The Troubles that broke out in the late 1960s had roots going back many decades. Northern Ireland has never been like a place at peace with itself. The society has for decades been sharply divided between Unionists/Protestants, who want Northern Ireland to remain a part of the union with Great Britain and Nationalists/Catholics, who not want this union. What is at the bottom of this crisis Northern Ireland has experienced? This thesis analyzes the causes of the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the end of the 1960s. The period from 1969-1994 has been named the Troubles after all the violence in the period. The problem of my thesis is whether the partition of Ireland in the 1920s can explain the outbreak of the Troubles.
Northern Ireland was created through demographic compromise. It was essentially the largest area that could be comfortably held with a majority in favour of the union with Britain, and the island was divided into Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland in the 1920s. The Unionist party’s leaders supposed that the new state could only continue to exist if the power were securely in loyal Protestant hands. This was obvious from the start of the new state. The first the Unionists did after been put in charge by Westminster, were to make sure that their power should be both undiluted and enduring. To secure this, they changed the voting system and the electoral boundaries (gerrymandering). Catholics and Nationalists were without a doubt considered as second-class citizens, and as essentially dangerous to the state. They were regarded as being less deserving of houses and jobs than their Protestant neighbours were. The representatives of Catholics and Nationalists were effectively banned from political power and influence. Roughly, the Catholics complaint fell into two main categories. Firstly, they claimed to be discriminated in the public service, in education, in housing, and in employment. They argued that Unionists had preserved their political dominance by the gerrymandering. Second, they complained of direct repression by the apparatus of the state, in particular by the use of the special powers against republicans.
In more than one way does Northern Ireland represent a deviant case. The UK’s policies in Northern Ireland have been quite different than the policies in other regions, colonies and other members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. As an area of conflict, Northern Ireland is deviant in western European connection. This is true for both duration and the amount of violence and in the modern world, armed conflicts occur mostly in poor or undemocratic or transitional countries. According to economic level, Northern Ireland has had to put up with a substantially lower level of wealth than the rest of the UK throughout the most of its existence and Northern Ireland is labeled “a region with economic problems.” However, Northern Ireland is not poor by international standards and Northern Ireland belongs to a part of the world classified as high-income countries. Northern Ireland is not a poor country companied to countries in Africa. Almost all countries in Africa belong to the group classified as low-income countries. Armed conflict is concentrated in the world’s poorest countries. But if not economic level can explain the conflict, maybe the regime type can? Northern Ireland is neither an undemocratic nor transitional “state” and for that reason the probability of outbreak of a civil war should be low. Undemocratic and transitional regimes are the two most conflict-prone regime types, but since Ireland got partitioned, the regime type in Northern Ireland has been democracy. With this background there should be little possibility for a civil war in Northern Ireland.
Relative deprivation is a well-known source to conflict if the gap between groups become large enough. Can relative deprivation explain the Troubles? There is evidence in the literature on Northern Ireland that Catholics tend to be poorer than Protestants, and there is evidence that the Catholics concluded that they were poorer because they were Catholic, and this was very much because they were Catholic in a Protestant-dominated province. From this comparison relative deprivation is likely to occur if the difference is large enough and is felt to be very unfair. But is this the explanation to the Troubles?
What can possibly explain the outbreak of what most of all reminded of a civil war in the United Kingdom? The outbreak of such a conflict in Northern Ireland should be very low according to the theories on armed conflict. The Troubles were not caused by Northern Ireland’s poor economy or regime type, and Northern is not a transitional political system either. The literature on Irish history, politics and social life point towards, if one is to seek only one explanation, the conclusion that the partition of Ireland did cause the Troubles in Northern Ireland that began in the late 1960s. The Unionists could not have got so much political power alone in the whole of Ireland as they got in Northern Ireland, so there would not have been Protestant privilege and discrimination against Catholics, which are the problems that lay behind the outbreak of the Troubles. That is to say, the Troubles is a direct consequence of the partition of Ireland and the politics practiced in Northern Ireland by the Protestants and Unionists.