Northern Ireland



Catholics VS Protestants

  • Both groups are Christians.

  • Protestant Christianity began in the 1500's when some people protested against some of the wrong things they believed the Catholic Church was doing and teaching.

  • Some differences in beliefs:

    • The Virgin Mary

      • Catholics say she acts as a mediator between Man and God.

      • Protestants say Jesus is the only mediator between Man and God.

    • The Pope

      • Catholics claim Pope is the Head of Church on Earth.

      • Protestants claim Jesus is the Head of Church on Earth.

    • Confession:

      • Catholics believe that priests have the power and authority to forgive sins.

      • Protestants believe that only Jesus has the power to do so.

Bloody Sunday

  • British soldiers shot at peaceful demonstrators in Londonderry (Catholic-dominated area).

  • 13 civilians died and many more were wounded.

  • Led to outburst of Catholic anger.

  • Resulted in direct rule by Britain. Northern Ireland only controlled finance, commerce, health and education.

  • Catholics turned to Irish Republican Army for help. IRA’s aim was to use violence to rid Northern Ireland of the British army and the representatives of the government.

Causes for the Conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics


  • During the 1100s, Ireland was a united country

  • Subsequently it was conquered by England in the 1200s

  • The Irish Catholics who stayed behind were given the less fertile land

  • English landlords brought in Protestant Scottish and English settlers into the northern parts of Ireland and pushed out the local Catholic farmers

  • Northern Ireland became predominantly Protestant

  • King James II (Catholic) came to the throne and tried to defeat the Protestants

  • He failed and was defeated by King William of Orange in the Battle of Boyne in 1690

  • Penal Laws were implemented against the Catholics by the Protestants to ensure that they had complete control of Ireland

    • No Catholic can buy land

    • No Catholic shall be allowed to vot

    • No Catholic can join the army

    • No Catholic may receive higher education

  • In 1800, Ireland became part of the United Kingdom (England)

  • In the late 1800s, local Irish Catholics sought limited self-government known as Home Rule

  • Hostilities continued and were so bad that Britain lost control of the southern part of Ireland

  • In 1921, Ireland was divided into 2 separate parts, based on majority religion

    • Northern Ireland (which was predominantly Protestant)

    • Southern Ireland (Irish Free State)

      • Had their own parliament but consulted the English monarchy regarding foreign affairs

  • The Catholics in the North were treated very unfairly by the government

  • In 1949, the Irish Free State cut ties with Britain and became the Republic of Ireland

  • Before 1972

    • Northern Ireland had its own parliament in Stormont

    • Since 1972

    • Northern Ireland has been ruled directly by the British parliament in London

    • Northern Ireland is in charge of commerce, health and education

    • Ministers are predominantly protestant

Causes of Conflict in Northern Ireland

  • Catholics and Protestants see themselves as 2 different groups

  • Lack of common identity prevents understanding and co-operation between the 2 groups. (This shows that lack of Common Identity is the UNDERLYING CAUSE)

  • Religious differences cause tension BUT ARE NOT a cause of conflict

1. Divided Loyalties

  • The difference in political beliefs between the Protestants and Catholics also contributed to the conflict in Northern Ireland.

  • The Protestants see themselves as British and want Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK. They are afraid that a union with the Republic of Ireland would mean that the Catholic government would be intolerant of their Protestant beliefs.

  • The Catholics see themselves as Irish and want a union with the Republic of Ireland. The Catholics also resent the history of English conquest where they were killed and treated badly by the Protestants.

  • Loyalty to different countries makes the Protestants and the Catholics intolerant of each other, causing tension which would later result in conflict between the two sides.

  • This difference also contributes to a lack of identity which further prevents understanding and co-operation between the Catholics and Protestants, leading to more tension and conflict.

2. Unequal Allocation of Housing

  • One reason for the conflict in Northern Ireland is the unequal allocation of public housing by city councils.

  • As the city councils are largely made up of Protestants, more houses would be given to the Protestants than the Catholics, therefore the Catholics find the allocation of public housing by the government to be unfair.

  • As the Catholics have larger families, they are frustrated by the shortage of housing as they would have to wait many years to be allocated a house.

  • They were angered by this discrimination and their frustration led to the conflict.

3. Unequal Employment Opportunities

  • In Northern Ireland, it is more difficult for Catholics to get jobs, especially in the civil / government service although they were just as / more qualified than the Protestants.

  • There were also very few Catholics in senior positions n the public sectors and the number of Catholic civil servants were not proportionate to their numbers in the country.

  • As a result, this affected the Catholics as they were likely to be jobless or unable to get the jobs they wanted. Their social and economic position in Northern Ireland and their standard of living would be affected if they are jobless or lowly paid.

