Catholic elite.  "The introduction of free education at all levels in Northern Ireland under the Education Act (1947) was a significant factor"46 in the development of a Catholic intelligentsia.  Furthermore, "university education became available on academic merit rather than according to economic circumstances."47  These university-educated Catholics later became the leaders of the civil rights movement of 1960 to 1980, resulting in the full realization of Catholic economic and political deprivation.  During this time, Catholics made an attempt to address their demands for political reform.

Surprisingly, "when the Civil Rights movement emerged in the 1960s, the slogan 'one man, one vote,' brought widespread support from Protestants for the reform programme."48  The emerging Protestant and Catholic coalition was significant because: 1) Protestants and Catholics were working together; 2) it marked the first real dissension within the Unionist partya deviation from solidarity; 3) cooperation became possible because Catholics were not seen as wanting unification, but were seen as wanting representation within the North, and; 4) Protestant electoral control had marginalized poor Protestant voters in favor of Protestant business owners who received plural votes.  Hence, the poor Protestants also wanted equal electoral representation because they too were marginalized.

Consequently, the Protestant majority saw this as a threat, and problems ensued when "the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, set up in February 1967, began to press for social and electoral reforms in the province, including the abolition of the B Specials and the Special Powers Act."49  As mentioned earlier, these two items had stripped the Catholics in the North of much of their civil liberties, resulting in a government-run state, lacking in democratic checks and balances.

Northern Ireland's Prime Minister Terence O'Neill responded to the combined demands of marginalized Catholics and Protestants with the introduction of economic reforms through the Stormont Parliament in Northern Ireland.  His political reforms, however, were opposed within the Unionist Party.  A counter-force soon emerged under the leadership of Protestant fundamentalist leader, Ian Paisley, who mobilized fearful Protestants in the late 1960s with claims that moderate prime minister "Terence O'Neill was selling Protestants down the river into a united Ireland with his reform program and overtures to the Republic."50

Unfortunately, O'Neill met opposition both from Catholics and from within his own party. "Catholics viewed O'Neill as offering too little too late; Protestants regarded him as a traitor who was prepared to risk the

 

security of the state."51  The Campaign for Social Justice and the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) were formed in 1967 and were composed of both Protestants and Catholics who aimed at ending the social and political discrimination against Catholics.  Their efforts were frustrated, however, because the illiberal sections of Unionism perceived civil rights as yet another threat from nationalists because their demands for equality were made by, and on the behalf of Catholics. Furthermore, illiberal Protestants, or Paisleyites, prevented the NICRA from holding peaceful demonstrations because they threatened the government with holding counter-demonstrations on the same day.  The demonstrations would have definitely led to public disturbances and/or riots. Regardless, NICRA decided to proceed and, with the help of students, ignored the bans, and violence thus ensued.

The British army was brought in to prevent civil war and to keep the two communities apart which meant effectively to curb Protestant violence against Catholics.  But the army was not a police force, and northern Ireland was not just another colonial posting where the rebellious native could easily be recognized.  This led to mistakes and mishandling of the population by the army.52

Violence in the late 1960s brought an awareness of the challenge that the radical student community presented to the Protestant leadership and highlighted a Northern Ireland deprived of democracy and in desperate need of civil rights.  In response to the civil disturbances, the United Kingdom government stepped in to suspend the Stormont Parliament in 1972, even though the government enjoyed a high level of confidence amongst the minority (Catholic) community.

Up until the disturbances, new forms of participation and structure were emerging, albeit at a relative slow pace. "[T]he state was on the defensive, the people were in the ascendant, and the dream of people's power was close to realization."53   Northern Ireland has been governed by a Direct Rule administration from London since 1972, "through British Ministers appointed by the U.K. Prime Minister."54   However, in recent times, the Blair government has been discussing moves in the direction of a devolved parliament in Northern Ireland.  This would effectively place the power to rule directly in the hands of the people.  How and when have yet to be determined, but as this section has made clear, a successful government in the North must have the official checks and balances of the Westminster model and be robust enough to ensure minority rights.

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