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The cause of the conflict in Northern Ireland or the ‘Troubles’ was to a certain extent an ethno-nationalist conflict. The conflict began during a campaign to end discrimination against the Catholic/nationalist minority by the Protestant/Unionist majority government and police Force. The Northern Ireland conflict between the Catholics and Protestants has been ongoing for 800 years. There are many causes of the conflict in Northern Ireland throughout history, in this essay the extent to which ethno-nationalism was a cause of the conflict will be discussed. Many explanations of the conflict have been discussed over the years, for example: religion, history, the colonial background, Northern Ireland as a settler society and finally ethnicity.
One of the main causes of the Northern Ireland conflict is nationalism and ethno-national. The conflict is nationalistic and ethno-national in that one group, the Catholics want Northern Ireland to split away from the United Kingdom and to unite with the Republic of Ireland. On the other hand, another group, the Protestants, desire Northern Ireland to be part of the United Kingdom. The Catholics see the Protestants as an ‘alien intrusion ‘they resent protestant power in what was once they claim to be Catholic territory.
How it works
Nationalism is defined as an “ideological movement for the attainment and maintenance of autonomy, unity and identity on behalf of a population some of those who deem themselves to constitute an actual or potential nation (Smith, 1996).Ethno-Nationalist conflicts are “social-psychological, rooted in historically established collective identities and motivated by the desire to be governed by ones co-nationals, both for security and for collective freedom(Mcgarry and O’Leary,1995).National identity was at the core of the Northern Ireland conflict, in the form of two ethnic markers. Which was Catholics and Protestants, these two ethnic categories form their basis from religion but this does not mean that the conflict is strictly religious. Ethno-nationalism emphasizes the “non-rational, emotional, even subconscious nature of the attachment to a cause (Duffy, 1995).
When ethnicity is used as an explanation for the cause of the Northern Ireland conflict it conceptualizes religion as a “sign of identity in a situation of inter-group conflict. (Clayton, 1998). It is in the roots of inter-group conflict between Catholics and Protestants that disagreement arises. Weber defines ethnic groups as ‘those human groups that entertain a subjective belief in their common descent because of similarities of physical type or customs or both or because of memories of colonization and migration’ (Sinnott and Davis, 1981).This definition is accurate in terms of the cause of the Northern Ireland conflict. Although ethno-nationalism is one of the main causes of the conflict in Northern Ireland, it is not the only cause, the conflict in Northern Ireland was caused by a combination of factors such as religion, history, the colonial background, economic and political decisions. Nationalism can also be defined as an “extensive aggregation of individuals closely associated with each other by common descent, language or history, as to form a distinctive race of people (Slack and Doyon, 2001). A major problem is that Northern Ireland is constitutionally a part of the United Kingdom but geographically is on the island of Ireland. Irish national identity, political nationalism and Catholicism are the defining characteristics of the minority community in Northern Ireland.
This chapter hopes to prove that ethno-nationalism was a cause of the conflict in Northern Ireland to a great extent. The terms nationalists and nationalism invariably denote Catholics and Catholicism.Ethno-nationalism was a cause of the conflict to a certain extent. Ethnic-nationalism is a cause of many of the conflicts around the world today, as it targets minorities. In this case the minority is the Catholics. Journalists dismissed the ‘Troubles ‘as a return of old Irish antagonisms; Catholics against Protestants, nationalists against unionists, Irish against British. From a narrow point of view, this is somewhat true, but it goes a lot deeper than this. The idea that the past influences the present is important in understanding the causes of the conflict, with ancient and deeply embedded ethnic antagonisms. In this paragraph I will prove with evidence that ethno-nationalism was to a certain extent a cause of the conflict in Northern Ireland, but was by no means the only factor which caused the conflict “it has not proved possible to identify any one cause and label it decisive or even the most important one of all (McGrattan, 2010).The problem with ethno-nationalist conflicts is that the deepest hatreds are manifested between people whom from outward appearances have very few significant differences.Sigmond Freud even found a term for this “It is precisely the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of hostility between them. (Kolst?, 2007). Ethno-nationalism is rooted in a sense of common origins, primarily ancestral. When Ireland became the Irish Free State, the 6 counties that make up Northern Ireland, which was mainly a protestant area, with a Catholic minority, opted to remain with the United Kingdom.
