Introduction

THERE ARE TWO COMMUNITIES IN NORTHERN IRELAND, different in their origins, nursing different historical myths, possessing distinguishable cultures, having different songs and heroes, and wearing different denominations of the same religion.  Religion is the clearest badge of these differences. But the conflict is not about religion.  It is about the self-assertion of two distinct communities, one of which is dominant in the public affairs of the province.1

The people of Northern Ireland have suffered for more than three centuries from the division of their Christian community into two religious groups.  This division has resulted in hostility between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland and can be traced back to the Protestant "plantation" system used by James I "to cement England's control over Ireland."2 In the 1600s, the "plantations were seen as the answer to the problem 'if the Irish would not become Protestant, then Protestants must be brought to Ireland'."3 Hence, the Scottish Protestants were introduced into the North and empowered by the crown to secure its land, wealth, and control for England.

Turmoil, repression, and discrimination have categorized the North since the Protestant plantations.  Legal and institutionalized social injustices were codified by Penal Legislation enacted from 1695 to 1709.  These were "anti-Catholic laws used to eradicate the Catholic religion in Ireland."4  Although the persecution of religious worship proved to be an impossible task, "the penal laws that were enforced, [...]were those which debarred Catholics from Parliament, from holding any government office (high or low), from entering the legal profession, and from holding commissions in the army and navy."5  Catholics were thus effectively excluded from all public life and even much of their normal social activity. Catholic education became illegal (i.e. Gaelic was replaced with English), and it also became illegal for Catholics to buy land, obtain a mortgage on it, or even rent or inherit it (primogeniture­first born male inherits a family's wealth and property). Consequently, the Penal Laws caused great social and economic dissent and "isolated the vast majority of the people of Ireland in an inferior identity.  They became segregated from the rest of society and the normal processes of law."6  The Protestant ruling class was thus able to create and maintain a subordinate Catholic peasantry by restricting their rights and taking away their means of changing the situation.  These injustices continued into the 20th century under the Stormont Parliament that began to govern Northern Ireland in 1920.  Stormont failed in 1972 and was replaced by Direct Rule from
Westminster because it was unable to control the disorder resulting from the demands for civil rights.  From the time of the Penal Legislation until

 

the Stormont Parliament, the people of Northern Ireland have been united by Christianity and a shared land, but they continue to be divided by such distinct self-interests as national identity and political representation.

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that the motivations sparking the conflict in Northern Ireland are not caused by the dogmatic differences in religion between the two warring parties.  Instead, this paper demonstrates how and why these two conflicting interest groups (Protestants and Catholics) have used religious affiliations to divide their community over such underlying issues as national identity and political representation to perpetuate those positions of social and political dominance or subordination. Thus, religion is a facade for the conflict in Northern Ireland, which has really been protracted by the two following underlying issues.  First, a separate and distinct sense of "national identity" has evolved for those Protestants and Catholics living in the North.  This can be seen in that their self-definitions are mutually exclusive and have become a source of contention because they are matched with incompatible ideologies. Second, Protestants have used discriminatory mechanisms to limit Catholic political representation in order to thwart Catholic participation. Motivation for a separate national identity and discriminatory mechanism have been prompted by a growing Catholic populace that presents a challenge to the diminishing dominance of their Protestant majority.

National Identity and What it Means to be Irish

Within the North of Ireland, religious affiliation has been used since the time of the plantations to reinforce the political polarization of Protestant and Catholic communities.  As a consequence, religion is mistaken as perpetuating the conflict when it is really only a means of distinguishing between group membership.  The underlying conflict between Protestants and Catholics is thus not based on religion, but is due to the inherent differences in the political ideologies of these two mutually exclusive interest groups.

The Application of the Social Identity Theory in the Creation of Out-Groups

Social Identity Theory (S.I.T.) explains how interest groups have been used to perpetuate the conflict in Northern Ireland. S.I.T. posits that "self-identity is composed of: 1) personal identity, defined by one's unique traits, characteristics and experience; and 2) social identity, defined by one's membership in different groups."7  Hence, S.I.T. uses the combined self-defi

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Charles Shivers - Northern Ireland - National Identity ... [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]