Prospects for Peace in Northern Ireland

October 8, 1982

Report Outline
New Attempt at Home Rule
History of Sectarianism
Reaction to Terrorism
Special Focus

New Attempt at Home Rule

Upcoming Election; Continuing Unrest

The people of Northern Ireland will go to the polls Oct. 20 to elect a new “Stormont”—the Ulster Parliament, named for the area of Belfast where it is located. The election marks the beginning of another effort to return home rule to Northern Ireland, which has been administered directly by a London Cabinet minister since March 1972, when the British government suspended the Stormont. The British plan for return to home rule is called “rolling devolution,” which refers to the delegation—in a series of steps—of governmental powers to local authorities. The British blueprint cells for the reconstituted Stormont to draw up proposals for self-rule that are acceptable both to Protestants, who make up about two-thirds of Ulster's population, and to the Catholic minority. The proposals must be passed by a 70 percent margin in the 78-seat assembly, and they are to be submitted to the British Parliament, which retains ultimate authority to approve or disapprove them.

Last April, when the British plan was first outlined, it was greeted by a large portion of the British press as the best hope in years of ending the sectarian violence that has afflicted Northern Ireland for more than a decade. Since August 1969, when a Labor Party government first deployed British troops to maintain order in Northern Ireland, the strife between Protestants and Catholics has cost more than 2,000 lives, including 300 British soldiers. Despite concerted efforts by the British and the Ulster police to suppress terrorism, groups like the Irish Republican Army (IRA), other Catholic units and a number of Protestant paramilitary organizations continue to display formidable capabilities. Ulster's peace movement, in contrast, is virtually defunct and now devotes much of its dwindling resources to helping people emigrate from the troubled province.

Last July, bombs placed by IRA terrorists in London's Regent's Park and Hyde Park wounded 50 people and killed nine British soldiers—three of them cavalrymen, the other six musicians who were playing in a public band concert. The previous November, IRA gunmen killed the Rev. Robert Bradford, a Protestant member of Parliament and leading hardliner. In 1980, Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, a leader of the Catholic civil rights movement during the 1960s and a former member of Parliament, almost died of wounds inflicted by Protestant assassins. In 1979, an IRA bomb killed Lord Louis Mountbatten, the noted World War II leader and cousin to Queen Elizabeth.

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Regional Political Affairs: Europe
War and Conflict