By Patrick Magee
When we think of Northern Ireland, the word ‘peaceful’ does not immediately spring to mind. The period of political violence and terror known as the ‘Troubles’, from the late 1960s till the end of the 90s, is still fresh in the minds of the citizens of Northern Ireland. How is the political situation nowadays? An insight into the lives of Northern Ireland’s citizens.
It all began with the Good Friday Agreement signed between Protestant Unionists and Catholic Nationalists known as the ‘peace process’. The goal was to prevent the constant discrimination by the Protestant majority against the Catholic minority.
Nowadays Unionists and Nationalists are required to share power in government. This is far from ideal: no side can dominate which often leads to impasses and a lot of frustration. However, at least for the time being, this is the only viable solution.
Northern Ireland has cast off the burden of the Troubles but it still clings to the nation’s heels as it marches toward peace. Catholic Nationalists have a hard time to forget 800 years and counting under British rule; Protestant Unionists are anxious about the too realistic threat of being subsumed into the Republic. Even fifteen years after its peace, Northern Ireland remains a hotbed of political violence. Every year still riots break out between Nationalists, Unionists and the police.
Unrest has increased during the past two years. The Protestant majority of Northern Ireland is decreasing, which means that the numbers of Catholics and Protestants are becoming more equal. A big up-rise of violence took place in December 2012 because the Belfast City Council voted to remove the Union flag from atop City Hall which had previously flown every day of the year. This decision sparked riots across Northern Ireland but the main violence was in the streets of Belfast. Unionist rioters attempted to storm City Hall and for several months protesters blockaded streets demanding the Union flag be returned to its place. The protests are still ongoing but on a much smaller scale. And this is merely one example out of many.
Why do these heated riots keep occurring, such as the clash between Unionists, Nationalists and the police during a parade only three months ago? Unionists are feeling apprehensive with the population numbers changing. They fear that a united Ireland is approaching and they will lose their cultural heritage in a Catholic dominated republic. That fear has manifested itself in the increased unrest of the past year, causing Unionists to be the main aggressors instead of the Nationalists.
The police checkpoints, the army patrols and the frequent killings that defined the Troubles are gone. But even the peace process has not succeeded in transforming Northern Ireland into a peaceful country. It will continue to be a segregated place where Protestants and Catholics live together yet completely apart at the same time. Riots will carry on being a routine happening every year.
The future is hazy for Northern Ireland. Will its divided people find a common ground where they can live in true peace? Or will the peace process become a small period of history in a larger tale of political violence?