|Corrymeela, Ballycastle, Northern Ireland|
Northern Ireland (N.I.) is a part of the United Kingdom located on the northern eastern section of the island of Ireland. Since partition in 1921, N.I. has been comprised of six northern counties (Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone) and the Republic of Ireland of twenty-six.
Long story short, the Catholic population was treated as second class citizens for about 300 or so years. They rebelled quite frequently until partition. After partition, creating Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (where my family is from) they were still treated like second class citizens in N.I.
Then in the 1960s, Catholics began to mobilize for greater civil rights (pretty much at the same time that civil rights movements were taking place in many other countries of the world. Demands for civil rights were repressed by the government leading to the outbreak of what it referred to as the Troubles.
The Troubles began in the late 1960s with no agreement on an exact start date. For the next forty years, suffered an intense period of violence conflict involving a variety of Protestant Unionist forces (those seeking to remain part of the UK) including Loyalist paramilitaries, Irish security forces, and British security forces
versus Republican and Catholic paramilitary groups such as the Provision Irish Republican Army. We would then consider this conflict more of an ethno-sectarian conflict. As a protestant bishop here told us,
The troubles result from unresolved tensions between two competing communities, from a time when politics and religion were inseparably linked.For the Protestant Unionists and Loyalists, they believed that they had a had a constitutional right to the land (the fact that the land had been stolen from the Catholics and distributed to Protestant plantation owners by the British centuries earlier was not significant). They also supported preserving the Union with Britain and resisting the perceived threat of a United Ireland (the six counties of the north joining with the twenty-six of the Republic of Ireland) under which they would be a distinct minority. In a similar vein, they fought against the Catholics out of fear that a Catholic government would be subservient to the Pope. They warned that "Home Rule is Rome Rule."
However, two former Loyalists paramilitaries that we spoke to last week (one from the UDA and one from the UVF) explained their joining the Loyalist cause out of a desire to defend their local community and in response to a murdered uncle. Instead of joining the police or military, they joined the paramilitaries because they believed that the military and police were too handicapped by the rule of law.
I told other on my group that in Latin America many would have referred to the two men as death squad members. This was especially the case for "Walter" because he only spoke about killing. A member of the police or military would slip him a name or photo and he would "stiff" him. At at times, they would just go out and kill a Catholic, any Catholic, in response to the murder of a Protestant police officer or soldier. Not everyone in my group agreed with this characterization, probably because most of them enjoyed the stories and laughed along with them.
On the Catholic side, they were fighting because they believed that the Border separating N.I. and Ireland was undemocratic. A majority of Catholics wanted a United Ireland. Some wanted (or might have settled for) a Northern Ireland independent of both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Finally, others simply demanded equality, justice, and human rights (following unfair practices which bolstered Protestant Power 1920-1970), perhaps even remaining part of the UK.