A brief explanation of the conflict in Northern Ireland
Martin McGuinness came of age as a product of Northern Ireland’s bitter divisions. He played his part commanding armed rebels, and in the peacemaking that followed.
WHAT IS THE CONFLICT ABOUT?
It’s about grievances that go back centuries in conflicts between English and Irish, and more recently about the division of the island between two states and two cultures
The “Troubles” in which McGuinness was active centered on whether Northern Ireland would be part of the United Kingdom, as it now is, or join the Republic of Ireland. The predominantly Protestant unionists, who are in the majority, want to remain part of the U.K. while the largely Catholic republicans seek unification with the rest of Ireland. The violent period known as “The Troubles” claimed some 3,700 lives lasted from roughly 1968 to 1998, when the Good Friday agreement led to a power-sharing agreement that has quelled much but not all of the bloodshed.
HAS THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT WORKED?
The Irish Republican Army has given up its arms and embraced a political course with the ultimate goal of a united Ireland. The agreement has brought unionist and republican adversaries into a power-sharing arrangement, and it has worked for much of the time. At the moment, it remains collapsed, raising the possibility that Britain will once again impose direct rule over Northern Ireland. Some dissident groups still use violent tactics but in general Northern Ireland has been peaceful and has benefited from relative stability and economic investment.
CAN THE IRA’S GOAL OF A UNITED IRELAND BE ACHIEVED BY POLITICAL MEANS?
In principle, yes. Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing, long under the leadership of Gerry Adams and the late McGuinness, has been gaining more political support. Under the terms of the Good Friday accord, it could achieve a change in Northern Ireland’s constitutional status only if popular majorities in separate referendums in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland voted in favor.