Throughout within. Decades of oppression, the alienation of

Throughout the 20th century,British politics faced a new kind of threat from within. Decades of oppression,the alienation of Catholics and the subordination of Irish politics meant that conflictwas inevitable. The Irish Question is a term used in British politics todescribe the demands for Irish independence and nationalism in the early 20thcentury. Partition in 1921 set up under the Anglo-Irish treaty declared thatthe ‘the Irish Free State was established as a dominion within the BritishEmpire with formal authority over all Ireland.

The Northern Ireland government,with jurisdiction over the six counties of Armagh, Antrim, Fermanagh, Tyrone,Londonderry and Down, was given the right to opt out of this arrangement andremain part of the United Kingdom, which it promptly exercised’ (Cunningham, 2001, p. 1).It can be argued that partition did solve the Irish question in that it grantedNorthern Ireland dominion status. Peace was restored initially following thetreaty and even more crucially it removed the Irish Question from Britishpolitics but only short term as partition brought about the immediate end ofthe War of Independence in Ireland. This is supported as the Irish question wasabout Irish independence, however, partition did not grant full independence inIreland and Ireland remained associated to the British crown. Furthermore, thetroubles in the latter part of the 20th century puts forward thesuggestion that the Irish Question was far from solved and still posed asignificant threat to British politics and stability.

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                   Prior to Partition in 1921, the situation in Ireland wasvolatile. The Irish Question undoubtedly played a defining role in Britishpolitics and frequently attracted widespread media attention. The Easter rising occurred on 24th April 1916, Thisthreat of Civil War in Ireland damaged Britain’s reputation as a worldpower.  The leaders of the Easter Risingknew that with the upcoming threat of World War One Britain was fragile and indesperate need of unity. This proved to be the perfect opportunity to demandindependence as George Russell commented that Britain was ‘A muddling nationtrying to govern one of the cleverest nations in the World’ (Rusell, 1917, p. 28).The threat of Civil War showed Britain to be weak and unable to interfereif Germany attacked its allies.

The inability of Britain to keep its owncountry united in the midst of World War One proved to be particularlydamaging. If Britain could not keep its own country united, how was Britainsupposed to keep allied forces across the world.? This highlights how fragileboth the situation was in Ireland and how Britain was perceived at this time.This proved to have a significant impact on British politics, as the islanddeemed too small to be independent now risked undermining Britain’s role as aWorld Power. The Irish Question also posed a significantthreat to Britain economically and military. This is highlighted as ‘Germanyfelt that England would be too busy with Ireland to enter World War One’ (Anon.

, 2015) .? The cost to deploy troops to restore order in an attemptto keep peace caused great strain to Britain. The timing of the Easter Risingcoinciding with World War One meant that Britain could not put its fullattention and military force into the War as troops were still needed at home.? This further damaged Britain’s reputation as it onceagain highlighted Britain’s inability to control its own country when facing aWorld War when other Western countries were considered to be patriotic. TheIrish Question also represented an era of change for British politics.?Despite the previous attempts at Home Rule, when thethird Home Rule Bill was passed in 1912 the general sense of feeling wasoptimistic amongst the majority of Ireland, despite it being put on hold inorder to prepare for the First World War.

At the time, it appeared to the restof the country that Ireland’s demands were met. This in turn, represented anera of change for the rest of the Britain who became optimistic of otherchanges in society to come. The Irish Question affecteddomestic policy in that people saw that Ireland’s demands were supposedly metand therefore why shouldn’t theirs be. This led to an increased prominence ofother social issues in British politics such as homosexuality.

                   Evidenceto suggest that partition was not successful comes from the breakdown of the pact made between Michael Collinsand Sir James Craig in 1922 over the proposed boundary commission. Britain’sinability to deal with the issue and reach a resolution, highlights how theIrish Question still had great prominence in British politics. Evidence forthis can be found as the British government faced a serious threat of thebreakdown of all that was achieved. This fear was exacerbated by theConservative Sunday Express as they highlighted that the government faced ‘thedreadful alternative of a complete breakdown of the Irish settlement on the onehand, or a devastating conservative revolt on the other’ (Canning, 1985, p. 31).Thefailure of the pact placed Westminster in a difficult position as they couldnot afford to alienate either side without risking the breakdown of all thathad been achieved. The British government risked the threat of violence andupheaval destroying any form of peace and stability that had been stored inIreland.

