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The Signing Of The Good Friday Agreement History Essay

More than ten years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland remains a deeply divided society. Although the tensions between Catholics and Protestants remain, the peace process of the 1990’s, culminating in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, has helped to create a climate of relative stability. However, with sectarianism and prejudices remaining deeply rooted in Northern Ireland’s society, it appears that Northern Ireland is not at a stage to welcome newcomers, as racism is now threatening to replace terrorism. Northern Ireland’s history has continually been one of chronic emigration with relatively little experience of immigration. Over the 20th century, its population has exhibited phases of overall decline, stability and growth reflecting the varying intensity of natural increase and net migration. However, in recent years Northern Ireland has experienced an increase in racism as immigration has now replaced emigration for the first time in centuries.

Traditionally, Northern Ireland was regarded as a net exporter of its people. Mass immigration from Ireland primarily began with the potato famine of the 1840’s and continued through to the end of the twentieth century, motivated by continuing hard times, political unrest and unemployment [1] . Conversely the years subsequent to 2001 have been associated with an unprecedented period of net immigration, a trend which has effectively reversed three centuries of long-term emigration. According to Darby the changes were visible and evident in most urban centres and many welcomed the growing diversity and cosmopolitan nature of Northern Ireland. Unfortunately some people did not, a reaction that ironically echoes the rejection of Irish immigrants in previous centuries. [2] This increase of inward migration has given rise to a growing problem of racism, abuse and harassment and hence migrants have increasingly become the subject of both racism and anti-racism. Mr Patrick Yu, executive Director of Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities stated that “The 1994 ceasefire marked the start of a growing spiral of violence against ethnic minorities, who have become the new victims in Northern Ireland’s post-conflict society”.

Migration itself is difficult to measure and there is the additional problem of illegal immigration. People migrate when forced to do so by irresistible circumstances, such as war or natural disaster or when they perceive some betterment in social and/or economic circumstances to be gained from choosing to move. [3] The population of Northern Ireland on Census day (29 April 2001) showed a total population of 1,685,267. There was an inflow of 18,974 migrants from the previous year representing just over 1% of the total resident population. [4] The inflow of immigrants has since stabilised and between the periods July 2008 and July 2009, population growth was less than the previous three years, primarily due to a fall in the levels of migration to as a result of the economic downturn. It is estimated that between the years 2006-2012 there will be a net inflow of 20,000 migrants and in years subsequent to 2012, 500 migrants per annum. [5] 

The reasons for the net inflow are primarily due to the improved political situation in the State since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement which in turn has made Northern Ireland a more attractive place to live and work for people of colour as much as anyone else. [6] Secondly, the last decade has witnessed a period of economic growth which inevitably produced labour shortages that began to be filled by migrant workers. From 2001 onwards the growing black, Chinese, South Asian and Filipino communities were joined in turn by migrants from a range of European Union countries. [7] In the following years, the volumes and patterns of migration have changed as migrants from countries without a history of immigration to the United Kingdom or Ireland have begun to come to Northern Ireland. [8] This unprecedented inflow continued particularly following the enlargement of the European Union in 2004 with the accession of eight Eastern European countries into the European Union, most notably Poland, Lithuania and Slovakia.

The 2001 census included a question on ethnicity identifying 26,659 people living in Northern Ireland that were born outside the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland. Of this number, 14,276 identified themselves as belonging to an ethnic minority which represented 0.8% of the population. [9] There has been a significant minority ethnic population in Northern Ireland for over a century and includes Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Latin American, Portuguese, Jewish and African Communities. [10] The 2011 census will provide a more accurate picture as regards the current size and location of the minority ethnic population.

