Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland

Nowhere has the sense of conflict with the English been stronger than in Northern Ireland, where the population is composed of Protestants and Catholics. The Protestants do not feel English, though some would call themselves British and almost all claim Ulster (as most Protestants prefer to call Northern Ireland) as an integral part of Britain. They are known as 'Unionists' or 'Loyalists', a more militant term implying support for a paramilitary group. The Catholic population feels more Irish than British and most, calling themselves Nationalists, would prefer to be more clearly separate from Britain, or at any rate with closer links Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic. Some call themselves Republican, implying support for Sinn Fein (pronounced 'shin fayn') and the IRA (the Irish Republican Army). Today there are approximately 900,000 Protestants and 680,000 Catholics in Northern Ireland. There are 3.5 million Irish south of the border, in the Republic, with whom many Catholics feel an affinity. Both communities, and the people of the Republic,havefelt great frustration with British policy.

England's involvement with Ireland has been an unhappy one. English adventurers colonised parts of Ireland over 800 years ago. In the sixteenth century England brought Ireland under systematic rule. When England became Northern Ireland Protestant, Ireland did not. In order to strengthen its hold on the most rebellious part, Ulster, London encouraged English and Scottish Protestant settlers, or 'Planters'. These took the best land and soon outnumbered the indigenous people of Ulster. The English deliberately tried to destroy Irish language, culture and Catholicism.

Inspired by the American and French Revolutions, the Irish began their, long struggle to be free. The majority of Protestants, particularly in Ulster, reacted to this struggle by forming the Orange Order, a solidarity association of 'lodges', or branches. The title refers to the Dutch Protestant, William of Orange, who seized Northern Ireland the English throne from the Catholic King James II in 1688, and who defeated an Irish rebellion at the River Boyne in 1690.

The Irish finally forced England to concede independence in 1921. Ulster's Protestants warned that they would fight rather than be part of a Catholic-dominated Irish state. Partly to avoid that risk, but also because of its strong political and economic interests in Ulster, London persuaded the Irish to accept independence with the exception of six of the nine counties of historic Ulster where the Protestants were 67 per cent of the population.

London allowed the Northern Irish to govern Northern Ireland themselves, wishing to benefit economically while being rid of the 'Irish problem'. It was a profoundly short-sighted arrangement, and neglected the fact that every generation since the Planters had seen outbreaks of sectarian violence. Northern Ireland became controlled by a Protestant oligarchy. Every election for the Northern Irish government at Stormont was about Ulster's future - whether it should remain part of the United Kingdom. The Protestants excluded the Catholic minority from political power, gerryman­dering the electoral system when necessary. They also excluded them from local government and exercised gross discrimination in housing and employment Northern Ireland. London ignored these glaring abuses of basic rights.

With the decline of shipbuilding in the early 1960s, Northern Ireland became one of the poorest parts of the United Kingdom. The poverty was not equally shared. Catholics were significantly disadvantaged and their anger grew. In the autumn of 1968 Catholics, supported by many Protestants, demonstrated on the streets, demanding civil rights, basically fair participation in political and economic life. Ulster Loyalists confronted them and the police, who were overwhelmingly Protestant, failed to act impartially or keep order. The violence soon resulted in deaths, some caused by the police, but most by paramilitary Northern Ireland groups that rapidly grew in each community. The IRA, a small fringe group in 1968, sought to persuade Catholics that the issue was not civil rights but national self-determination. Many Loyalists were suspicious that Britain intended to weaken the Protestant hold on the Province and formed two main groups, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force.

At first there was popular sympathy in Britain for the Catholic population, in view of the grossly unfair system in Northern Ireland. When Loyalist riots persuaded London to deploy the army in the summer of 1969, many hoped that this action Northern Ireland and popular sympathy in Britain would reassure the Catholic population. But the honeymoon did not last long, and the disorders increased with a disastrous chemistry at work. Stormont was too slow in introducing the necessary reforms, the security forces acted heavy-handedly, thus acquiring a reputation for brutal behaviour. Then London introduced internment without trial, aimed at crushing the IRA. It probably did more to alienate the Catholic population than any other single act. It accelerated a rapid erosion of civil rights at the very moment when such rights urgently needed to be affirmed.