The inability of the British government to provide a resolution toeither side’s grievances suggests that the Irish Question was still a matter ofgreat controversy and even following partition, Westminster could not afford toalienate either side as the situation in Ireland was so fragile. It can be suggested that partition did not in fact’solve’ the Irish Question. The Irish Question was an issue of independence andsovereignty, of which partition and the Government of Northern Ireland Act(1920) never solved. This can be supported as, section 75 of the Act ‘reserved thesovereign right of Westminster to legislate on any matter and states’ (Cunningham, 2001, p. 1).In addition to this, the Act re-iterated that ‘the supreme authority of theParliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished overall persons, matters and things in Ireland’ (ibid., p.

1). Partition had not granted Ireland independence orsovereignty. Westminster still held the greatest authority, and could over ruleon any matter they deemed fit to do so. Cunningham would argue that Partitiondid not solve the Irish Question as the key demands of the matter was not met.Westminster still had the authority to overrule if it so wished, and Irelandwas far from being granted Independence suggesting that partition alone had failedto solve the matter. Further evidence to suggest that partition did not solvethe Irish Question comes from the ineffective constraints put on the NorthernIreland Government. The lack of political institutions established to supportthe new government enhances the argument that the British government was neverfully committed to handing over its power and sovereignty and by putting inplace few democratic institutions, it ensured that the British governmentstayed as the supreme power as the new government was never taken tooseriously. Furthermore, the lack of constraints put on the new government ensuredthat the subordination of Catholics in Northern Ireland continued, in effect,the Northern Ireland government was a protestant government for protestantcitizens.

No form of checks and balances were put in place on the powers of theNorthern Ireland government which ensured that the Catholics in NorthernIreland never achieved equality. Equally, the role of Secretary of State wasnever established along with the Northern Ireland Committee. Furthermore,evidence to suggest that the British government was not fully committed topartition is that ‘Northern Ireland was formally the responsibility of theHome Office but was relegated to the general department’ (ibid., p.1).

 The lack ofconstraints put in place, posed a significant threat to the legitimacy andaccountability of the new government and thereby reinstated the idea thatWestminster held the up most authority and remained unchallenged. It furtherputs forward the argument that following on from partition the Catholics wasstill treated as inferior and could not access the same rights as Protestantsin Northern Ireland. This highlights the argument that although partition maywell be viewed as a step towards progression, the government had no effectivechecks and balances put on them which allowed for the continued subordinationof Catholics. Sovereignty was still held at Westminster and the Britishgovernment took no interest in affairs in Northern Ireland unless it wasbeneficial to them. This in turn meant that the problems that pre-datedpartition still existed in Ireland, but this time in Northern Ireland. The lackof equal rights afforded to Catholics and Britain’s dismissal of how theNorthern Ireland government was operating suggests that partition had notsolved the Irish Question.

 Additionally,the continued subordination of Catholics in Northern Ireland can be emphasisedby the establishment of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA).This highlights how the situation in Ireland was still fragile, with theexistence of ghettoization and grievances on both sides and the continuedsubordination of Catholics in Northern Ireland. NICRA attracted widespreadmedia attention through the initially peaceful protests and the reaction of theBritish government, and in particular the police force. NICRA was established ‘to defend the basic freedoms of all citizens; toprotect the rights of the individual; to highlight all possible abuses ofpower; to demand guarantees for freedom of speech, assembly and association; toinform the public of their lawful rights’ (Aughey & Morrow, 1996) .

NICRA in effectattempted to put constraints on the Northern Ireland government that theBritish government had failed to do so. However, thesituation in Ireland came to a hiatus at a protest in Derry in October 1968when armed police tackled the crowds. This protest ‘led to serious unrest, allegations of police brutalityand the attention of the international media’ (ibid., p.

13). This placed Westminster back in the heart of the IrishQuestion. The widespread media attention that NICRA attracted meant thatWestminster could no longer ignore the situation in Ireland as it now posed asignificant threat to Britain on the international stage. This suggests thatpartition had not solved the Irish Question as during the troubles Britain wasplaced back into the centre of the matter and it was once again playing aprominent role in British politics but this time affecting Britain’s reputationon an international stage.

The failure of Westminster to deal with the Octobermarch without the use of force only heightened feelings of discontent anddetermination in Ireland. Following the October march the situation onlyexacerbated as there was constant marches and counter marches.  The eruption of violence on the streets ‘ledto the formation of local vigilantes that in turn led to the resurgence ofparamilitaries in local communities’ (Fitzduff & O’Hagan, 2009). This put significantpressure on Prime Minister Wilson to introduce reforms by meeting the demandsof NICRA. This can be highlighted as ‘it was clear that reform was necessary ifthe Nationalist population was to be reconciled with the Northern Irelandstate’ (Cunningham, 2001, p. 6).

