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My speech is about the history of the Irish and English people and the conflict concerning the area called Northern Ireland.
The beginning of the conflict
The first time mankind arrived on the island of Ireland was about 200 years before Christ. In the year 432, St. Patrick came to Ireland, initiating a “Golden Age“ of cultural and spiritual development.
But in the year 1169, this era came to an end and a time of pain and agony began. This was the year when the Anglo-Normans, who were the forefathers of the English nation, started to invade Ireland and finally controlled most of the country. This was the origin of the national- based conflict. England tried to conquer the whole land and to extinguish the Irish nation, but it never achieved that target. This caused very much hatred and hostility against England in the minds of the Irish people.
But what made peace between the two countries nearly impossible was the conflict between the cultures and religions. This was also the reason why a fusion with England became so inconceivable. The planned reformation of the Irish population was not just unsuccessful, but it also created a big gulf between the Catholic Ireland and the Protestant England.
When two chieftains of Ulster, which is the northern part of Ireland, were defeated and departed from England they started a plantation of Protestant settlers in the North of Ireland. This land is now a part of the United Kingdom, called Northern Ireland.
The Home Rule Controversy
In the year 1800, the United Kingdom was created, consisting of Great Britain and Ireland. This led to a never-ending movement to repeal the union between the two isles.
The Great Famine in 1846 changed the political scenery. It confirmed Irish fears about the incapacity of the British administration in handling Irish needs. But also many English politicians saw that the situation needed to be changed.
This was the beginning of the idea of Home Rule. In 1886, the Liberal Prime Minister Gladstone introduced the first Home Rule bill. This bill gave certain powers to a Dublin parliament. But the first, and later also the second, Home Rule bill were rejected. The first Home Rule bill was rejected in the House of Commons, the second in the House of Lords. The third and last attempt to establish Home Rule was prevented by the illegal Ulster Volunteer Force until the First World War broke out. The UVF is still active in Northern Ireland.
The Republic of ireland
After the First World War, a radical republican party called Sinn Féin (“Ourselves alone“ in Gaelic) won the general election, but instead of taking their seats, they established an alternative parliament. A year later, in the year 1919, the War of Independence began. On the side of the Irish people, the Irish Republican Army was founded to fight the British troops. The war ended in 1921 with a treaty that partitioned the isle. 6 counties of Ulster remained with the United Kingdom, the rest of the 26 counties formed the Republic of Ireland in 1922. But this solution satisfied neither of the two sides, it was only seen as a temporary measure. The partition was based on the religious distribution of the population.
Except for the following rumours between pro and anti-Treaty forces that lasted a year, the Republic of Ireland stayed mainly peaceful until today. But in Northern Ireland the conflict between Irish and English people held on and has not ended yet. An armed police force called the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British army were sent to Ireland to establish peace and order. But instead of this, they were fighting a war against the IRA, which is still going on now.
The civil rights of the irish in NORTHERN ireland
In the beginning of the existence of Northern Ireland, the Irish and Catholic population of this area was not very happy with the new state. They voted mainly for Nationalist politicians. But the British and Protestant population was about two-thirds of the whole state. So the Unionists that received the majority of the vote from the Protestant population were the ruling party. Many Unionists felt that the Catholic disloyalty to the new state justified discrimination against them. The electoral system with its principle of winner-take-all played a large part in the discrimination against the Catholics.
Rising living standards that came with the years made people on both sides more tolerant to each other. This resulted in the forming of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1967. This Association demanded an electoral reform and fair housing allocation. Many marches were held for these changes and the demands were met a year later. But the marches were often attacked by extremist Protestants.
The Irish Economy
1920 - 1929 : The partition from the highly industrial Northern Ireland resulted in a high degree of agricultural industry. Therefore the living standard was very low and many people emigrated. But eventually the beginning of rural electrification was a major success.
1930 - 1959 : In this period Ireland was not able to increase its industrial efforts because of another war with Britain just economic and because of Ireland’s isolation in the Second World War. In the 1950’s, the emigration rate was at its highest point ever and the population was declining.
1960 - 1979 : In this time the economy recovered and Ireland was rapidly industrialising. The consequences were rising living standards and population levels.
1980 - 1989 : This period brought recession back to Ireland and the emigration of people started again.
Eamon De Valera was one of the most important persons in the history of the Republic of Ireland. He founded a new party, called Fianna Fáil, that is today one of the largest parties in Ireland. He created a new constitution in 1937 and made a Republic out of Ireland, though this was not officially recognised by Britain until 1949. His constitution is still in force today. But a number of articles have caused considerable controversy.
Article 2. ( Territory )
The national territory consists of the whole island of Ireland, its islands and the territorial seas.
This article is still in force. It is seen by many people as encouraging violence against British administration in Northern Ireland.
Article 41. ( Family Rights )
3.2. No law shall be enacted providing for the grant of a dissolution of marriage.
This article is also still in force. There was a referendum in 1986 to remove the prohibition of divorce. But this referendum has failed.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement
In 1985, Garret Fitzgerald and Margaret Thatcher signed an important agreement between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
In this agreement the British Government “recognises the need to acknowledge the rights of the two major traditions“. These traditions are the tradition of the unionists, who want to unify Ireland with Great Britain, and the tradition of “those who aspire to a sovereign united Ireland achieved by peaceful means and through agreement.“
The British Government also committed itself to abandon discrimination and intolerance.
Special notice should be given to the next sentence that is written in the agreement.
“If a majority of the people of Northern Ireland give their consent to Irish unity, the British Government commit themselves to introduce and support in the Westminster parliament, legislation to give effect to this.“
Added to this, the British Government agrees to establish an Intergovernmental Conference concerned with Northern Ireland and with relations between the two parts of the island. And this conference imposes both governments to make efforts to resolve any differences in the interests of promoting peace and stability.
The first meeting of this conference discussed the policies of the RUC and the British armed forces.
The purpose of this agreement is that the nationalists should change their opinion about the structure of government, the security forces and the judicial system in Northern Ireland.
Finally I would like to tell you (to end with) the last sentence of a Fine Gael party leaflet about the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
“Of course it is always easier to do nothing, in the hope of avoiding blame for anything that may go wrong, but such an attitude would be totally irresponsible in the face of the tragedy of Northern Ireland.“