These figures aforementioned portray the fact that migration and migrant communities have been facts of life for Northern Ireland for some time, that the historic patterns of migration have been diverse and varied and that only a percentage of migrants necessarily classify themselves as belonging to a minority ethnic community. Jarman contends that the current cycle of migration appears to be distinct from previous cycles of migration in that the speed and scale of current immigration is much more rapid than it has been previously. He further maintains that the migration cycle of the last decade was not essentially an increase in scale of the previous patterns, but rather representation of new trends, with migrants coming from Eastern Europe rather than Eastern Asia, from non-Commonwealth countries and from countries that do not necessarily have widespread use of the English language. Each of these factors adds new dynamics to the patterns of demography, service use and social diversity in Northern Ireland. [11] 

The conflict in Northern Ireland has often overshadowed the existence and development of a growing ethnic population. [12] Northern Ireland remains haunted by a history of violence, with the origins of this violence embedded in developments in Europe, Britain and Ireland during the 16th and 17th centuries and rooted in the struggle for an independent Ireland which thrust Irish society and British relations into a conflictual mould. It has strongly shaped the experiences and perception of the local population. Partition of Ireland in 1921 did not bring peace or stability to Northern Ireland and the last three decades of the twentieth century saw the “troubles” associated with much violence and death in Northern Ireland and elsewhere as a result. [13] Hence the violence experienced in Northern Ireland since 1968 has made traditional hatreds worse and while the level of violence did prompt the idea of a Peace process, the legacy of hatred is that mistrust and suspicion bedevil it. [14] 

Many people reacted to the culture of violence by seeking either to deny it or escape it through emigration or internal migration. [15] Migration is typically a major feature of any conflict. Intimidation had caused the relocation of thousands of both Catholics and Protestants resulting in a patchwork of increasingly segregated neighbourhoods. [16] D.L. Horowitz contends that “if it is impossible for groups to live together in a heterogeneous state, perhaps it is better for them to live apart in more than one homogeneous state, even if this necessitates population transfers. [17] Segregation is primarily an instrument to control a situation that is perceived as threatening. Ways in which segregation manifests itself are the creation of “safe areas”, the ability to determine the amount of contact with the respective other community, attempts to neutralise another community’s dominance, and to eliminate the dangers of community disintegration. [18] Minorities on both sides have been forced to seek refuge with their co-religionists, either due to direct intimidation or simply a fear of attack.

Thus the long standing conflict between the opposing cultures is kept alive. Memories of past and present aggression influence the emotional dispositions of local residents as well as their selective use of space which is carved into safe and unsafe zones. [19] The result of this division of space and protection of territories, which is an issue in itself, is that it creates further problems as newcomers arrive. Both Protestant and Catholic communities have sacrificed a great deal to maintain their space, and now other groups are threatening what they have each worked so hard to sustain. [20] The emergence of no go areas, so called “peace lines” that barricade off Protestant and Catholic districts, and territorial markings such as painted kerbstones and mural graffiti, create the impression of a balkanised state continuously on the verge of disintegration. [21] These territorial markings are maintained to emphasize sectarian division however; the communal violence involving Catholic and Protestant areas is no longer the only political violence in Northern Ireland. These territorial markings are now also being used to produce an anti-racist message.

As a result of the “troubles” migrants find themselves in a place marked by a history of sectarianism and violence. The mere existence of another community is either perceived as a threat or presents a challenge, perhaps as a result of the wounds inflicted throughout the “troubles” and hence there have been outbreaks of violence against immigrants. Faced with newcomers, locals who are keen on keeping residential areas to themselves have frequently reacted to incoming migrants with anti-foreigner sentiments. [22] Race hate has grown steadily in recent years, with increasing incidents of assaults, intimidation and harassment and consequently has led the Guardian Newspaper to label it as the “race hate capital of Europe”. [23] 

When the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) started recording racially motivated crime in 1996 there were a mere 41 incidents reported. The figure in the 2003/2004 period was a mere 453. From 1st April 2009 to 30th March 2010 the PSNI recorded 1038 racial incidents, of which 712 were subsequently deemed to be racist crimes. [24] These figures are significant in terms of the population of Northern Ireland itself. The substantial increase in such racial incidents indicates that prejudice and intolerance towards other groups remains a significant problem in Northern Ireland. The troubles may have concealed the presence of immigrants. Hainsworth states that during the troubles, traditional and sectarian politics and reflexes tended to crowd out significant discussion, let alone prioritisation, of ethnic minority issues and grievances. [25] 

