The Troubles were brought to an uneasy end in 1998 by a peace process which included the declaration of ceasefires by most paramilitary organizations and the complete decommissioning of their weapons, the reform of the police, and the corresponding withdrawal of army troops from the streets and from sensitive border areas such as South Armagh and Fermanagh, as agreed by the signatories to the Belfast Agreement (commonly known as the "Good Friday Agreement"). This reiterated the long-held British position, which had never before been fully acknowledged by successive Irish governments, that Northern Ireland will remain within the United Kingdom until a majority votes otherwise.
The constitution of the Republic of Ireland, was amended in 1999 to remove a claim of the "Irish nation" to sovereignty over the whole of Ireland, a claim qualified by an acknowledgement that Ireland could only exercise legal control over the territory formerly known as the Irish Free State. New articles were added to the Constitution to replace the earlier articles, implicitly acknowledge that the status of Northern Ireland, and its relationships within the rest of the United Kingdom and with Ireland, would only be changed with the agreement of a majority of voters in both jurisdictions (Ireland voting separately). This aspect was also central to the Belfast Agreement which was signed in 1998 and ratified by referendums held simultaneously in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.
At the same time, the British Government recognized for the first time, as part of the prospective, the so-called "Irish dimension", the principle that the people of the island of Ireland as a whole have the right, without any outside interference, to solve the issues between North and South by mutual consent. The latter statement was key to winning support for the agreement from nationalists and republicans. It also established a devolved power-sharing government within Northern Ireland where the government must consist of both unionist and nationalist parties.
So in 1998, Northern Ireland was given back its government by Great Britain. However, the government of Northern Ireland was again suspended by the British Government in 2002 after the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) claimed that people working for Sinn Féin at the Assembly were spying on the Government.
Stormontgate is the name given to the controversy surrounding an alleged Provisional Irish Republican Army spy-ring and intelligence gathering operation based in Stormont, the parliament building of Northern Ireland. The term was coined in October 2002 after the arrest of Sinn Féin’s Northern Ireland Assembly group administrator Denis Donaldson, and two other people. Ten days later, the arrests resulted in the suspension of the government in Northern Ireland resulting from the Good Friday Agreement. The raid involved scores of PSNI officers who entered the building to remove two computer disks from the Sinn Féin offices. The raid took place in what was described as a "blaze of publicity". The two computer disks were quietly returned later. Thousands of documents were reportedly discovered by the police in Donaldson's Belfast home.
On July 28, 2005, the Provisional IRA declared an end to its campaign and has since decommissioned what is thought to be all of its arsenal. This final act of decommissioning was performed in accordance with the Belfast Agreement of 1998, and under the watch of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and two external church witnesses. Many unionists, however, remain skeptical.
This IRA decommissioning is in contrast to Loyalist paramilitaries who have so far refused to decommission many weapons. It is not thought that this will have a major effect on further political progress as political parties linked to Loyalist paramilitaries do not attract significant support and will not be in a position to form part of a government in the near future. Sinn Féin, on the other hand, with their (real and perceived) links to militant republicanism, is the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland.
On December 8, 2005 the charges against all three men involved in Stormontgate were dropped by the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service. Lawyers for the service said that "the prosecution for the offences in relation to the accused are no longer in the public interest". Sinn Féin claimed that the prosecutions had been politically motivated and were dropped because of lack of evidence. Some unionists suggested that dropping the charges was a "reward" for the final act of decommissioning by the Provisional IRA announced on September 26, 2005.
On December 16, 2005, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams announced to a press conference in Dublin that Donaldson had been a spy in the pay of the United Kingdom’s Secret Service Military Intelligence for over twenty years. This was confirmed by Donaldson in a statement to broadcast media outlets shortly afterwards.
In his statement Donaldson described the alleged Sinn Féin spy ring in Stormont as "a scam and a fiction". Adams has asserted that both the planned leaking of Donaldson's name as an informer and the original Stormontgate allegations were engineered by the security forces to discredit Sinn Féin and cause a crisis in the peace process.
Since his admission Donaldson had been living in the Republic of Ireland where he was debriefed about the extent of his work for British intelligence. On April 4, 2006 he was found shot dead at the house he had been using as a retreat near Glenties, County Donegal. Donaldson's death is now the subject of an ongoing murder inquiry. In 2009 the Real IRA used their Easter message to admit to killing Donaldson.
