That the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 brought peace to Northern Ireland is not something many observers of the situation there predicted would be possible. Ever since the Norman invasion of Ireland in the late-12th Century, much if not all of that island nation essentially existed as an English colony,...
That the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 brought peace to Northern Ireland is not something many observers of the situation there predicted would be possible. Ever since the Norman invasion of Ireland in the late-12th Century, much if not all of that island nation essentially existed as an English colony, with many bloody episodes attesting to the enduring drive among many of the Irish to be free of that situation. Unfortunately, as has happened in much of the world over many centuries, prolonged occupation took on the character of changed demographics for the occupied entity in question. An overwhelmingly Catholic people, the forced transformation of the northern part of the island into a Protestant majority enclave loyal to the British Crown institutionalized a division of the nation that seemed a permanent fixture of the world community.
Because generations of Protestants grew up in Northern Ireland identifying with England rather than the majority Catholic Republic of Ireland, pro-British sentiments were not about to disappear, and the Unionists remained a powerful force in the region, supported by British troops.
Whether responsibility for the long duration of the Troubles can legitimately be laid at the door of the Unionists, while the Irish Republican Army planted bombs and assassinated Protestant and British officials and dignitaries is a matter of perspective. For many, sympathy for the cause of Irish nationalism did not endorse the use of terrorism in a years-long struggle to oust the British. For many others, however, including among the Irish-Catholic community in the United States, the IRA’s tactics, while regrettable, were justified by the legitimate aspirations of the Irish people to eliminate the final vestiges of English occupation and reunify the Irish nation.
Unionist efforts, executed primarily by the British military and intelligence establishments but also by Unionist militants, at defeating the IRA and keeping Northern Ireland a part of Great Britain can be seen as the reason for the long duration of the conflict. To the extent Protestant communities there are a legacy of policies and actions undertaken hundreds of years ago, however, the notion that they and they alone bear responsibility is highly questionable.