Just to put everyone in the picture, my heritage is Irish. Northern Ireland Loyalist Protestant to be exact, but that never meant anything to me. I always thought of myself as just Irish. The Troubles took up most of my adult life, and I always found it difficult to think that the people I knew and loved as my fellow countryfolk could do such things to each other. I visited Ireland in the early seventies, and travelled safely and cheerfully, and I couldn’t figure it out. I could understand both sides of the problem, and it seemed insoluble. So, when I returned to the “aulde sod” after over fifty years, I wondered how I would find things.

Well, in the Republic of Ireland, I found exactly what I wanted: a friendly, receptive people willing to help a stranger, smiling the whole time. But then we crossed the border to the north.

A Different Atmosphere

So, what’s it like, going from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland? Easy. It’s like going from British Columbia into Eastern Washington state. The right-wing part. Only worse. As you enter LondonDerry, there is graffiti on the walls, proclaiming “End Detention” and listing the names of victims of something. You don’t know of what, because you don’t know what side they were on. Some neighborhoods have Union Jacks flying on the lamp posts. It was like moving into a war zone; the threat of violence was subtle, but always present.

Then we toured the walls of LondonDerry, and were told some of the details.

I found this information disturbing, because it opened a raw nerve that has been with me since I was a kid, and it was happening in re-ti. Being on the city wall and looking down into The Bogs was a real eye-opener. It’s only a few square city blocks and it dominated the news so often in the old days.

Perhaps you will wonder about my pussy-footing around the name of LondonDerry. This small city is a real symbol of the whole problem, mainly because of that name. It was originally called “Derry.” When the Protestant English King James took over in 1613, he added “London” to it. Once the Peace accord was signed and the Troubles were officially over, the Catholic pro-Irish want it back to “Derry,” while the pro-Anglo Protestants insist on “Londonderry.” And heaven help you if you use the wrong name to the wrong person.

Hence my unease with being there.

Recent History of Ireland

The story of 20th Century Ireland breaks into three eras:

1922 – Independence: The Irish Republican Army wins freedom from Britain for Southern Ireland. This creates Northern Ireland as a province of Great Britain and sows the seeds for today’s troubles. From the first, the intention of the Loyalist government was to drive the Republican Catholics out. No jobs, no education, no votes: in general, no rights. Just like Israel with the Palestinians.

1969 – The Troubles: With the success of various civil rights movements around the world, the Catholics of Northern Ireland put on a big push for equal rights. The Protestant Loyalists reacted with violence, attacking residential streets and burning out the houses. Escalation of violence on both sides continued, with the IRA getting more and more radical and the various Loyalist militias, supported by the British military, responding in kind.

1998 – present day Finally, after the IRA committed some horrific bombings and lost credibility, an international effort got a Good Friday Agreement of 1998 signed. And both sides have been trying, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, to get together ever since.

The Protestants Were Right

Throughout these problems, the basic factor that has driven the conflict is that the Protestant Loyalists are a small minority of the Irish population. They have always been the majority in Northern Ireland, but their fear is that the Catholics, who tend to have larger families, will some day outpace them.

The interesting demographic that came out of the last census is that for the first time in decades Northern Ireland is predominantly Catholic (54%). Wait 20 years and see how the votes count.

Not a Solution

Which only means the Protestants will get more militant. As we have seen around the world, there is a stratum in every formerly colonial society of people who have maintained their economic control over the rest of the population through their European colonial past. That control is breaking down, and in places like Israel and Northern Ireland, members of this waning rule are feeling their minority in the new population.

No Government at all

A new Northern Ire government was elected last year at Stormount, but it has never sat. The reason for this is a condition of the Good Friday agreement that basically gives the leader of each of the ruling parties an absolute veto on certain issues. The Unionist party, which lost the election, is using the Brexit uncertainty as an excuse to drag its heels, thus holding up the transfer of power, and eventually hoping to force a new election. Same old, same old. We see it happening in Israel, America, and everywhere the old colonial empires set up an unequal distribution of power. The former rulers are desperately clinging to power, while the increasing numbers of the rest of the population snaps and snarls at their feet.

The Bottom Line

Back to my analogy. While the people of Canada and Eire have their differences, they still consider themselves part of the single whole, and there is no overt demonstration of dissent visible in the city. Many  Americans and Northern Irelanders consider themselves to be in opposing camps and find it necessary to show their allegiance to one side or the other with a display of flags, graffiti, signs and aggressive behaviour. The slightest excuse brings rioters into the streets.

So, for me, nothing has changed. The Republic of Ireland has shown what the country could be like. The historical hatred and dissention in the North demonstrates that it will be several generations before that can be achieved.

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