisted largely of Protestants decided on
how to allocate the government’s public housing budget.
Before 1992 – Catholics found the allocation to be unfair. Very
often, large Catholic families in need of housing had a long wait. In
some towns, more housing - allocated for Protestants than the
Catholics frustrated by this. Their living conditions were poor to
begin with and they had no access to new housing – this raised
tensions between the two groups which cultivated mistrust, hatred
and eventually led to conflict
Unequal employment opportunities
Another cause of conflict between Protestants & Catholics in Northern
Ireland is the competition for jobs.
It is generally more difficult for Catholics in N.I to find jobs, especially
the more stable government jobs.
The Catholics feel that although they may be as academically qualified
as the Protestants they do not have the same opportunities in getting
the jobs that they want.
This raises tensions & mistrust bet. Catholics & Protestants as
Catholics are not able to enjoy a higher standard of living because they
do not have access to the same jobs as Protestants. Protestants are
unwilling accept equal employment terms as they fear competition
Lack of voting rights
Before 1969 – voting rights was an issue bet. Catholics &
Protestants. Then, only those who owned houses &
businesses were entitled to vote in the local elections.
Each household = two votes and companies more votes
depending on their size. Protestant owned most of the
companies and owned their houses. Poorer Catholics
did not own businesses and some were tenants (did not
own their own homes)
Catholics were most unhappy that voting districts were
often drawn up to include a larger proportion of
Protestants – Catholic protested against the voting
Lack of Voting Rights – Con’td
Since 1969 – everyone is entitled to one vote as long as
he/she is a British citizen above 18 years of age. He/she
has to be born in N.I or has to have lived in the U.K for
seven (7) years.
Voting districts were also re-drawn to ensure fairness.
Despite the changes after 1969 – there still remains quite
a bit of mistrust of Protestants by Catholics. Many
Catholics are fearful that as long as their remains a cloze
connection between the U.K government and the
Protestants in N.I – their rights may not be always
Lack of opportunities for social interaction
Separate education system & Residential areas – In N.I, there are
fully funded public schools that cater for Protestants only, and
private schools that cater to Catholics only – these private schools
are only partly funded by the government.
In public schools – Protestant children were taught British history
and played British games such as rugby, hockey and cricket.
On the other hand, Catholic children learnt Irish history and took
up Irish games such as hurling, and were taught the Irish language
Lack of opportunities for social interaction
Separate residential areas – Since the 17th Century, Catholics and
Protestants have been living in separate residential areas.
The 1991 census showed that in Belfast, 63% of the population lived in
areas that were either mainly Catholic or mainly Protestant.
By 2001, this had risen to 66% - reducing the opportunity for social
Without any means of interacting with each other, each group began to
developed very fixed notions and misconceptions of the other group.
This fuelled mistrust and in some cases hatred between them. If a more
concerted effort had been encouraged to allow Protestants and
Catholics to mingle with each other informally – the reasons for
tensions between them may very well have been reduced.
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was formed in
February 1967. Formed by a group of well educated middle class
…to bring political changes within Northern Ireland
…end discrimination against Catholics
Adopted non-violent methods to protest against discrimination
against Catholics – people involved included individuals from trade
unions and political parties
Catholic & Protestant Students from N.I universities
NICRA organized peaceful marches to raise awareness of the
discrimination faced by Catholics – during these marches violence
In August 1969 – British government sent in troops to
help keep order.
The troops were initially welcomed by the Catholics as
protectors as they were seen as a neutral
force…however good relations did not last long.
Aug 1971 – Northern Ireland government introduced
the “Internment Laws” – gave British Army the power
Arrest, interrogate & detain without trial anyone
suspected of being involved in any acts of to weaken the
Catholics lost faith in the British Army when the army
began conducting searches of their homes and arresting
those suspected of terrorist activities.
15,000 people participated in an illegal, peaceful civil rights
march in the Catholic dominated area of Londonderry.
The march was organized by NICRA and was both a protest
against the internment laws and the ban on the right to
Tensions before and during the march were rising – British
Army & government - unsure if there were violent groups
who might make use of the march to launch attacks against
soldiers and government officials –
Nervous British troops suspected that some people in
the march were carrying weapons and were about to
use them – soldiers fired into the crowd leaving 13
civilians dead and many more injured
Led to a great outburst of anger – turned to more
radical and violent means of protest.
After Bloody Sunday – more violence erupted bet.
Catholics and Protestants. Catholic homes were petrol-
bombed by Protestant mobs –
Shops and pubs which belonged to Catholics were also
burnt and bombed – Although the local police witnessed
this violence – they did not do anything to stop it.
In addition, British Army continued to search and detain
Catholics and in the process injured many Catholics and
destroyed their property.
Feeling desperate – Catholics turned to the Irish Republic Army (IRA)
The IRA attacked the British soldiers and bombed businesses and
shops belonging to the Protestants
At first, the Catholics were “looked after” by the IRA as they provided
protection from Protestant mobs – however as the IRA began to employ
increasingly violent measures they began to target Catholics who were
working for a peaceful resolution of the conflict as well as those
working with the British Army – this created fear among the Catholics
towards the IRA
Between 1969 to 1993 – more than 3500 people were killed in the
conflict in the country
The IRA was responsible for two-thirds of the deaths
Within a few months after the British Army arrived –
the IRA split into two factions – the official IRA and
the Provisional IRA – PIRA was more radical and was
more willing to use terrorist tactics to force the British
to withdraw completely from N.I
Social Segregation (Negative)
People in N.I have grown up in an atmosphere of tension
– Protestants and Catholics have also been segregated
socially in the way they live, work and play.
It is sometimes possible for young people in N.I to grow
up not having met someone from the other community.
This has led to the lack of understanding between the
Declining economy (Negative)
The economy of Northern Ireland has been affected by the
conflict. It has also discouraged domestic and foreign
investments in the country.
Foreign owned factories and businesses closed down when
the violence increased operating costs in Northern Ireland.
The constant threat of bombings and high costs of security
drove away large manufacturers in great numbers.
Political Reform (Positive)
The civil rights marches of the 1960s and 70s – put pressure
on the N.I government to pass anti-discrimination laws and
measures in the country.
Following further civil rights marches and demonstrations
and pressure from Britain – the Northern Ireland government
announced sweeping reforms of local government in N.I
Civil rights campaigns of 1968 successfully forced through
some reforms – after two marches the N.I government agreed
to abolish the unfair voting system and promised to review
the schemes for allocating government-owned houses.
Lessons Learnt for Singapore:
Conflict between people of different religions and races
destroys lives, homes and property – everyone suffers
In a country with people of different races and religions there
is a need to be sensitive to one another’s needs. Failure to
understand and respect this could result in the destruction of
It weakens the development of the country and provides an
excuse for powerful neighbours to interfere in the affairs of
the divided country.