  • The Catholics were thus very unhappy that they were discriminated and suffering from economic hardship. This resentment would later lead to conflict between the two communities.

4. Lack of Voting Rights

  • The lack of voting rights also caused conflicts between the two groups. In local elections only people who owned houses or businesses could vote.

  • As Protestants tended to be wealthier, more of them could vote which meant they dominated local councils and ruled in their own interests which made Catholics resentful.

  • Poorer Catholics who did not own companies got less votes, which resulted in them being unable to obtain any say in the government or gain political power, making them resentful of the Protestants and their ability to gain advantage through voting rights.

  • Secondly, by re-drawing the voting districts, Protestants could ensure that the Catholics were unable to gain a power base, further marginalising them.

  • The Catholics were angry with this, causing tension which later led to conflicts between the Protestants and the Catholics.

5. Lack of Opportunities for Social Interaction

  • Another cause of conflict was the lack of opportunities for social interaction between Catholics and Protestants

  • One area was in the education system. Protestant children attended fully-funded public schools where they were taught British history, played British sports and were loyal to Britain.

  • On the other hand, Catholic children attended partially-funded private schools where they were taught Irish history, played Irish sports and regarded Britain as a foreign country.

  • Only a small group of children attended integrated schools where both groups interacted with each other. In addition, the Catholics and Protestants have always lived in separate residential areas which reduced the opportunity to socially interact.

  • Due to a lack of interaction, the Protestants and the Catholics are unable to resolve their differences. Attending different schools and learning different things and not interacting together makes generations of Protestant and Catholic children grow up distrusting and being hostile to each other, causing tension and conflict.

Analysis of Causes of Conflict

As a result...

  • Generations of children grow to be distrustful of each other.

  • Hostility between them increases.

  • Fully funded public schools for Protestants only and partially-funded private schools for Catholics only

  • Integrated schools set up by private individuals only attract about 5% of the total school-going population of Northern Ireland

  • Protestant children are taught British history and play British sports like rugby, hockey and cricket

  • They are loyal to the British and sing the British national anthem

  • Nothing about the Catholics or the history of Northern Ireland is taught from a neutral perspective

  • Catholic children are taught Irish history and play Irish sports like hurling and are taught the Irish language and culture

  • They are loyal to the Republic of Ireland and see Britain as a foreign country

  • Nothing about the Protestants or the history of Northern Ireland is taught from a neutral perspective

Consequences of conflict

The Troubles

  • In order to end discrimination for Catholics, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was formed in 1967. NICRA adopted non-violent protest marches. However, fights broke out between Catholics, Protestants and the police. In 1969, the British government sent in the British Army to keep the peace. Relations between the British Army and the Catholics were initially good as the Army was seen as neutral protectors.

  • However, in 1971, the “internment laws” were introduced by the Northern Ireland government which gave the British Army the power to arrest, interrogate and detain anyone suspected of being involved in acts to weaken the government. Catholics lost faith in the British Army when their homes were searched and they were arrested on suspicion of carrying out terrorist activities.

  • In 1972, the British Army opened fire on a NICRA march and killed 13 civilians in an incident called “Bloody Sunday”. The deaths on “Bloody Sunday” led to a great outburst of Catholic anger. More violence between the Protestants and the Catholics occurred with Catholic homes and businesses being targeted for violence by the Protestants.

  • Angered by the non-action of the local police and the raids by the British Army, the Catholics turned to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) for help. The IRA retaliated with violence, attacking the British Army and Protestants. The IRA was responsible for two-thirds of the deaths that occurred as a result of the Protestant-Catholic violence.

  • The Troubles resulted in a worsening conflict situation between the Catholics and the Protestants.

Social Segregation

  • People in Northern Ireland have grown up in an atmosphere of tension and violence.

  • The Protestants and Catholics have also been segregated socially resulting in them being unable to interact with each other to promote better understanding and conflict resolution.

  • With divided loyalties and social segregation, a resulting lack of understanding between the Protestants and the Catholics makes it harder to resolve the hatred and suspicion that has been created due to the various issues which contributed to the conflict.

Declining Economy

  • The economy of Northern Ireland has been affected because the violence discourages domestic and foreign investment in the country as investors are put off by the rising cost of security and the threat of bombings.

  • The violence and bombings have also destroyed property and infrastructure.

  • As the economy is in decline, there is little money to be obtained to rebuild the damaged infrastructure.

  • Progress and development in Northern Ireland would be slowed down leading to economic hardship and a lower standard of living.

  • The Protestants and Catholics would then blame each other for the violence and their resulting low standards of living.

Political Reform

  • The Civil Rights Marches/Movement put pressure on the Northern Ireland government to pass anti-discrimination measures in Northern Ireland.