In January 1972 British troops shot dead Northern Ireland 13 unarmed demonstrators. 'Bloody Sunday' confirmed in many minds that Britain was basically hostile to the Catholic community, especially when an official enquiry exonerated those responsible. It was a gift to the revived IRA, known at the time as the Provisionals or 'Proves'. Later that year the Stormont government was suspended and the province brought under direct rule from London. This was a victory for the Catholic population, since it was now free from rule by Ulster Unionists. The IRA now concentrated on its main aim, to drive 'the Brits' out of Ireland altogether. Almost 500 people died in 1972 as a result of Northern Ireland sectarian violence. Troop violence and confrontations, IRA bombs, sectarian killings, and intercommunal tension leading to the flight of minority groups from mixed areas all helped to make the ordeal appear intractable.

The IRA evolved from a fringe group into a sophisticated fighting force able to sustain their war almost indefinitely. They also established a political wing, Sinn Fein, which would accept nothing short of a united Ireland. Nationalist splinter groups also formed, and there were short periods of killings between them. However, the majority of Catholics supported the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP), seeking a united Northern Ireland Ireland only by non-violent democratic process.

On the Protestant side the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) had always dominated the Unionist position. But it faced competition when a Presbyterian minister, Dr lan Paisley, formed the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which was strongly anti-Catholic. Later on, two smaller parties formed, the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP), both close to the Loyalist paramilitaries. This left the Unionists fragmented.

While the IRA was determined that Ulster should become part of the Republic, Loyalists resisted any measure that allowed the Catholics to share power, or implied recognition of Dublin Northern Ireland's interest in the fate of Ulster. Unionists had understandable reasons for hostility to Dublin. Constitutionally the Irish Republic claimed the Province as its own: 'The national territory consists of the whole island of Ireland.' Furthermore, the Catholic Church, which many Unionists find repugnant, was highly influential in the affairs of the Republic.

From 1972 until 1985 London tried to foster the middle ground among the peaceable majority of both communities. But its efforts were undermined by the ease with which hard-liners could outflank the more conciliatory politicians, playing upon sectarian fears or pointing to British incompetence and duplicity. By 1985 London Northern Ireland had abandoned its 'middle ground' policy. Nothing showed the weakness of the middle ground more clearly than the fortunes of the Alliance Party, committed to a non-partisan formula of reconciliation and full civil rights. It never attracted more than 10 per cent of the vote and by 1997 attracted less than 7 per cent.

The position of the Dublin government was not easy either. It naturally felt compelled to be supportive to the Catholic community, especially in the early days when dispossessed Catholic families fled in their hundreds to the border. It repeatedly criticised British policy and practice, in Northern Ireland particular its wrongful imprisonment of innocent people, its physical and psychological abuse of arrested Republican suspects, and an undeclared (and denied) shoot-to-kill policy in security operations. Yet it also felt caught between its historical aspiration for a united Ireland, and reluctance to inherit either the sectarian conflict or a Protestant population deeply hostile to Irish rule. Any prospect of Britain abandoning Northern Ireland posed a political and economic nightmare for Dublin, but one it could hardly admit to.

London had grounds for irritation with Dublin, though on a lesser scale. It was angry at the apparent unwillingness Northern Ireland of Dublin to hand over some terrorist suspects. There was also a feeling that Dublin only became cooperative after the Republic had experienced the unpleasant impact of a few Loyalist bombs. London resented the ease of Irish criticism when it faced a situation where the choice of what to do lay less between right and wrong than between bad and worse, and because of the huge financial cost of the situation. It also, perhaps, was expressing the prickliness of historic guilt.