The Peace process resumed when politicians elected to the Assembly during the 2003 Assembly Election were called together on May 15, 2006 under the Northern Ireland Act 2006 for the purpose of electing a First Minister of Northern Ireland and a Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and choosing the members of an Executive as a preliminary step to the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland.
Following the election held on March 7, 2007, devolved government returned to Northern Ireland on May 8, 2007 with Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin deputy leader Martin McGuinness taking office as First Minister and Deputy First Minister, respectively.
Today, Northern Ireland still has a devolved government within the United Kingdom. There is a Northern Ireland Executive together with the 108 member Northern Ireland Assembly to deal with devolved matters with the UK Government and UK Parliament responsible for reserved matters. Six representatives from each of 18 constituencies are elected to the Assembly. Northern Ireland is a distinct legal jurisdiction, separate from England, Wales and Scotland. It is also an electoral region of the European Union.
Northern Ireland elects 18 Members of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons, but not all take their seats. The Sinn Féin MP’s (currently five) refuse to take the oath to serve the Queen that is required of all MP’s. The Northern Ireland Office represents the UK government in Northern Ireland on reserved matters and represents Northern Irish interests within the UK government. The Northern Ireland office is led by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who sits in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom.
The main political divide in Northern Ireland is still between Unionists or Loyalists who wish to see Northern Ireland continue as part of the United Kingdom and Nationalists or Republicans who wish to see Northern Ireland join the rest of Ireland, independent from the United Kingdom. These two opposing views are linked to deeper cultural divisions.
Divisions still remain in Northern Ireland
Unionists are overwhelmingly Protestant, descendants of mainly Scottish, English, Welsh and Huguenot settlers as well as Old Gaelic Irishmen who had converted to one of the Protestant denominations. Nationalists are predominantly Catholic and descend from the population predating the settlement, with a minority from Scottish Highlanders as well as some converts from Protestantism. Discrimination against nationalists under the Northern Ireland government (1921–1972) gave rise to the nationalist civil rights movement in the 1960’s. Some Unionists argue that any discrimination was not just because of religious or political bigotry, but also the result of more complex socio-economic, socio-political and geographical factors. Whatever the cause, the existence of discrimination, and the manner in which Nationalist anger at it was handled, was a major contributing factor which led to the long-running conflict known as the Troubles. The political unrest went through its most violent phase between 1968 and 1994.
As of 2007, 36% of the population define themselves as Unionist, 24% as Nationalist and 40% define themselves as neither. According to a 2009 opinion poll, 69% express long term preference of the maintenance of Northern Ireland's membership of the United Kingdom (either directly ruled or with devolved government), while 21% express a preference for membership of a united Ireland.
As part of the United Kingdom, people from Northern Ireland are British citizens. They are also entitled to Irish citizenship by birth which is covered in the 1998 Belfast Agreement between the British and Irish governments and is now in the amended Constitution of Ireland.
Several studies and surveys performed between 1971 and 2006 have indicated that, in general, Protestants in Northern Ireland see themselves primarily as 'British', whereas Roman Catholics regard themselves primarily as 'Irish'.
Alternative names for Northern Ireland
Many people inside and outside Northern Ireland use other names for Northern Ireland, depending on their point of view.
Disagreement on names, and the reading of political symbolism into the use or non-use of a word, is common. The most famous example is whether Northern Ireland's second city should be called "Derry" or "Londonderry".
Choice of language and nomenclature in Northern Ireland often reveals the cultural, ethnic and religious identity of the speaker.
Ulster , strictly speaking, refers to the province of Ulster, of which six of nine historical counties are in Northern Ireland. The term "Ulster" is widely used by the Unionist community and the British press as shorthand for Northern Ireland. In the past, calls have been made for Northern Ireland's name to be changed to Ulster. This proposal was formally considered by the Government of Northern Ireland in 1937 and again in 1949 but no change was made.
The Province refers literally to the historic Irish province of Ulster but today is used as shorthand for Northern Ireland. The BBC, in its editorial guidance for Reporting the United Kingdom, states that "the Province" is an appropriate secondary synonym for Northern Ireland, while "Ulster" is not. It also suggests that "people of Northern Ireland" should be preferred to "British", and the term "mainland" should be avoided in reference to Great Britain in relation to Northern Ireland
North of Ireland or North-East Ireland emphasizes the link of Northern Ireland to the rest of the island, and so by implication playing down Northern Ireland's links with Great Britain.
