A Brief History of Northern Ireland Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

A Brief History of Northern Ireland

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This entry will relate only the important events specific to the history of Northern Ireland. It's fleeting by comparison to A (Very) Brief History of Ireland.

  • 1912 - With a growing call for home rule in Ireland, Sir Edward Carson sets up the first Ulster Volunteer Force to oppose Dublin's aim to separate the whole island from the Union with Great Britain. Many see him as the founder of Northern Ireland - his statue stands at the top of the long drive up to Stormont, Northern Ireland's Parliament building.

  • 1916 - There is a revolt in Dublin by the Catholic majority, seeking home rule for Ireland - known as the Easter Uprising. They took over the GPO1 in O'Connell Street. This was the start of the fight for independence.

  • 1921 - The Irish Free State is set up, consisting of the 26 predominantly Nationalist counties. The other six form Northern Ireland and are given their own Parliament and Prime Minister. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) is opposed to the partition and civil war erupts.

  • 1958 - Northern Ireland's football team reaches the quarter final of the World Cup in Sweden2.

  • 1968 - This year sees the start of the civil rights movement demanding equal rights in housing and voting for poorer Catholics. Universal suffrage has still to be attained.

  • 1969 - The Royal Ulster Constabulary are armed in border regions as the civil rights and counter-demonstrations lead to violence. Troops are also sent in to help calm sectarian violence.

  • 1970 - The British troops are seen as an army of occupation by the IRA and several are shot; the troubles have begun.

  • 1972 - The Conservative government of Edward Heath, following the killing of 13 Catholics in the events of Bloody Sunday, imposes direct rule and dissolves the Northern Irish Parliament.

  • 1974 - A power-sharing executive is set up in January in a bid to include Catholics in the decision-making process. In May a general strike from the Protestant community in protest against this leads to the executive being disbanded and direct rule re-imposed.

  • 1985 - The signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement which tries to set up a number of cross-border initiatives.

  • August 1994 - The IRA announces a ceasefire; later the Loyalists also announce a ceasefire. Talks get under way, with all sides, to reach a peaceful solution. These involve the American President Bill Clinton, who visits Northern Ireland in December 1995.

  • Feb 1996 - The IRA announces an end to their ceasefire as progress is not being made. One hour later a bomb explodes in Canary Wharf, London. A campaign of bombing on the mainland and in Northern Ireland continues until July 1997, when a second ceasefire is announced.

  • August 1997 - A month after the ceasefire, Sinn Fein3 are allowed into the peace talks at Stormont. They later sign up to the principles for the talks laid down by US Senator George Mitchell who will chair the talks which begin with all the parties represented in October. However, the whole peace process is in doubt, with the continuation of sectarian violence and the Loyalist prisoners withdrawing support, until the Secretary of States visits them in the Maze. Deadlines are set, but no agreement seems imminent.

  • 1998 - The UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern, despite losing his mother, spend a week in Belfast to forge an agreement on time. Slightly late, it was signed in the early hours of Good Friday 1998.

  • May 1998 - The referendum on 22 May was accepted with a vote of 71.2% of people in Northern Ireland and 94.39% in the Republic. A Northern Irish Assembly was elected on 25 June, 1998, and a power-sharing executive (including, for the first time, a Sinn Fein Minister) was established, meeting first in shadow form to set up procedures before being handed power.

  • 1999 - A Northern Irish Assembly is re-established with the first real power-sharing executive across the religious divide.

Since the Assembly was set up, devolved government has been suspended on three separate occasions, and direct rule re-imposed. This has largely been due to lack of agreement on what steps to end paramilitarism within a political arena with some parties closely tied to terror groups.

1General Post Office2The team also reaches the final stages in Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986.3Sinn Fein is the second biggest nationalist party in Northern Ireland and has grown out of the republican movement against a British presence in any part of Ireland.

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