However, the government’s inability once again to actaccordingly an introduce a one-man-one-vote or repeal the repressive SpecialPowers Act only increased the sectarian divide leading to civil rights marchesbecoming increasingly violent. ‘The Catholic minority and the Republic of Ireland havecontinued to reject partition and managed to destabilise the North by the late1960’s’ (Smooha, 2001). Wilson was left with no choice but to deploy troops inorder to restore order in Ireland. This in turn, reinserted the Irish Questiondirectly back into British politics as it had been decades earlier as theEconomist commented “Britain was once again up to the neck in the IrishQuestion” and the Northern Ireland government found its sovereignty beingdeteriorated in the name of security. This highlights the problems associatedwith partition and the Irish Question, as within fifty years the Britishgovernment was making steps back towards direct rule. Partition in 1921 arguably satisfied both the Unionistsand the Nationalist demands. It in effect, met their demands as in the Republicof Ireland the Catholic Church was now free to dominate and in Northern Irelandthe Protestants were free to retain their links to the British government. Itin effect, met their demands as in the Republic of Ireland the Catholic Churchwas now free to dominate and in Northern Ireland the Protestants were free toretain their links to the British government.

?Partition removed the Irish ‘question’ from mainstream Britishpolitics where for forty years it had proved highly contentious’ (Cunningham, 2001, p. 2). Therefore, it can be argued that Partition was successfulin that it lay the foundations for the Good Friday Agreement under Blair as itattempted to solve the Irish Question partially. Furthermore, it can be arguedthat Partition was successful in that it removed violence from the streets inthe foreseeable future. It was not for close to 50 years that Britain needed todeploy troops which can be argued as 50 years of relative peace. Consequently,partition solved the Irish Question short-term. Furtherevidence to suggest that the Irish Question was unresolved comes from thepolicy of internment.

The introduction of internment only heightened tensionsin August 1971. ‘Theintroduction of internment, used exclusively against Nationalists andRepublicans, had alienated the whole of the Catholic community’ (Cunningham, 2001, p. 9).

Internment in particular angered the Catholic community.The report by Crompton which was set up to investigate claims of ill-treatmentof internees only infuriated them further. The report completely dismissedtheir claims when it reached the conclusion that it’s ‘semanticdistinction that physical ill-treatment of internees did not constitutebrutality’ (ibid.

, p.9). This policy only increasedthe sectarian divide, which lead to increasingly hardened attitudes towards theBritish government, especially when the poor treatment of internees becamewidespread. It led to the campaigns arguing that equality for Catholics wasimpossible within the state structures currently in place. This lead critics of internment such as Cunningham toargue that the relationship between Britain and Ireland was no better off towhat it had been 50 years ago and therefore partition had not solved the IrishQuestion as the rights of internees and Catholics in particular were restrictedand continued to be treated as subordinate. The policy of internment onlyincreased the prominence of the Irish Question. Once again, the Britishgovernment was forced to take action due to widespread campaigns and mediaattention. This all reached a critical moment in January 1972, in what wouldbecome known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.

The ‘Bloody Sunday killings increased IRArecruitment, paramilitary violence and led to huge rise in deaths in subsequentyears’ (Bowcott, 2010). On this day, some may argue the IrishQuestion reached its climax. The British army opened fire on what began as apeaceful civil rights demonstration against internment in Derry. The results ofthis was astronomical; 14 innocent civilians were killed and Britain’sreputation was damaged internationally. This reinforced the notion that Britaincould no longer leave Northern Ireland to its own devices.

As a result, onMarch 24th, 1972, now Prime Minister Edward Heath announced thereturn of direct rule for the first time again in fifty years. This placesgreat emphasis on the argument that partition had not ‘solved’ the Irish questionas this repealed all that was achieved under the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Theevidence suggests that Partition did not solve the Irish Question, however, itdid remove it from British politics for fifty years and restored some form oforder in Ireland for half a century. Consequently, in these fifty years theissues in Ireland were far from solved it just was not deemed important toBritain. The Catholic minority were continued to be treated as subordinate andsecond-rate citizens with no equal rights in Northern Ireland. This in turn,set the foundations for what would become known as ‘troubles’ in the sixtiesfollowing on from decades of oppression and harsh treatment which put the IrishQuestion directly back into British politics. Partition had failed to establishtwo key principles; it had failed to reach a resolution on boundaries under theCraig-Collins pact and it failed to set up an effective government in NorthernIreland which had constraints in place to ensure the rights of citizens.


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