The most common early targets were workers from Lithuanian origin who were drawn to Northern Ireland as a result of the economic growth. They were seen as a threat to local wage structures because of their willingness to work for less than the wages normally paid to working class Protestant and Catholics and thus were the targets of economically motivated attacks. [26] As recently as last year, the Indian Community of Belfast which was established in 1981 together with the Belfast Islamic Centre and the Polish Association received a letter, threatening of racist violence, from Protestant extremists asking immigrants to leave Northern Ireland otherwise they would be the subject of bomb attacks. The letter stated that there is “No sympathy for foreigners, get out of out Queen’s country…Other than that your building will be blown up. Keep Northern Ireland white. Northern Ireland is only for white British”. [27] The hate of Catholics by these extremists has also been extended to the Polish who they perceive to “share the same faith”. [28] In 2006, Leish Cox of the Chinese Welfare Association stated that when they attempted to build a Chinese community centre, it was described as the “yellow invasion” and claimed that this was worse than thirty years of IRA activity. David Wilson, a journalist with the “Irish News” believes that the attacks are not directed at any particular group but as foreigners as a whole. He contends that “There are people here so involved in their own tribal politics that anyone entering into the fray from outside will be subjected to that same tribal main set. We have never had a real history of immigration. It’s always been emigration…” [29] 

It is commonly believed and frequently reported by the media that racism is largely a problem associated with the Protestant community and within loyalist working class areas as a high percentage of racist incidents have been recorded as taking place in working class Protestant areas and also due a perceived association between loyalist groups and the far right. [30] New migrants, as well as refugees and asylum seekers, tended to move into the cheapest available housing stock which is disproportionately in loyalist working-class areas. In addition, the Good Friday Agreement created a degree of loyalist ‘alienation’. The political gains of republicanism were not matched by loyalist political parties. [31] It is not necessarily that Protestants are more racist than Catholics but rather that they have more opportunities to express their racism in their home communities. [32] 

One of the effects of 'the troubles' had been the widespread tendency to ignore, minimise or marginalise the problems and concerns of ethnic minorities. They were part of 'the hidden troubles', largely squeezed out by the broader societal preoccupation with sectarianism and its manifestations. [33] The sudden and dramatic rise of immigrants over the past decade indicates that prejudice and intolerance towards other groups remains a significant problem in Northern Ireland. The increase in racially motivated attacks on immigrants merely demonstrates that it is an extension of the sectarian divide. Immigrants in search of a better life have instead been met with hate. Racism makes and keeps peoples different, separate and unequal. There is now a realisation of the harm which race attacks are doing to Northern Ireland. The surge in racism towards immigrants in the last decade threatens the worldwide image of Northern Ireland as a peaceful and attractive location and its ability to brand itself as a tourist destination. Northern Ireland remains a culturally deeply divided society.

The continual segregation of areas may provide security in the short term however, it will reduce the likelihood of a compromise through mutual understanding in the long term – the boundaries remain drawn between the indigenous and the foreigners. Racism has fed on the tolerance of prejudice and bigotry, the fear and distrust towards members of a minority ‘other’ community. The fractured, contested legacy of the “Troubles” lingers on with the dire consequence that Northern Ireland is creating a general climate of exclusion and a sense of being different and of “not belonging”. If it forces immigrants to leave Northern Ireland it is sending a strong message to the racists that their intimidation is working. W. B Yeats has yet to be proven wrong when he stated “Out of Ireland have we come, Great hatred, little room, maimed us at the start”. [34] Sectarianism and prejudices remain deeply rooted and thus it appears that Northern Ireland is not at a stage to welcome newcomers.


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