The Northern Ireland Crisis and Sunningdale Agreement

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29th Mar 2019 History Reference this

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Agreement on a council of Ireland on the 9th of December 1973.

Introduction

More than nineteen years since the Good Friday Agreement, the Unionists and Protestants remain divided and uncertainty still on the horizon for the future of Ireland (Byrne, M. 2016)

The Sunningdale Agreement was signed on December 9th 1973, the political, socio-economical were terrible, it was a ticking-bomb times, the agreement were urgently needed due the dire situation in Northern Ireland (McGrattan, 2006)

This agreement was seen as result intensification of violence between the Unionists or The Protestant, they were about sixty percent of NI population and the Nationalist who are majority Catholics who are about forty percent of NI population.  These times also are referred to as “Troubles” in NI history. The sectarian division and its violent nature in Western Europe was concern in continent in which more than three thousand people lost their lives and many more injured in “Troubles”. (Kennedy-Pipe 1997, pp50-56). Despite the collapse of this agreement, in many ways this agreement is seen as important step toward Northern Ireland peace process, moreover, this agreement become foundation for the Good Friday agreement or sometime is referred to as Belfast Agreement this agreement was reached on April 10th 1998(Tonge, J. 2000) Between, British, Irish and most of the political parties in Northern Ireland, on how should the Northern Ireland be governed such as power-sharing. The concept of power sharing in Northern Ireland was opposed by many Unionists Hardliners such as Ian Paisley, in which the saw the deal as unfair and undemocratic. However, the British government did not shared same views because they saw the situation in NI were terrible. This essay will attempt to illustrate reasons for the failures of The Sunningdale Agreement, will look at comparison between the Northern Ireland to other Britain’s foreign policies’ complication for the last century, such as Israeli-Palestine conflicts. Both these conflicts been ongoing for nearly a century, and there are no concrete sign that in any time soon these conflicts would come to End. 

The Northern Ireland Crisis and brief history

In the 1500th century Ireland remained a Catholic country while England turn into a Protestant, in the late 1602 England started to invade Ireland by 1608 the invasion was accomplished and the plantation process had begun, at the same time the opposition to this cause have continued to this day.

Ever since the emergence of NI in 1920, the Conflicts and violence have only   accelerated all way through end of twenty century, particularly since 1968 all the way to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, The “Troubles” Was the worst violence in Western Europe sine WW2.  The history of Conflict of NI is not only a Century old but can be traced back to the Sixteenth  century the period of “Plantation” by the protestant from Scotland and England to the Ulster area or the nine county in NR, the native Irish Catholic saw them as coloniser, from England and Scotland therefore the opposed them ever since. The conflict of NI is simply is perceived as the conflict between the two key group, the Nationalist  and  The Unionist, majority vote for DUP  and  perceive themselves religiously protestant, British, and want the NI to continue as part of Great Britain. In contrary to that, the Nationalist, who are mainly Irish-catholic, they mainly support Sinn Fein, the Political version of IRA and   the labour Party, moreover, they want whole of Ireland to be reunited as United Ireland without any influence from Britain.         

Sunningdale Agreement

On the December 9th 1973 Edward Heath British Prime Minister, the Irish Liam Cosgrave and most of the Political representatives of NI signed an agreement at Sunningdale, Berkshire. (BBC 1973). The core purpose of this agreement was to bring the volatile and violence situation of NI under control by bringing all the different faction of NI together and to sign the agreement for power sharing.

Under the treaty there would be a council called “Council of Ireland” will be combined of Consultative Assembly and board of ministers, these ministers would executive, consultative and harmonising powers, there were fourteen members equal numbers of them would come from Northern Ireland Executive, another half from Irish government.  William Whitelaw, Britain Secretary of State at the time, first wanted to end violence carried out by IRA, Elections were held soon after as a Result Executive board were established and power-sharing begun.

Reasons for the failure of Sunningdale Agreement

At the very beginning of this agreement there were many opposition to this agreement mostly from Unionist side (Kennedy-Pipe 1997, pp56-62), in addition to that, the British and Irish government badly thought out toward the deal, all these factors contributed to the failure of this agreement before it started. It’s thought the timing for this agreement was right due to the high level of violence from both side the Catholic and Protestant, NI in those days were exceptionally dangerous and frightening place to be. During the “Troubles” the Provisional IRA’s were blamed for the death of more than 450 peoples. This forced the British Government to deploy the Army in NI to restore the state que, however only made the situation worse. The soldiers were accused by taking their frustrations on civilians such as Bogside Massacre more notably, the Bloody Sunday incident on 30th January 1972, in Derry, Northern Ireland, were British soldiers  shot and killed  28 unarmed civilians during a peaceful protest against Internment ( Dawson, G. 2005) This was an operation by the British Army one of their main task was to arrest IRA and to hold them without trial, the main target of this operation was to arrest the leaders of Provisional IRA, and instead they arrested mostly official IRA. More than 180 people died due to the conflicts between provisional IRA, IRA and British soldier in 1971. It’s well been documented that one of the core reason for the failure of Sunningdale Agreement was the Council of Ireland, because the Council was created with Britain, South and north of Ireland, what that meant that it was, the role Council was difficult one because all the participant wanted their more powers such local housing and Policing, to some extent Whitelaw  agree to the demand John Hume for more Powers  in returned he thought that would diminish the influence and support for the IRA in NI.    

