Conflict in Northern Ireland Part 6
Cameron apologizes for “Bloody Sunday”
On June 15, 2010, Lord Saville presented a report on the so-called Bloody Sunday (see The Troubles ) in Derry / Londonderry in 1972, when 14 Catholic protesters were killed by the British military in connection with a civil rights march. The incident contributed to the escalation of violence in Northern Ireland, and an earlier inquiry by Lord Widgery shortly after the shootings claimed that it was the protesters who had first opened fire on the soldiers.
The Saville report, commissioned by Tony Blair in 1998, stated that none of the victims had been armed and posed a threat to soldiers who had opened fire without warning. It was also said that several soldiers had testified falsely. Martin McGuinness, who was the second member of the IRA in Derry / Londonderry in 1972, was acquitted of the suspicion that he had fired a weapon and thus provoked the soldiers’ reaction. However, the report said that McGuinness “probably had been armed”. On the same day that the report was published, Prime Minister David Cameron, on behalf of the British Government, apologized for Bloody Sunday and said that what had happened was “unfair and wrong”.
An important handshake
In 2010, the British government announced heavy austerity measures for Northern Ireland, which meant that 30,000 jobs were at risk in the public sector. The campaign for the 2011 provincial election also came, for the first time in Northern Ireland, mainly about wallet issues. The result, however, did not involve any major changes. Peter Robinson remained as Prime Minister and Martin McGuinness as Deputy Prime Minister, at the head of a new five-party government.
In May 2011, British Queen Elizabeths traveled to Ireland on a state visit, the first to be made on the island by a British monarch since 1911. The security crackdown was heavy due to threats from Republican dissidents. The visit was planned as a gesture of reconciliation. Sinn Féin, who had distanced himself from the Queen’s visit, later realized that public opinion in Ireland had been misjudged. When the Queen traveled to Northern Ireland the following year, much attention was paid when Martin McGuinness took the Queen by the hand, something that was considered to have great symbolic significance and which had been unthinkable just a few years earlier. Throughout the years, Sinn Féin’s members of the British Parliament have chosen not to take their seats in order to avoid swearing allegiance to the British Crown.
However, tensions in society continued to be strong. Unrest broke out on several occasions, often in connection with the Orange Order’s parades during the summer. According to listofusnewspapers, symbols are important in Northern Ireland, not least the flags. In connection with the so-called marching season, many Protestant neighborhoods are adorned with British flags and the curbs are painted in the colors of the flag. Many Catholic areas also mark their affiliation with the help of Irish flags.
The Belfast City Council decided at the end of 2012 that the British flag would only be hoisted outside City Hall 18-20 days a year. Sinn Féin had tabled a motion to remove the flag altogether, but the compromise approved, with the support of the SDLP, had been proposed by the Alliance Party. The idea was that the town hall and other municipal buildings would be seen as politically neutral. At the same time, a playground in Newry had been named after Raymond McCreesh, one of the IRA prisoners who went on a hunger strike to death in 1981 (see The Troubles), which caught the eye of many Protestants. Prior to the decision, the DUP and UUP had distributed 40,000 leaflets urging residents to protest against the new flag routine.
Once the decision had been hammered out, Protestant loyalists tried to storm Belfast City Hall. Riots also broke out in Bangor, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Newtownabbey and Ballymena. The Alliance Party’s office was attacked and its politicians threatened. The unrest continued into 2013, when loyalists clashed with police in eastern Belfast. Violence was most prevalent in Protestant working-class neighborhoods, with high unemployment and major social problems, where residents see themselves as the losers of the peace process. They also experience that their “culture” is threatened by the growing Catholic middle class, not least when more affluent Catholics move into neighboring houses.
In parallel, talks took place between the five largest parties under the leadership of a US diplomat, Richard Haass, who at the end of the year presented a proposal for new processes to solve the problems surrounding flags, parades and how the story of the Troubles should be written. Haass got the nationalists with him, but the unionists said no.
Political and economic crisis
Cooperation within the provincial government was now cracking worryingly. In the autumn of 2014, the British government demanded a return of up to £ 200 million if it could not agree on reforms of the welfare systems and resolve the acute political crisis. At the last minute, the parties managed to agree on a series of cuts and that commissions would be created to help the Northern Irish deal with the province’s violent past. But when it came down to it, both Sinn Féin and the SDLP voted against the welfare reform. The governments of London and Dublin intervened again to try to break the deadlock, but with meager results.