This meant that Catholics were being discriminated against in many aspects of life such as housing and jobs and they were underrepresented in politics. Unionists in Northern Ireland who were mainly protestants, opposed ‘Home Rule’ and supported keeping the ‘Union’ with the United Kingdom, while nationalists, mainly Catholics hoped for a united Ireland. “This notion depicts differing identity is at the heart of the Northern Ireland conflict. (Madias and Branham, 2015). When the term ‘ethno-nationalist’ is used to try and explain the cause of the Northern Ireland conflict emphasizes the emotional and sometimes even subconscious nature of the attachment to a cause. McGarry and O Leary (1995) interpret religion as an ethnic marker, a component of ethnonational in Northern Ireland, the conflict is about two contesting national identities, Unionist(Protestant) and Nationalist(Catholic). Religion is just used as a label to distinguish members of one ethnonationality group from the other. Many people think that this was a religious war, the fact is religious sentiments fueled the conflict between the two peoples, but issues of ethnicity, control and self-determination had been present in Ireland for centuries. The reason why Nationalism/ethno-nationalism is a cause of the conflict in Northern Ireland. At the core of the conflict in Northern Ireland is national identity in the form of two ethnic markers. These two ethnic markers are Catholics and Protestants but as mentioned previously this does not mean that the conflict is strictly religious. It is national because Catholicism and Protestantism forms the national identity of both these groups. These two groups are not fighting over religious issues. They are fighting over politics and economics; the Catholic minority feel they have been discriminated for over half a century by the Stormont Administration which will be discussed in the next chapter. To elaborate on the conflict “Northern Ireland is not about economics, religion or ethnicity. It is about identity and belonging. (Mitchell,2000) The actions of the Catholics and Protestants help shape the reality of the conflict. Northern Ireland is separate from the Republic of Ireland because of the Protestants actions. Catholics do not accept this situation because they are nationalists and nationalism demands that nations should be free, i.e. “not oppressed by other nations, empires or polities; and requires that nations should not oppress other nations or establish empires (McGarry and O’Leary,1995).
As mentioned previously, the conflict is nationalistic and ethno-national in that one group, the Catholics want Northern Ireland to split away from the United Kingdom and to unite with the Republic of Ireland. On the other hand, another group, the Protestants, desire Northern Ireland to be part of the United Kingdom. On the other hand, it cannot be said that ethno-nationalism is the main cause of the conflict, it is just one of many, as there is an extent to which other aspects come into play. In the next section the extent to which the other aspects caused the conflict in Northern Ireland will be discussed.
In this section the other causes of the conflict in Northern Ireland will be discussed, at most the conflict in Northern Ireland is a struggle between those who wish to see Northern Ireland remain part of the United Kingdom (Unionists/Protestants) and those who wish to see Northern Ireland reunified with the Republic of Ireland (Catholics/Nationalists).The conflict in Northern Ireland stemmed from these competing national identities. The first cause of the conflict to be discussed is the historical origins of the conflict. From the outset Northern Ireland was an insecure state. The formal division of Ireland was enacted through the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which established two parliaments under British jurisdiction, one based in Dublin and one based in Belfast. The roots of the conflict in Northern Ireland go back to the early 17th Century, when English and Scottish settlers were encouraged through the provision of confiscated land to colonize Ireland. The United Kingdom created Northern Ireland so that the Protestants in that area of the island could be protected from the Catholic majority in the rest of Ireland. The Catholic minority in Northern Ireland felt they were discriminated against in areas of politics, employment and housing. Which leads into the next cause of the conflict.