Another blow to the agreement came on December 5th when Whitelaw called back to Westminster to negotiate with the Trade Union. This was huge blow to this agreement, because soon after Francis Pym succeeded him,  Pym, did not contributed a lot the agreement because he had very limited background knowledge in Northern Ireland, despite this the Edward Heath, British prime minister supported Pym policies in NI, this created huge disagreement and opposition in Unionist Community to this agreement because of  the participation of southern Ireland government in Council, they thought that this would give the southern government some sort of legitimacy over the NI, in contrary to that the Unionist had no say over the South’s affairs, which they thought is unjust. For instance, one of the request of this agreement is that the Article two and three to be withdrawn from Northern Ireland’s constitution, this would in some way interpreted to that the Southern Government have some kind of constitutional right over Northern Ireland, although the Southern Government argued that these changes were only illustrative, however the Unionist and others were not convinced     

As part of this agreement, one of the demand from British government to Irish Government, the requested that the Irish government to hand over IRA affiliate to Northern Ireland‘s government. However this was problematic for the Southern government because of widespread torture and violence against IRA member in NI. The in many ways this concept of torture could not be strongly argued by the British government at the time because huge level of violence between the Catholic and the police forces, consequently, this was another reason for the failure of the agreement. In many ways, the wrong policies of British government were seen as reasons for failure Sunningdale Agreement, regardless if they were made intentionally or not for this deal to succeed, in particular, The Unionist were very angry that the British Government gave an excessive Powers to Northern Ireland Council, and in some way the blamed Heath for being insensitive to the situation of the Ni.

Moreover, another blow to this agreement by the British government came when the Prime minister, Heath called for snap election over miner strike (BBC, 1974). This election was problematic for the agreement, because this election add only more uncertainty to NI situation and more gravely, the anti-treaty candidate won more ten seat of twelve in Westminster. Overall, the Unionist thought by increasing power to the Council that would eventually   led to end of Partition of Northern Ireland, Unionist thought that they have been pushed into corner by Un experienced Pym, which in the end led to the collapse of this agreement.  

The final nail in the coffin for the agreement came when some sections of the loyalist’s workers which stretched throughout industries in NI, called a strike on 15th may 1974, for anti-power sharing. This strike was in many crucial for loyalist’s, they started by closing roads and power stations, within a week of these strike, they cut the electricity power by more than 50 percent, consequently  this led to huge power cut in hospitals, factories, and other governmental institutions eventually brought Northern Ireland to halt, while all these dire situation continuing  Merlyn Rees, the  Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was reluctance to the army and police to intervene and stop the strike, but instead just observed the situation. The British government attempted to pursue the striker to stop, and asked the Southern Ireland Government to cut down the NI Council’s power, however these request were UN fruitful, as result of all these factors the Executive council resigned and this came as the End of this Agreement.

Northern Ireland and Israeli-Palestine conflict

In both of these conflicts, the Northern Ireland and Israeli-Palestine conflict. The core principles of these conflicts are intertwined such religious, identity and Political. While it’s more accurate to assume that Israeli-Palestine is more about their identity and fight for their survival. While in Northern Ireland both groups are Christine, regardless of their geographical, religious differences their objective remain the same as Israeli-Palestine that is the fight for survival for Catholic and the Protestant in Northern Ireland. Many Irish in NI feels they can relate themselves to Palestine because of a direct result of British foreign policy decision making and their continuation of support to the both, the Protestant in Northern Ireland and to the Israel. Many scholars have illustrated that the reason for the stared of “Troubles” in Northern Ireland was a direct reaction to modification in Political system in NI. In other word,  the political changes that brought about by the DUP and more importantly by the British Government policies, only intensify  the violence  between the Catholic and Protestant, many Catholic felt they were been treated unfairly by the socioeconomic and  Political system as whole. It thought by many that the NI issue is religious conflicts, because the two groups have used the term Catholic and protestant, because of this, either intentionally or innocently  have made it easier for some people to labile it as religious conflict rather than identity conflicts in which clearly most of the catholic wish to have a united Ireland. This conflict to large extent is not about the religion but identity, in this case both side in this conflicts are not fighting to convert other side to their version of religion, but they are fighting for geographical place to have control over, in other word to have for their own, in this case happen to be different version of Christianity. In comparison to the Israeli-Palestine which happen to be two different religion, Jaws and Muslims. The connection between these four group people, are all fighting to secure the place for their homeland.          

Conclusion:

It would be very unwise to think that there was only few reasons for the failure to the Sunningdale Agreement, but instead there were many and complicated one too, as its been illustrated above, Northern Ireland’s issue is one of most complicated conflicts in modern time similar to the Israel- Palestine conflict’s to large extent in which both of these conflict’s is fight for its homeland.  It would be very simplistic to suggest a simple answer to these two conflicts. It’s believed that one of the core reason for failure of Sunningdale Agreement was it did not had strong foundation form the start, Some high level Protestant  dissent   were against the ideal before it was began. The history teach as that some conflicts are easier to sort than others, for instance, conflicts between two state is much easier to come to some compromise rather than between two groups within a state. Regardless of the Globalisation, we witnessing a new phenonama , nowadays, more nation wanted be independence, in particular the Scottish  vote on independence, Catalonian’s referendum, Kurdish Referendum  and Brexit , all these cases shows that people are determined more than  ever to pursue and be in charge of their own destination, in this concept   the case of NI and Israeli-Palestine is no different in other word  as much as this I  pessimist about the world these two conflicts have mainly two scenario either both side make some compromise or this conflict would continue long into the future, the future to these two conflicts would remain to be unknown. Unless both participant of these conflicts have serious desire and commitment to bring these terrible conflict’s to end.  

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