| Mitchell Mertens
Joint Crisis Committee
Case High School
1968 wasn't the beginning of The Troubles in Ireland, but it was the beginning of the end. From the 1600's when English settlers were given land confiscated from the natives and Protestants started settling in the Northern Ireland, until the twentieth century there had grave periods of unrest and fighting. There was a religious clash between the Protestants and the Catholics with the Protestant majority discriminating against Catholics. By 1968 tensions had reached a peak over parliament trying to make things fair for both sides. Nationalists felt they were moving too slow and Unionists felt things were moving too fast. Fighting broke out between the two sides and in1969 the United Kingdom sent a battalion of soldiers to Northern Ireland. They were intended to restore law and order and retreat a few days later. When the violence didn't end, more troops were sent in.
There were three main actors in the conflict, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) which was mostly Catholics, wanted to leave the United Kingdom and form one united Ireland. The Ulster Defense Association (UDA) which was mostly Protestant, wanted to remain within the United Kingdom. The State forces comprised of the British Royal Army and the Irish Police department trying to keep peace and restore order. The United Kingdom saw itself as neutral in the conflicts and often tried to restore authority to local politicians.
There was some problems with the politicians actually being able to wield the authority they had been given. First of all they were often the targets of death threats and attacks by the IRA which made them fearful of angering someone. Secondly even if they gave directions to their troops it may not be carried out. The tension between the Protestants and the Catholics was so high that a Protestant Irish police officer ordered to stand down during a protest may have found it difficult to follow orders if the protestors were Catholic. The same might said of a Catholic officer being ordered to arrest to another Catholic.
In 1976 IRA prisoners of war initialed a protest with 5 basic demands. The demands were ignored and this escalated the violence on both sides. In 1980 7 prisoners participated in a hunger strike that lasted for 53 days. One protestor was lapsing in and out of a coma and the strike ended on December 18th when the British government appeared to concede to the prisoners' demands. On March 1, 1981 when it became clear that the government was not giving in, the hunger strike began again. Prisoners joined in one at a time in staggered intervals in an effort to last longer and increase pressure on Prime Minister Thatcher. During the strike an inmate by the name of Bobby Sands was elected to Parliament. This brought worldwide attention to the strikers. Bobby Sands died 66 days into the hunger strike but Prime Minister Thatcher would still not concede to the prisoners' demands. She called his death a suicide. Nine more prisoners died, and then the IRA made an attempt on her life.
Through out it all Prime Minister Thatcher refused to enter negotiations with the IRA stating, she would not negotiate with terrorists. When Margaret Thatcher stepped down as Prime Minister in 1990, peace talks began to move forward again. The British government began talking with the IRA in secret brokering a peace treaty. Both the new British and Irish Prime Ministers brokered a deal that would be signed on Good Friday 1998. They agreed that Ireland would give up their claim to Northern Ireland and that the people of Northern Ireland would make any future decisions. The people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland voted on whether to accept the treaty. In Northern Ireland 71% of those voting backed the treaty. In the Republic of Ireland 94% voted to accept it.