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Northern Ireland


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Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom lying in the northeast of the island of Ireland, covering 5,459 square miles (14,139 km², about a sixth of the island's total area). As of the UK Census in April 2001, its population was 1,685,000, between a quarter and a third of the island's total population.

Northern Ireland consists of six of the nine counties of the Province of Ulster. In the UK, it is generally known as one of the four Home Nations that form the Kingdom. Some of these terms have controversial implications in relation to political ideologies concerning the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. The remainder of the island of Ireland is a sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland.

As an administrative division of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland was defined by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and has had its own form of devolved government in a similar manner to Scotland and Wales. The Northern Ireland Assembly, established in 1998, has been suspended multiple times but was restored on 8 May 2007. Northern Ireland's legal system descends from the pre-1920 Irish legal system (as does the legal system of the Republic of Ireland), and is therefore based on common law. It is separate from the jurisdictions of England and Wales or Scotland

Northern Ireland has been for many years the site of a violent and bitter ethno-political conflict between those claiming to represent Nationalists, who are predominantly Catholic, and those claiming to represent Unionists, who are predominantly Protestant.[5] In general, Nationalists want Northern Ireland to be unified with the Republic of Ireland, and Unionists want it to remain part of the United Kingdom. Unionists are in the majority in Northern Ireland, though Nationalists represent a significant minority. In general, Protestants consider themselves British and Catholics see themselves as Irish but there are some who see themselves as both British and Irish. People from Northern Ireland are entitled to both British and Irish citizenship (see Nationality and Identity). The campaigns of violence have become known popularly as The Troubles. The majority of both sides of the community have had no direct involvement in the violent campaigns waged. Since the signing of the Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement or the G.F.A.) in 1998, many of the major paramilitary campaigns have either been on ceasefire or have declared their war to be over.

The area now known as Northern Ireland has had a diverse history. From serving as the bedrock of Irish resistance in the era of the plantations of Queen Elizabeth and James I in other parts of Ireland, it became the subject of major planting of Scottish and English settlers after the Flight of the Earls in 1607 (when the Gaelic aristocracy fled to Catholic Europe).

The all-island Kingdom of Ireland (15411800) merged into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801 under the terms of the Act of Union, under which the kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain merged under a government and monarchy based in London. In the early 20th century, Unionists, led by Sir Edward Carson (generally regarded as the founder of Northern Ireland), opposed the introduction of Home Rule in Ireland. Unionists were in a minority on the island of Ireland as a whole, but were a majority in the northern province of Ulster, a very large majority in the counties of Antrim and Down, small majorities in the counties of Armagh and Londonderry, with substantial numbers also concentrated in the nationalist-majority counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone. These six counties, containing an overall unionist majority, would later form Northern Ireland.

The clash between the House of Commons and House of Lords over the controversial budget of Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd-George produced the Parliament Act 1911, which enabled the veto of the Lords to be overturned. Given that the Lords had been the unionists' main guarantee that a home rule act would not be enacted, because of the majority of pro-unionist peers in the House, the Parliament Act made Home Rule a likely prospect in Ireland. Opponents to Home Rule, from Conservative Party leaders like Andrew Bonar Law and Lord Randolph Churchill to militant unionists in Ireland, threatened the use of violence, producing the Larne Gun Running incident in 1912, when they smuggled thousands of rifles and rounds of ammunition from Imperial Germany for the Ulster Volunteer Force. Lord Randolph Churchill famously told a unionist audience in Ulster that 'Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right'.

The prospect of civil war in Ireland was seen by some as likely. In 1914, the Third Home Rule Act, which contained provision for a temporary partition, received the Royal Assent. Its implementation was suspended for the duration of the intervening First World War, which was expected to last only a few weeks, but, in fact, lasted four years.

By the end of the war, the Act was seen as dead in the water, with public opinion in the majority nationalist community having moved from a demand for home rule to something more substantial: independence. Lloyd-George proposed in 1919 a new bill which would divide Ireland into two Home Rule areas, twenty-six counties being ruled from Dublin, six being ruled from Belfast, with a shared Lord Lieutenant of Ireland appointing both executives and a Council of Ireland, which Lloyd-George believed would evolve into an all-Ireland parliament.

Partition of Ireland, partition of Ulster

Ireland was partitioned in 1921 under the terms of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Six of the nine Ulster counties in the north-east formed Northern Ireland and the remaining three counties joined those of Leinster, Munster and Connacht to form Southern Ireland. Whilst the former came into being, the latter had only a momentary existence to ratify (in United Kingdom law) the Anglo-Irish Treaty that ended the Anglo-Irish War.

Under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Northern Ireland was provisionally scheduled to be included in the Irish Free State, though it could opt out should the Parliament of Northern Ireland elect so to do As expected, it did so immediately. Once that happened, as provided for, an Irish Boundary Commission came into being, to decide on the territorial boundaries between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. Though leaders in Dublin expected a substantial reduction in the territory of Northern Ireland, with nationalist areas like south Armagh, Tyrone, southern Londonderry and urban territories like Derry and Newry moving to the Free State, the Boundary Commission decided against this. This decision was approved by the Dail in Dublin by a vote of 71 to 20. The Council of Ireland provided for in the 1920 Act, and in the Treaty, to link Northern Ireland eventually to the Irish Free State within 50 years was removed.

1925 to the present

In June 1940, to encourage the Irish state to join with the Allies, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill indicated to the Taoiseach amon de Valera that the United Kingdom would push for Irish unity, but believing that Churchill could not deliver, de Valera declined the offer. The British did not inform the Northern Ireland government that they had made the offer to the Dublin government, and De Valera's rejection was not publicized until 1970.

The Ireland Act 1949 gave the first legal guarantee to the Parliament and Government that Northern Ireland would not cease to be part of the United Kingdom without consent of the majority of its citizens, and this was most recently reaffirmed by the Northern Ireland Act 1998. This status was echoed in the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, which was signed by the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Bunreacht na hireann, the constitution of the Republic, was amended in 1999 to remove a claim of the 'Irish nation' to sovereignty over the whole of Ireland (in Article 2), a claim qualified by an acknowledgement that the southern state only could exercise legal control over the territory formerly known as the Irish Free State. The new Articles 2 and 3, added to the Bunreacht to replace the earlier articles, implicitly acknowledge that the status of Northern Ireland, and its relationships within the United Kingdom and with the Republic of Ireland, would only be changed with the agreement of a majority of voters in Northern Ireland. An acknowledgement that a decision on whether to remain in the United Kingdom or join the Republic of Ireland rests with the people of Northern Ireland was also central to the Belfast Agreement, which was signed in 1998 and ratified by plebiscites held simultaneously in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. However, many unionist leaders equivocate when asked if they would peacefully accept a reunited Ireland if a majority in Northern Ireland sought it.

A plebiscite within Northern Ireland on whether it should remain in the United Kingdom, or join the Republic, was held in 1973. The vote went heavily in favour (98.9%) of maintaining the status quo with approximately 57.5% of the total electorate voting in support, but most nationalists boycotted the poll (see Northern Ireland referendum, 1973 for more). Though legal provision remains for holding another plebiscite, and former Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble some years ago advocated the holding of such a vote, no plans for such a vote have been adopted as of 2007.

8 May 2007 Home rule returned to Northern Ireland. DUP leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Fin's Martin McGuinness took office as First Minister and Deputy First Minister, respectively .

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