Britain’s Long War: British Strategy in the Northern Ireland Conflict 1969–98

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  1. Peter Neumann - Powerbase
  2. Professor Peter Neumann
  3. History of Northern Ireland
  4. The Historic, Economic, and Social Context

Assisted by extensive funding from some Irish Americans, the IRA procured weapons from international arms dealers and foreign countries, including Libya. It was estimated in the late s that the IRA had enough weapons in its arsenal to continue its campaign for at least another decade. The IRA became adept at raising money in Northern Ireland through extortion, racketeering, and other illegal activities, and it policed its own community through punishment beatings and mock trials. In April the participants in the talks approved the Good Friday Agreement Belfast Agreement , which linked a new power-sharing government in Northern Ireland with IRA decommissioning and other steps aimed at normalizing cross-community relations.

Significantly, republicans agreed that the province would remain a part of Britain for as long as a majority of the population so desired, thus undermining the logic of continued military action by the IRA. Although the IRA subsequently destroyed some of its weapons, it resisted decommissioning its entire armoury, hampering implementation of key parts of the peace agreement.

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On July 28, , however, the IRA announced that it had ended its armed campaign and instead would pursue only peaceful means to achieve its objectives. The IRA was back in the headlines in when an investigation into the murder of a former IRA leader revealed that at least some of the organizational structure of the Provisional IRA was still in place. Irish Republican Army. Article Media. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. See Article History.

Start Your Free Trial Today. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. Simultaneously, the Irish Republican Army IRA was organized to resist British administration and to secure recognition for the government of the Irish republic. The IRA launched widespread ambushes and attacks on….

Professor Peter Neumann

In the IRA declared a cease-fire, and for the next 18 months there was considerable optimism that a new period of political cooperation between north and south had been inaugurated. The cease-fire collapsed in , however, and the IRA resumed its bombing campaign. History at your fingertips. Sign up here to see what happened On This Day , every day in your inbox!

In January a power-sharing Executive was established which contained unionist, nationalist and cross-community party representatives. In , however, the conditions for a successful political settlement simply did not exist. The level of violence was still high in effect, a low level civil war was taking place , a bare majority of unionists at large were only grudgingly prepared to accept nationalists into the executive, and most were strongly opposed to any North-South institutions.

The failure of the Irish government to remove the territorial claim to Northern Ireland was also an important factor in undermining unionist confidence in Sunningdale although in the circumstances which prevailed in it is unlikely that even quick movement on this issue would have saved the deal. Nationalists, by now represented by the Social Democratic and Labour Party, which had grown out of a coalition of civil rights campaigners and labour orientated politicians in Belfast, were much more in favour of a deal generally but they saw strong North-South institutions as an integral part of this deal.

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The release of internees was also a central part of the package as far as nationalists were concerned, and there was only slow movement on this issue at a time when the high level of violence was continuing. The political instability of the Sunningdale deal was demonstrated by the outcome of the February Westminster election when anti-agreement unionists won 11 of the 12 Northern Ireland seats and took more than 50 per cent of the vote. The crisis brought about the resignation of unionist members from the Executive and the collapse of the Sunningdale initiative, though this outcome disguised the central flaw of the original strategy, the lack of sufficient unionist support.

In the following years a number of other political initiatives were attempted without success. In addition unionists were unwilling to accept a role for nationalists in any new Northern Ireland Executive. In , however, events changed dramatically when Provisional IRA and Irish National Liberation Army prisoners in the Maze prison or Long Kesh launched hunger strikes in protest at the removal of special category status and associated privileges which in many ways gave them the status of political prisoners.

From the mids the British government had attempted to end special category status and treat paramilitary prisoners in the same way as others. In response republican prisoners had gradually escalated their opposition. This ended in somewhat confused circumstances and, when it became clear to republican prisoners that their demands had not been met, a new hunger strike was launched in By the end of the protest ten republican prisoners, including the IRA leader in the Maze Bobby Sands, had died and much of what the prisoners sought had been conceded by the government.

This had at least two major outcomes.

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In the British government made another attempt to establish a Northern Ireland Assembly. Assembly committees would scrutinise the work of government departments but if cross community agreement could be reached then the individual committees could assume responsibility of the work for the appropriate department.

