By: Ken La Rive
I am writing this to try and put into perspective just what is going on in Ireland. It has a long history of unrest, and bloodshed. The first factor to consider when reading this, and it underlines everything: The problems there have little to do with religion so much as the struggle of those who have, with the those who have-not. So let’s do a bit of homework:
The island of Ireland has never been united under one ruler, except when it was part of the United Kingdom. People have claimed to be ‘King of Ireland’ throughout history, but their claim has always been disputed by at least some of the people. For a couple of hundred years, while Ireland was ruled by Britain, the Scots (mostly Protestant) inhabited large parts of Northern Ireland (Ulster), living uneasily with their Catholic Irish neighbors. Ireland went through a number of periods of rebellion against British rule, but this was always complicated by the fact that predominantly Protestant Ulster had no desire to break away from the UK.
When Ireland finally achieved independence from Britain, Eamonn De Valera, who became the first Taeshoch (Prime Minister), had to accept that Ulster would have to be split off from the rest of Ireland, and remain part of Britain. This was to avoid the prospect of a major civil war with Ulster, which would have resulted in a huge amount of bloodshed. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) never accepted this agreement and counted De Valera and his government as traitors to the Irish cause. The IRA fought against the new Irish government, and a civil war broke out, during which the IRA was defeated, and many IRA men were executed by the Irish state. (It’s ironic that the Irish government of De Valera killed more IRA than the British ever did).
Meanwhile, in Ulster, the Protestant majority entrenched their power within local government, and made it almost impossible for Catholics to obtain the right to vote, by maintaining arcane rules of registration. “One man – one vote” became a rallying cry in the Sixties for the Catholic minority as they fought for their rights. Around the same time, the IRA had a huge upsurge in recruitment, and commenced a campaign of terrorism, to unite Ireland. In response to mounting international pressure, the British government over-rode the objections of the Protestants, and introduced one man-one vote for all adult citizens. This caused an outbreak of violence, with Protestant mobs attacking Catholic areas. The British government sent in troops to maintain the peace, principally to protect the Catholic minority.
The IRA escalated their reign of terror, shooting people and setting off bombs in both Ulster and the British mainland. A Protestant terror group, the Ulster Defense Association (UDA) (with various minor offshoots), formed in retaliation against the IRA. There followed over twenty years of violence, with tit-for-tat killings blighting the lives of the people in this beautiful land. Here were two groups with opposing and incompatible aims. The IRA totally committed to a united Ireland, and the UDA totally committed to remaining part of the UK.
In desperation, the governments of Britain and Ireland, formulated a compromise. They agreed to put two referendums to the people of Ireland. In the North, the people would vote on the proposal that Ulster would remain part of the Britain until the majority voted otherwise. In return for giving up their arms, the IRA and the UDA would be allowed to take part in the government of Northern Ireland (each of these paramilitary groups has their political wing, with representatives in the local government of Ulster). There would be a cross-border body set up to cooperate in trade, power and gas supplies and other matters. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) would have the ‘Royal’ taken from its name, and be completely reorganized to ensure that there were a representative number of Catholics in it. (There are almost no Catholic members of the RUC – hardly surprising, because the IRA targets any Catholic policemen for execution as traitors to the cause). The convicted terrorists from both sides would be granted amnesty. In the South the people would vote on the proposal that Ireland repeal sections 2 and 3 of their constitution. These sections laid claim to sovereignty over Ulster and were a bone of contention with the Ulster Protestants.
The referendums were held North and South, with a huge majority in favor of what became known as the ‘Belfast Agreement’. There were various deadlines to be met before the agreement was made permanent, the principal ones being that the paramilitaries give up their weapons, and that the police force is reorganized. The power sharing government was set up in Ulster, with two of the former IRA leaders, Martin McGuiness, and Gerry Adams, being given seats on the inner cabinet of government. All of the convicted terrorists from both sides were released from prison.
A commission was set up to reorganize the police force, but the proposals that they came up with caused consternation among Protestants, because they contain no bars to ex-terrorists joining the police. One woman said on British television “just imagine how you would feel if your son was murdered, and you saw his murderer walking the streets in a police uniform”. These proposals have yet to be implemented because of these fears.
Using this as an excuse, the IRA has refused to give up even one single rusty revolver. In turn, the Protestant paramilitaries have held on to their weapons, and although some IRA weapons dumps in South Ireland have been inspected by an independent third party, shootings happen on an almost daily basis. A splinter group from the IRA recently set off a bomb in London.
The First Minister of the power sharing government, David Trimble, resigned in protest at the lack of IRA arms de-commissioning, and the Belfast Agreement has almost withered on the vine. The British government has made more concessions to the IRA in a desperate attempt to keep the agreement going, hoping that they will make a start to giving up their weapons, but so far – nothing. There are only weeks left before the deadline for full implementation of all parts of the Belfast Agreement. After that, within the terms of the agreement, the British government is empowered to re-introduce direct rule from London. Since this would almost certainly lead to a declaration of war from the IRA, the whole of Britain and Ireland waits anxiously for the men of violence to decide whether to accept democracy, or to unleash the dogs of war!
Incidentally, some Brits think Americans have a responsibility for some of the above problems. Ex-Irish movements, particularly around the Boston area, has been fund raising for years. People stuff dollar bills into collection tins, thinking that they are doing their bit for ‘good old Ireland’. In fact most of this money has gone into the coffers of the IRA, enabling them to deal with Gaddafi of Libya, and anyone else who will sell them Semtex or Kalashnikovs. Think twice before you give money to so-called Irish charities. Your dollar may buy a couple of bullets, which will be fired into both knees of anyone who dares to speak out against the IRA. This delightful custom is known as ‘kneecapping’.
One final thought – if you are going to have a bad road accident, or get shot, the safest place in the world to do this is in Belfast in Northern Ireland. The trauma surgeons there are the most skilled in the world – they’ve had loads of practice!
Many thanks to my Scottish ‘Round Table’ friends whose enlightening and lively discussions explained this point of view clearly, and of course letting me take notes.