By DAN DELLENBACH
British and Irish leaders are currently negotiating for peace in Northern Ireland. However, they are working against centuries of ethnic and political conflict.
Tuesday, the British parliament discussed which political parties will take part in peace negotiations. Currently, Britain is not officially allowing Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army’s political arm, to join in the talks.
Britain is demanding the IRA’s disarmament before Sinn Fein can take part.
Since the 12th century, British and Irish citizens and politicians have argued about how Ireland should be ruled.
The conflict began when British King Henry II laid claim to the Irish island. A few centuries later religious issues became involved.
Historically, the Irish had strong ties with the Catholic Church, whereas the English were primarily Protestant. Since that time, the conflict has been defined in terms of the Irish Catholics vs. the Protestant British and the pro-British Irish Protestants.
Clarke Rice, a student at the University of Ulster in Coleraine, from Dungannon, Ireland, said there is often no defining line between politics and religion.
“I am ‘tribally’ a Protestant,” Rice said. “In terms of religion, I am a born-again Christian, which has members from both ‘tribes’.”
Augustin McEvoy, who directs research for the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Switzerland, is originally from Larne, Ireland. McEvoy said “the conflict is not religious in the strict sense — nobody disputes the role of the Pope or salvation by faith alone.”
The issue of “salvation by faith alone” has been a historical division between Catholic and Protestant theologians.
After King Henry II’s declaration, the British and Scottish systematically conquered and colonized parts of Northern Ireland, eventually bringing the whole of Ireland under British rule in 1601. A strong Irish resistance to British and Protestant presence in the Irish Republic has existed ever since.
During the early 20th century, Irish nationalists had used political channels, including Irish sympathizers in the United States and Britain, to gain independence from the British crown. Northern Ireland, however, had become predominantly Protestant and chose to remain with England.
Today, conflicting factions debate the fate of Northern Ireland. Within Northern Ireland, some small towns are entirely Protestant or entirely Catholic, whereas larger cities are segregated. Catholics remain the numerical minority and are for the most part shut out of Northern Irish political positions.
Strong Irish Catholics want Northern Ireland (also called Ulster by residents) to reunify with the Irish Republic, whereas most Protestant factions enjoy their tie with England.
Some political parties want Northern Ireland to be independent of Britain and the Irish Republic.
According to the Ulster Nation home page, “Ulster Nation is the voice of the Third Way in Ulster. We campaign for independence from both Great Britain and Eire (Ireland).”
David Kerr, the editor of the page, said in a press conference, “Ulster has been different from the rest of the island of Ireland. In particular it has had stronger links with Scotland than with the south.”
Regarding Northern Ireland’s division from the south, Kerr said, “Partition in 1921 reflected rather than engendered significant differences between the two nations in the island.” He said most Ulster citizens supported ties with Britain to protect their self-determination, yet Britain is “at best ambivalent about its relationship with its troubled province.”
Northern Ireland has a history of violent confrontation. Conflict of opinion has turned into armed uprisings, terrorist attacks and retaliation.
The violence peaks every year in July, when pro-British loyalists parade through the streets with marching bands and declarations of “God Save the Queen.” Catholics consider this a mockery of their dignity.
Mary Colbert, a social studies teacher in Eugene, Ore., contrasts this situation with that of American Indians. She said sarcastically, “I think we should model the Northern Ireland Protestant marches in America. Let’s celebrate our victories over the Indians by wearing funny hats and marching through their reservations.”
On July 12, the Protestants, particularly those of the Orange Order, celebrated the victory of King William of Orange over the Catholic King James II in the Battle of the Boyne, a city 60 miles from Belfast. For the last two years, this day was marked by particularly terrible violence from both Catholics and Protestants, including random shootings, car bombs and riots.
This year for the first time in history, the Orange Order chose not to march through strong Catholic areas.
The Irish Times reported “Saturday night was one of the quietest Twelfth nights in many years.”
According to the Times, Mo Mowlam, secretary of Northern Ireland praised the Orange Order for rerouting or canceling four of its most contentious parades Saturday and urged the IRA to also “move forward” with non-violence.
Strong Loyalists criticized the Orange Order for rerouting the parades, saying celebration of unification should not be influenced by threats of violence.
“They believe if they can march through a community with their drums, they’re showing the Catholics they still own the north,” said Claudia Harris, a professor in BYU’s English Department.
According to Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, the IRA has launched terrorist attacks against “British targets in Northern Ireland, Britain and elsewhere” during the last 30 years.”
In 1994, the IRA called a cease-fire to negotiate a peace settlement. However, the IRA called off the cease-fire.
“In a word, (the reason for the cease-fire was) John Major (England’s former prime minister),” Harris said. “The Brits kept upping the ante.”
Britain has demanded the IRA give up its weapons before it can take part in negotiations.
Apparently the IRA are unwilling to give them up.
As to how peace can be negotiated, John Coakley, a professor in Dublin University’s Department of Politics said, “(It’s) very difficult, and essentially political … most options depend on ‘victory’ for one side or the other, whether complete or partial.”
Every political party in Ireland has a different solution for peace. The Natural Law Party, offers a unique solution, saying “…transformation could be achieved by a coherence-creating group of people practicing Transcendental Meditation and Yogic Flying on a daily basis at one location in Northern Ireland.”
At this point, war-stricken families would be willing to try just about anything.
Clarke Rice says, “This is a beautiful country. Alas, we have some problems during the summer, but for 50 weeks of the year you will not find a warmer welcome anywhere on earth … don’t believe everything CNN tells you.”
“Pray for peace in our land,” Rice said.