Beyond Political Statement: New Thinking on Northern Ireland
The Thatcher government’s policy for Northern Ireland has, since 1985, been cast in the mould established by the Anglo-Irish Agreement, sometimes called the Hillsborough Accord. This chapter focuses on the Agreement, setting it in the context of British policy, from the beginning of the Troubles in the late 1960’s; it outlines the responses from various sides of the debate within Northern Ireland and points to policy developments after 1985. Many of the problems facing the Government derive from the 1969 decision to send British troops to Northern Ireland, in what was officially described as a ‘peacekeeping’ role. Unrest and violence had erupted in response to civil rights demonstrations which challenged Protestant privileges. At the same time the Protestant community was itself split over attempts by Terence O’Neill, the Northern Irish leader, to modernise the economy. The deployment of troops ultimately created confusion over where political responsibilities lay. The security forces were, at that time, also being faced with the problem of the emergence of paramilitary groups, including the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). In August 1971 the government introduced a policy of internment without trial for those suspected of paramilitary involvement. This led to protest and a subsequent escalation of violence led to the establishment of the Direct Rule of Northern Ireland from London (Arthur and Jeffery, 1988).
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