However, the entry of Sinn Fein into party politics pressurised the nationalist SDLP into boycotting the Assembly and the new institution never progressed beyond the level of scrutinising the work of local government departments. They were concerned about the impact Sinn Fein would have on politics, both in Northern Ireland and further afield, and particularly what would happen if Sinn Fein overtook the SDLP to become the largest nationalist party.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement gave the Irish government a formal right to be consulted on a wide range of issues relating to Northern Ireland. This was met on one hand by nationalist euphoria and on the other by unionist fury — the latter being demonstrated most visibly in two , strong rallies held to protest against the Agreement.

In broader terms, the Agreement represented an attempt to establish North-South relations and clearer British-Irish relations with regard to Northern Ireland before leading on to a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland itself.

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However, unionist opposition was so strong that, in the short-term at least, the Agreement essentially became another part of the problem, as its removal became a key unionist objective in subsequent negotiations. Somewhat ironically the Anglo-Irish Agreement encouraged some unionists to campaign for greater political, legal and administrative integration of Northern Ireland into Great Britain as the best means of safeguarding its constitutional position.

At this time there was little sign that mainstream republicans would settle for less than British withdrawal in the short or, at least medium, term. Their campaign was helped by the acquisition of an estimated tons of arms and explosives from Libya between and The Peace Process, From , however, republicans began to take party politics more seriously and in October of that year leading Sinn Fein member Danny Morrison made a speech in which he urged republicans to take power in Ireland using both the ballot box and the armalite.

Sinn Fein subsequently contested the NI Assembly elections, winning 10 per cent of the vote and five of the 78 seats. In the following years the party made steady, if un-dramatic, progress in electoral terms. They received In November of the same year he was elected President of Sinn Fein, highlighting a significant swing in the balance of power between Northern and Southern republicans.

Subsequently, in November , the party voted to end its policy of abstention from the Dail with those opposing the move forming a new group, Republican Sinn Fein. Hume and Adams recommenced their political discussions in April , and as the year progressed different political strands began to coalesce. A series of proposals were presented by Hume and Adams to the Irish government.

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  • These, combined with other ideas that had emerged during talks between parties in Northern Ireland and the British and Irish governments, formed the basis for the British-Irish document of December known as the Downing Street Declaration. One of the most significant elements of the Downing Street Declaration was that it added to elements from the Hume-Adams proposals the principle of consent: that is, that it was for the people of Ireland North and South separately to decide their political future.

    This was a significant step because it signalled that the mainstream republican leadership was entering into a process of negotiation. In support of this peace process, in August , the IRA announced a ceasefire.

    Even though this ceasefire was broken in February by the London Docklands bombing, the underlying rationale behind this attack was that republicans were trying to exert pressure to bring about negotiations on a more favourable basis to themselves, rather than to end the negotiation process. Almost inevitably, following a change in government in London, the IRA reinstated its ceasefire in July and negotiations began once again.

    Unionists were also slowly moving towards acceptance of a political agreement and in October loyalist paramilitaries had declared their own ceasefire based on the understanding that, as they saw it, the Union with Britain was safe. However, just as for nationalists and republicans, there were some developments which proved unpleasant for unionists and loyalists. However, on the ground, Orange parades seeking to pass through nationalist areas began to find themselves in conflict not just with residents but with the police and army.

    The most high profile of these disputed parade routes was at Drumcree near Portadown where a confrontation of one sort or another became an annual event for most of the late s.

    History of Northern Ireland

    This period also saw changes in significant personnel. A prolonged period of political negotiation subsequently led to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement being signed in April There was, however, a strong difference in how the Good Friday Agreement was perceived. While most nationalists saw the Agreement was progress towards a more fair and even-handed political dispensation, most unionists saw it as overwhelmingly benefitting their opponents. A referendum on the Agreement in May was supported by 71 per cent of those who voted in Northern Ireland — although worryingly Protestant support, at about 55 per cent, was significantly lower than the roughly 90 per cent of Catholics who voted in favour.

    The Historic, Economic, and Social Context

    When elections to the new Northern Ireland Assembly were held in June elections Unionists were almost evenly split between pro and anti-Agreement Members of the Assembly. Conflicting perceptions of the Agreement continued to dominate politics in the years that followed. As with many historical events no single factor was responsible for the Troubles.