  • The unfair voting system was abolished and promises were also made to review the schemes for allocating government-owned houses.

  • However, despite these efforts, other discriminatory policies continue to remain and efforts to bring about power-sharing have not been successful as the different political parties refuse to share power.

Analysis of Consequences of Conflict

Social Segregation

Declining Economy

Political Reform

Social segregation prevents the Catholics and the Protestants from coming together to try and understand each other and resolve the conflict which prevents them from reaching peace.

A declining economy and its resulting lowering of standards of living for Catholics and Protestants deepens the hatred both parties have for each other as they blame one another for the economic problems in the country.

While the political reforms initially generated were good and looked towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict, problems created between the two groups resulted in the political reforms only having limited success.

Efforts to Resolve the Conflict - Will it be successful?

  • Yes

    • Efforts have been undertaken by the British government from the 1970s and the 1990s to attempt to bring peace to Northern Ireland by exploring new systems of government which would satisfy both Protestants and Catholics.

    • Representatives from the British Government, the Protestants, the Catholics and the IRA have met to resolve the conflict.

    • Good Friday peace agreement in 1998 signed by the British and Irish governments and supported by most of the political parties in Northern Ireland.

  • No

    • All parties have failed to come to an agreement.

    • Good Friday peace agreement failed following an IRA bomb blast in Omagh, Northern Ireland.

    • Violent clashes and deaths followed after Protestants staged the annual Orange Order Marches which celebrate the victory of the Protestants over the Catholics in the Battle of Boyne.

    • Violence continues to plague Northern Ireland. Underlying discrimination and prejudices still exist in Northern Ireland

Who is to Blamed for the Conflict

  • British Government

    • Sent the British Army into Northern Ireland and gave them the right to use the “internment laws” that led to the Catholics hating the British Army and turning to the IRA for help, worsening the conflict.

    • Have not done enough to remove discriminatory policies or put in place policies to foster more interaction or better ties between the Protestants and Catholics.

  • Protestants

    • Have followed local traditions that mark Protestant dominance like the Battle of Boyne commemoration parades to celebrate the victory of the Protestants over the Catholics, fuelling tension between the two groups.

    • Unfair and discriminatory policies regarding housing and job allocation have caused tension between the Protestants and the Catholics.

  • Catholics

    • While the Catholics are mainly the victims in this conflict, their support for the IRA has worsened the conflict.

  • British Army

    • Worsened the conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics after the Bloody Sunday incident.

    • Raids of Catholic homes by the British Army also contributed to the tension and led to a build-up of hatred against the British Army and the Protestants.

    • Their actions also drove the Catholics to support the IRA.

  • IRA

    • Worsened the conflict by resorting to violence to achieve their aims.

    • By using terrorist tactics like attacks on authority and bombings, they have killed many innocent Protestants as well as Catholics.

    • The IRA also went against a peace agreement it signed by setting off a bomb attack, clearly showing it was not willing to commit to peace.

Was the British Army Wrong to Send Troops in Northern Ireland?

  • Yes

    • Created more tension and hostilities by enforcing them the power to arrest, interrogate and detain without trial anyone suspected of being involved in any acts to weaken the government causing the Catholics to lose faith in the British Army when Catholic houses and businesses were raided and innocent people arrested on suspicion of being terrorists.

    • The Bloody Sunday incident in 1972 where the British Army shot at protestors made worse Catholic-Protestant ties and led to an outburst of Catholic anger.

    • After Bloody Sunday, there was more Catholic-Protestant violence as Catholic homes and businesses were targeted by Protestant mobs and petrol-bombed. The local police also did nothing to stop the violence and the British Army often raided Catholic homes, using force and damaging property. As a result, the Catholics turned to the IRA for help as they were desperate. If not for the initial violence which stemmed from the Internment Laws and the Bloody Sunday Incident, it would have been alright to send the British Army into Northern Ireland. However, the British Army became involved in the conflict as well, making it wrong and creating more tension and violence.

    • Provided a target for the IRA to use violent methods to force its withdrawal, resulting in the deaths of many innocent Protestants and Catholics. As the IRA continued to use violent methods to dislodge the British presence in Northern Ireland, their bombings and attacks cost lives and scared away investors, causing economic decline in Northern Ireland.

  • No

    • The British Government had to send in troops to help keep order in Northern Ireland following the fights that broke out between the police, Catholics, and Protestants during the Civil Rights Marches.

    • The British Army was initially welcomed by the Catholics as protectors as they were seen as a neutral force and it was hoped that their presence would deter and eventually stop anymore violence between the Catholics and the Protestants in Northern Ireland.