The Six Counties is language used by republicans e.g. Sinn Féin, which avoids using the name given by the British-enacted Government of Ireland Act 1920. (the Republic is similarly described as the Twenty-Six Counties.) Some of the users of these terms contend that using the official name of the region would imply acceptance of the legitimacy of the Government of Ireland Act.
The Occupied Six Counties refers to Northern Ireland, whose legitimacy is not recognized by republicans opposed to the Belfast Agreement. The Republic of Ireland would be called "The Free State".
British-Occupied Ireland. Similar in tone to the Occupied Six Counties this term is used by more dogmatic anti-Good Friday Agreement republicans who still hold that the First Dáil was the last legitimate government of Ireland and that all governments since have been foreign imposed usurpations of Irish national self-determination.
The North is used to describe Northern Ireland in the same way that "The South" is used to describe the Republic.
Norn Iron is an informal and affectionate local nickname used by both nationalists and unionists to refer to Northern Ireland, derived from the pronunciation of the words "Northern Ireland" in an exaggerated Ulster accent (particularly one from the Greater Belfast area). The phrase is seen as a light-hearted way to refer to Northern Ireland, based as it is on regional pronunciation.
The population of Northern Ireland is 1.8 million.
The whole of Northern Ireland has a temperate maritime climate, rather wetter in the west than the east, although cloud cover is persistent across the region. The weather is unpredictable at all times of the year, and although the seasons are distinct, they are considerably less pronounced than in interior Europe or the eastern seaboard of North America. Average daytime maximums in Belfast are 43.7 °F in January and 63.5 °F in July. The damp climate and extensive deforestation in the 16th and 17th centuries resulted in much of the region being covered in rich green grassland.
Although counties are no longer used for governmental purpose, they remain a popular means of describing where places are. They are officially used while applying for an Irish passport, which requires one to state one's county of birth. The name of the county then appears in both Irish and English on the passport's information page, as opposed to the town or city of birth on the United Kingdom passport.
There are five major settlements with city status in Northern Ireland: Armagh, Belfast, Derry, Lisburn, Newry.
The Northern Ireland economy is the smallest of the four economies making up the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland has traditionally had an industrial economy, most notably in shipbuilding, rope manufacture and textiles, but most heavy industry has since been replaced by services, primarily the public sector. Tourism also plays a big role in the local economy. More recently the economy has benefited from major investment by many large multi-national corporations into high tech industry. These large organizations are attracted by government subsidies and the skilled workforce in Northern Ireland.
There are two main universities in Northern Ireland - The Queen's University of Belfast, and the University of Ulster.
The River Liffey and Dublin
THE RIVER LIFFEY
The River Liffey rises in the bogs of the Wicklow Mountains where many streamlets come together to form the 78 mile long river that flows through the center of Dublin before entering the Irish Sea at Dublin Bay. The River supplies much of Dublin’s water and a range of recreational opportunities.
Wicklow Mountains The River Liffey in Dublin has been used for many centuries for trade, from the Viking beginnings of the city up to recent times. It is connected to the River Shannon via the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal, both crossing west through the center of Ireland.
Around 60% of the Liffey's flow is abstracted for drinking water and to supply industry. Much of this makes its way back into the river after purification in wastewater treatment plants.
Today, the Liffey divides the north side of Dublin from the south side, and is today spanned by numerous bridges, mostly open to vehicular traffic, as well as a number of foot bridges.
The earliest stone bridge over the Liffey of which there is solid evidence was the Bridge of Dublin, built by the Dominicans in 1428, which survived well into the 18th century. A series of bridge built between 1577 and 1684 no longer exist. The oldest bridge still standing is the Mellows Bridge, (originally Queens Bridge) constructed in 1764. The first iron bridge was the elegant Ha'penny Bridge built in 1816. The newest bridge is the Samuel Beckett Bridge, which opened in December 2009. A suspension bridge, it swivels to allow river traffic to pass.
Ha'penny Bridge built in 1816
Dublin is the largest city in Ireland and the capital city of the Republic of Ireland. Dublin is situated near the midpoint of Ireland's east coast, at the mouth of the River Liffey. Dublin encompasses a land area of approximately 40 sq. miles, and is bordered by a low mountain range to the south and surrounded by flat farmland to the north and west.
