The 1998 peace agreement raised hopes that three decades of bloody conflict in Northern Ireland would be over. But the process dragged on, only in 2005 did the IRA lay down its arms, and two years later the arch-enemies, the Protestant politician Ian Paisley, from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Martin McGuinness from Sinn Féin, the IRA’s political branch, could form a new one. provincial government. It worked fairly well until the beginning of 2017, when Sinn Féin left government cooperation. All attempts to break the deadlock have so far failed and the situation is complicated by the fact that the Conservative British government from the summer of 2017 is dependent on support from the DUP.
In the 20 years since the peace treaty, life in Northern Ireland has gradually normalized, but society is still segregated, not least by Catholics (often nationalists who want a united Ireland) and Protestants (usually Unionists who want Northern Ireland to keep the union with the rest of the UK) usually live in different areas. In violence-prone parts of Belfast, and in some other parts of Northern Ireland, steel fences and walls were built between Protestant and Catholic residential areas. Only in a few cases has any of these “peace lines” been torn down after the peace agreement was concluded.
In 2009, several violent groups laid down their arms. This was partly in the face of the threat that all weapons that had been seized from paramilitary groups after February 2010 could be used as evidence in trials.
The IMC, the commission that monitors paramilitary groups’ ceasefires, ruled in 2007 that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) no longer posed a terrorist threat, although individual IRA members have been suspected of involvement in murder and other crimes. During the conflict years, the IRA killed about 1,780 people. Even smaller Republican violence groups such as the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) laid down their weapons.
From 1994 until the 2000s, it was Protestant groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defense Association (UDA) that were behind much of the violence, several civilian Catholics were shot dead, but also immigrants was abused. In addition, settlements within and between the Protestant groups claimed several lives. In 2007, the UVF dropped its weapons. Since then, the UDA (which sometimes used the name Ulsters frikämpar, UFF ), and the Red Hand Command , a breakaway group from UVF, have also given up their weapons. During the conflict years, UVF killed 550 people, UDA 431 and the Red Hand Command 19.
Biggest threat from Republican dissidents
Today, the most serious threat is considered to come from breakaway groups from the IRA. These so-called Republican dissidents have no strong support among the population. In 2012, several of them merged under the name New IRA . According to newspaper reports, the group consisted of people from the Real IRA , Republican Action Against Drugs (Raad) and Irish Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH) who planned to continue the armed struggle against the British and threatened with attacks on the military and police. Continuity IRA (Continuity IRA) stood outside the new grouping.
None of the groups is judged to be strong enough to conduct a more comprehensive terrorist campaign. By the beginning of 2018, they had murdered three people, two prison guards and a man they accused of drug dealing. According to the police, dissidents in 2013 were behind 73 bombings or attempted assassinations.
Information that the New IRA had gained access to the explosive semtex in 2016 led to concerns about new terrorist attacks on the British mainland as well. In 2018, the threat was toned down and the dissidents were no longer considered to be a major danger outside Northern Ireland. At the beginning of 2018, ONH announced a ceasefire.
People from all groups, both on the Protestant and the Catholic side, are today part of criminal networks. At the same time, they are engaged in law enforcement in their own areas and punish young men who are suspected of crimes such as drug dealing or car theft. The number of punitive attacks, where criminal suspects are shot in the leg or otherwise beaten, has increased by 60 percent between 2013 and 2017.
Symbolic marking against violence
On the political scene, an important change took place in June 2008 when the 82-year-old Ian Paisley resigned as Prime Minister and DUP leader and was replaced by Peter Robinson. On the whole, government cooperation between the DUP, Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the nationalist and social democratic SDLP continued as before, but with recurring crises. Sinn Féin’s demand that the responsibility for the judiciary and the police be transferred from London to Belfast triggered a conflict with the DUP, which, however, gave in to the demand after Peter Robinson received guarantees that the IRA’s governing body, the Army Council , had been dissolved.
At the same time, new signs came that times had changed. When the Real IRA shot dead two British soldiers in March 2009, the act was condemned by all political parties, but great importance was attached to Sinn Féin distancing himself from the fatal shootings. When the Continuation IRA shortly afterwards murdered a policeman, many Northern Irishmen took to the streets to show their disgust at the violence. After the murder, Robinson, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness and police chief Hugh Orde appeared together in Stormont. This was considered a symbolically important indication that the act had not affected the cooperation within the provincial government or that between the provincial government and the police.
Later that month, according to itypejob, the British Parliament voted to formally transfer responsibility for policing and the judiciary to the Provincial Parliament. In 2010, David Ford from the Alliance Party was appointed Northern Ireland Minister of Justice with the support of the DUP and Sinn Féin. Ford’s party has always tried to stand outside the sectarian division of political parties and tries to win voters among both unionists and nationalists.