The conflict in Northern Ireland is most easily understood as being between two main groups (Dixon 2001: 2).First, the Unionists, who identify themselves as belonging to the Protestant faith, and comprise approximately sixty percent of Northern Ireland’s population see themselves as British and vote for the Ulster Unionist Party and Democratic Unionist Party (Dixon 2001: 2, Mitchell 2006: 31).They also wish for Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom (Dixon 2001: 2).
However, the historical roots of the Northern Ireland crisis run much deeper.
This essay will briefly look at the rich historical significance to the Northern Ireland Crisis before evaluating the religious and subsequent political aspects on which many scholars claim to be the main causes of the “Troubles.” The terms, Catholic and Nationalist, and Protestant and Unionist, are interchangeable.
The Nationalists are overwhelmingly Catholic and view themselves as being Irish, and wish to be part of a united Ireland (Dixon 2001: 2).
The political allegiance of the Nationalists lie with the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Fein, which is the political wing of the IRA (Mitchell 2006: 32).
This state of affairs was compounded by the fact that Unionists were also a minority on the island of Ireland and, therefore, feared that any small-scale political or institutional change could increase the chances of a radical reconfiguration of the status quo (Mc Grattan 2012: 3).
The outbreak of the Second World War widened these divisions, as the government remained neutral while Stormont participated in the Allied campaign (Mc Grattan 2010: 3-4).
While the Nationalists can point to their Celtic ‘forefathers’, the Unionists have claimed that their ancestors, the Cruthin, were in what is now claimed as being Northern Ireland long before the Celts (Dixon 2001: 2).
Nationalists usually date the woes of Ireland to the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169 and England’s domination of Ireland ever since (Dixon 2001: 2).
In most accounts, the inability of the Northern Ireland government to reform itself led to increased frustration among the Catholic population, which later spilled over into violence (Farrington 2008: 514).
The older and deeper roots of the conflict in what was to become Northern Ireland lie in the seventeenth-century plantation of the northern province of Ulster (Hennessey 1997: 1).