History records the founding of Dublin by Vikings around 841. The English name is derived from the Irish name Dubh Linn, meaning "black pool". The Dubh Linn was a lake used by the Vikings to moor their ships and was connected to the River Liffey by the Poddle, a short tributary of the River Liffey. The lake was filled-in during the early 18th century, and as the city expanded it was largely forgotten about.
In 1348, the city was hit by the Black Death, a lethal plague that ravaged Europe in the mid-14th century.
Dublin was for much of its existence a medieval city, marked by the existence of a particular style of buildings, built on narrow winding medieval streets. Though the city over the century had grown around the River Liffey, its buildings, like many other medieval centers, backed onto the river. As a collective sewer, household waste was dumped directly into the river.
The first major changes to this pattern occurred during the reign of King Charles II (1630-1685) when the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Earl of Ormonde, issued an instruction which was to have dramatic repercussions for the city as it exists today.
Ormonde insisted that the frontages of the houses, not their rears, should face the river, with a street to run along both sides of the river. By this one development, Ormond changed the face of the city. No longer would the river be a sewer hidden between buildings. Instead it became a central feature of the city, lined by large three and four story houses and public buildings.
The population of Dublin grew from about 10,000 in 1600 to over 50,000 in 1700 and this in spite of another plague epidemic in 1649-51.
During the Georgian Period , from 1714 (the beginning of the reign of King George I) to 1830 (the death of King George IV), Dublin became, for a short time, the second city of the British Empire after London and the fifth largest European city. Much of Dublin's most notable architecture dates from this time. In 1759, the founding of the Guinness Brewery at St. James's Gate resulted in a considerable economic impact for the city. For much of the time since its foundation, the Guinness brewery was the largest employer in the city.
As the city grew in size, stature, population and wealth, two changes were needed. The existing narrow-street of the medieval city required major redevelopment, and major new development of residential areas was required.
In 1757, by an act of Parliament, a new body called the Wide Streets Commission was created to remodel the old medieval city. Over the following decades, the commission reshaped the old medieval city of Dublin, and created a network of main thoroughfares by wholesale demolition or widening of old streets or the creation of entirely new ones. The Wide Streets Commission governed standards on the layout of streets, bridges, buildings and other architectural considerations in Dublin, until it was abolished in 1849.
While the rebuilding by the Wide Streets Commission fundamentally changed the streetscape in Dublin, a property boom led to additional building outside the central core. Unlike twentieth century building booms in Dublin the eighteenth century developments were carefully controlled. The developing areas were divided into precincts, each of which was given to a different developer. The scope of their developments were restricted, however, with strict controls imposed on style of residential building, design of buildings and location, thereby producing a cohesive unity that came to be called Georgian Dublin.
Under the anti-Catholic Penal Laws, Roman Catholics, though the overwhelming majority in Ireland, were harshly discriminated against, barred from holding property rights or from voting in parliamentary elections until 1793. Thus the houses of Georgian Dublin, particularly in the early phase before Catholic Emancipation was granted in 1829, were almost invariably owned by a small Church of Ireland Anglican elite, with Catholics only gaining admittance to the houses as skivvies and servants. Ultimately the north side was laid out centered on two major squares, Ruthland Square (now called Parnell Square) and Mountjoy Square. Such was the prestige of the latter square that among its many prominent residents was the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin.
For the initial years of the Georgian era, the north side was the place to live. However, when the Earl of Kildare chose to move to a new large palace built for him on what up to that point was seen as the inferior south side, he caused shock. When his Dublin townhouse, Kildare House (renamed Leinster House when he was made Duke of Leinster) was finished, it was by far the biggest aristocratic residence other than Dublin Castle, and it was greeted with envy.
The Earl had predicted that his move would be followed, and it was. Three new residential squares appeared on the south side, Merrion Square (facing his residence's garden front), St Stephen's Green and the smallest and last of Dublin's five Georgian squares to be built, Fitzwilliam Square.
Aristocrats, bishops and the wealthy sold their north side townhouses and migrated to the new south side developments, even though many of the developments, particularly in Fitzwilliam Square, were smaller and less impressive than the buildings in the north. While the wealthier people lived in houses on the squares, those with lesser means and lesser titles lived in smaller, less grand but still impressive developments off the main squares.