Political problems in Northern Ireland began under the Unionist Stormont government ruled Northern Ireland from 1920-1972.This government used its powers to help Protestants and to discriminate against Catholics. The Catholics were discriminated from “public service jobs, housing and local government franchise. (O’Brien, 1994). The discrimination Catholics faced created resentment within them. Nationalists “believed that discrimination was an endemic feature of the sectarian state of Northern Ireland (Tonge, 2001). One explanation that has been used was that it centred upon economic factors, where Protestants could enjoy superiority over their Catholic counterparts. Changes in the electoral system were designed to increase unionist power. Unionist parties manipulated the boundaries of their electoral constituencies to favor the Protestant class. This led to increasing concerns of discrimination in employment and housing, which ultimately led to the civil rights marches in the 1960s which intensified the conflict. Numerous accounts of apparent favoring of Protestants occurred in terms of the allocation of houses. “For example, of the 1,048 houses built in Fermanagh between 1945 and 1967,82 percent were allocated to Protestants, even though Catholics amounted to the majority population (Tonge,2001).The origins of the ‘Troubles’ began with the formation of Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA).NICRA sought specific demands via the following demands; one man, one vote to be extended to local elections, an end to gerrymandering, equal housing allocations, eradication of the Special Powers Act. The success of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States inspired Northern Irelands Catholic minority to form their own Civil Rights Movement. Many people note ‘Bloody Sunday’ as the day the ‘Troubles’ began. A banned Civil Rights March in Londonderry led to clashes between police and protesters. The descent into violence led to the need for armed forces on both sides. By 1969, the Provisional IRA was formed, which advocated Civil Rights and Catholic interests. As both wings of the IRA began to recruit, loyalist’s paramilitary groups began to grow, most notably the Ulster Defense Association. Over the next three decades violence intensified, including the controversial ‘Bloody Sunday ‘where 14 civilians were shot dead by British soldiers during a peaceful protest internment in Derry. Bloody Sunday increased Catholic and Irish nationalist hostility towards the British Army and exacerbated the conflict.
The extent to which religion was a cause of the conflict will now be discussed. The “importance of religion in Northern Ireland has led some to describe it as the central problem (Hickey, 1984). The Northern Ireland conflict is to some extent a religious conflict., but the problem of Northern Ireland is one of ethnic conflict. Protestants in Northern Ireland amount to an ethnic group rather than a nation. Religion reinforced rather than caused the conflict in Northern Ireland. It is an important component of collective identity “even though it is not a necessary aspect, nor a modern cause of ethno-national conflict (Tonge, 2001). The dispute over Northern Ireland is a dispute over territory between Catholics and Protestants. Irish catholic nationalists resent Northern Ireland as an alien intrusion. As Catholics “they resent Protestant power in what was once Catholic territory. As Catholic nationalists, they resent both (O’Brien,1994). Although the mistreatment of the Catholic population influenced the birth of the Provisional IRA, such mistreatment was also due to the political aversion of unionists to Irish nationalism. The importance of religious affiliation must be acknowledged as central to the conflict, but it is “difficult to sustain the argument that religious differences are the root cause of modern problems (Tonge,2001).
To conclude this essay, I will recap with the points that suggest the extent to which ethno-nationalism was a cause of the conflict. The definition of an ethno-conflict is “social-psychological, rooted in historically established collective identities and motivated by the desire to be governed by one’s co-nationals, both for security and collective freedom (McGarry and O’Leary,1995). This is evident in the Northern Ireland conflict as Catholics and Protestants have constructed identities of themselves based on an ethnic marker. This has made the main causes of the conflict ethno-national. The conflict in Northern Ireland is ethno-national as it is a “systematic quarrel between the political organizations of two communities who want their state to be ruled by their nation, or who want what they perceive as ‘their’ state to protect their nation (McGarry and O’Leary 1995). Ethno-national groups regard themselves as a large extended family. Its members regard an attack on one as an attack on all, they are often prepared to engage in violent conflict for the security of the whole group. Northern Ireland has been the site of such ethno-national conflict. I agree with McGarry and O’Leary that the problem is ethno-national “with the two peoples of Northern Ireland, British and Irish, wishing their state (of Northern Ireland) to be part of their nation (Britain or Ireland) (Tonge,2001).
The argument this paper tries to put forward is that ethno-nationalism was one of the main causes of the conflict in Northern Ireland, but not the only one. Religion is not the main cause of the conflict in Northern Ireland. It is an ethno-national identification as opposed to be the single most independent cause of the conflict, “Religious labels distinguish the ethno-national groups, the descendants of settlers and natives, from each other. (McGarry and O’Leary,1995). Political problems in Northern Ireland was also one of the causes of the conflict in Northern Ireland. Catholics began the Civil Rights Movement to try and achieve equality in areas of housing, employment and aimed to end gerrymandering. They organized peaceful marches to try and achieve these goals. These marches turned violent and led to an increase in recruitment for paramilitary organizations which intensified the conflict. From this it can be concluded that ethno-nationalism was to a great extent a cause of the conflict in Northern Ireland, but the conflict in Northern Ireland was caused by a combination of factors.
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