Why have previous attempts at peace in Ireland failed? As people have said before, Ireland is ‘a politicians graveyard’. Why are there so many potential pitfalls hindering the progress of any future movement towards peace? What has or hasn’t worked in the past that might work now? What does each side want, and who do they expect to get it for them? So many questions need to be answered before any moves for peace can be made.
One of the main problems stopping further end to the troubles in Ireland is the fact that if one is happy with something, for example a treaty such as the Anglo Irish Agreement, you can be sure that another side will be very unhappy with it. It all stems down to the fact that neither side can be satisfied. Republicans want a United Ireland, and to sever all ties with Britain in Ulster. But most of the people living in Ulster are Loyalists and want to stay part of Britain, mainly because they’re scared of the treatment they’d get from a Catholic ruling.
So what must be done in future to make the peace work? Many attempts have been made at peace in Northern Ireland before, and most have either failed or only brought slight success. One major breakthrough was the Good Friday agreement, signed on the tenth of April 1998. Parties involved were the British Government, the Government of the Republic of Ireland, and political parties of Unionists, Nationalists, Republicans and Loyalists. The President of the United States at that time, Bill Clinton was also involved, providing political support.
Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party and another extremist party decided to boycott the talks, which determined the most major political shift from the British Government since Ireland split into two in 1921. The Belfast Agreement was to replace the Anglo Irish agreement, with better terms for both sides. In addition to all the trouble over power, Britain and Ireland addressed the growing conflict over national identities, and provided Ireland with the choice over their nationality. From now on they could choose whether they were, British, Irish or both.
It signified to all sides that negotiations WERE possible, and that agreements could be made. But sticking points are still there. The IRA is still as big a problem as ever, with Sinn Fein showing no signs of willingness to disarm. But there the Good Friday agreement showed that there were ways forward, and that parties such as Sinn Fein could negotiate. All the major political parties involved in the Irish struggle sat down and compromised. It showed a major breakthrough, it showed that Republicans could accept people in Ulster choosing to be British instead of Irish.
It showed that they could co-operate with other parties. Another major attempt at peace was the power-sharing executive. In 1972 Britain was in direct rule of Ulster. But in 1974, talks were held between the British Government, Politicians from the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist party decided that a new assembly should rule Ireland. Elections were held for a parliament in Ulster, with Catholics being treated as equals. The Unionists won, and a small minority of nationalists were invited to join the government. The Unionist Brian Faulkner and the Nationalist Gerry Fitt, as it was known, led the Power Sharing Executive.
It was hailed a success by Republicans, as they were finally given a say in the ruling of Ulster, but extreme loyalists opposed the move, fearing it would lead to a United Ireland. So in opposition to the Power Sharing they organised a general strike. It worked on the premise that the UDA intimidated all moderate loyalists into supporting the strike meaning more and more people getting involved which in turn meant greater disruption in Ulster. The effects of the general strike were great. The whole power-sharing executive was brought down and the extreme loyalists wishes granted. Direct rule was soon returned to Britain.
The effects of power sharing were both good and bad, with both sorts of points coming out of the venture. The good points showed that politically at least, Ulster was willing to co-operate with Eire. It showed that they were willing to rule the province alongside other parties with different beliefs. The bad points were that extreme Loyalists still opposed any move to Republican power. It also showed that the UDA would force even moderate loyalists who don’t mind Republicans being given a small share of power, into striking and rebelling against any agreements due to the fear of attacks from people supposedly on the same side.
It meant resistance to anything that the loyalists didn’t like was going to be very strong. Ireland is still a politically fraught background, with violence, bombings and murders still happening today, even after all the breakthroughs that have been made. The main problem still standing in the way of current talks is the IRA being unwilling to decommission their weapons. Many parties do not want anything to do with the IRA unless they get rid of their weapons.
But the main problem now is whereas the main IRA would probably agree now, splinter factions such as the Real IRA are still active in their bombing campaigns (a bomb recently went off in London, thankfully no one was around when it exploded. ) But there is more than decommissioning holding the peace talks back. The fact that neither the Loyalists nor the Republicans are both satisfied if a compromise is offered. It is my personal belief that in ten years time, Britain will pull out of Ireland altogether and let Eire sort it out. It is impossible to solve the conflict, as the parties involved are constantly in a catch 22 situation.
If Britain pulls out, the Loyalist contingent will be in uproar. If Britain never relinquish power, Eire would constantly be down the British Governments throats demanding power be handed over. The only way I believe that Ireland could move forwards is a very radical and almost impossible suggestion. I believe that Britain should pull out of Ulster, and if the Irish wanted direct rule, they should move to England. Even that would cause problems and frankly would never happen anyway. In short, I believe there can be no solution at this present time to the troubles in Ireland.