However London and Dublin recognised a growing need to cooperate politically. In 1981 several IRA prisoners went on hunger Northern Ireland strike to obtain political status. Thatcher refused to concede, and several strikers, most famously Bobby Sands, died. Thatcher's perceived stubbornness and their martyrdom created widespread sympathy that Sinn Fein had not before enjoyed. Sinn Fein now participated in elections, receiving one-third of the Nationalist vote. The lack of political progress by London slowly made Sinn Fein more popular with the Nationalist community, particularly young people who preferred its assertive message to the democratic and more conciliatory approach of the SDLP. Fear of growing support for Sinn Fein and frustration at Unionist refusal to allow power sharing or other Northern Ireland meaningful compromise with the Catholic community persuaded the British government to negotiate an agreement with Dublin. By this stage Dublin's sympathy for the Nationalists was mixed with a vehement dislike of IRA violence and a reluctant recognition of the need for British troops to keep order in the Province.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 sent a deliberate message to the IRA and to the Unionists: 'If in the future a majority of the people of Northern Ireland clearly wish for and formally consent to the establishment of a united Ireland, they (the London and Dublin governments Northern Ireland) will introduce and support in the respective parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish.' London was thus no longer determined to keep Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom if a majority of its people wished it to become part of a united Ireland, but Dublin was willing to abandon its claim to Ulster until its people were themselves ready for union. This weakened the position of the IRA/Sinn Fein, which argued for immediate withdrawal of British troops and unification with the south, and that of the Unionists, by warning them that Dublin had a legitimate interest in the Northern Ireland Province which justified formal consultation.

In the late 1980s quiet developments took place on the Nationalist side. Sinn Fein's leader, Gerry Adams, became increasingly sceptical that IRA terrorism could eject Britain from the Province. It was increasingly apparent that neither the IRA nor the British government could defeat the other. Terrorist violence was now counterproductive. But it was difficult for Adams to persuade the IRA, fearful of appearing to surrender, that diplomacy might be more fruitful. In the meantime, the SDLP's leader, John Hume, despite his horror at IRA violence, became convinced that without Sinn Fein Northern Ireland's involvement any possible peace discussions would prove ineffectual. In 1988 he began secret talks with Adams with a view to achieving a shared approach, one that fell short of Sinn Fein's final aim of Irish reunification, but which could be seen as a staging post on the road to a truly democratic province no longer subject to British dictation. Both men required great political skill in order to persuade their respective parties of the wisdom of what they were doing. Hume also worked closely with Dublin in the belief that together they might persuade London to show enough flexibility to Northern Ireland obtain an IRA cease-fire.

London's ability to take a bold initiative was fatally compromised by the general election of 1992 which left the government with a slim majority. It was the Conservatives who had originally ensured that the six counties were excepted from Irish self-determination. There were still Tory MPs determined to frustrate any weakening of the Union, quite apart from the Unionist MPs. Thus, when the government announced in 1993 that it sought all-party talks on the basis of 'no predetermined outcome except the right of the Northern Ireland people to democratic self-determination' it found Northern Ireland its position in the Commons threatened by both Tory and Unionist MPs.

In December 1993 Dublin finally secured London's agreement to a conciliatory joint governmental statement that 'it was their aim to foster agreements and reconciliation, leading to a new political framework founded on consent and encompassing arrangements within Northern Ireland,for the whole island, and between these islands'. The intention of the 'Downing StreetDeclaration' was to persuade the IRA to announce a cease-fire. However, both Sinn Fein and the DUP rejected the statement, while the IRA continued its bombing activities. In resisting this overture the IRA was Northern Ireland now widely perceived as the single greatest obstacle to peace talks.

In August 1994 the IRA finally announced a cease-fire, an acknowledgement of growing pressure for peace within Republican ranks. A wave of euphoria swept across the Province. In October the two main Loyalist paramilitary groups also announced a cease-fire. US President Bill Clinton visited Belfast, putting the US seal of approval on the forthcoming process. London needed to use this cease-fire to get talks started. It had made a cessation of violence the only precondition to talks. However, as a result of Unionist pressure on Northern Ireland its slim majority in the Commons it now demanded that the IRA 'decommission' its weapons as a sign that the cease-fire was permanent. The IRA viewed this as a demand for a symbolic surrender and refused. Neither side gave way, and the IRA continued to recruit and prepare for a resumption of war. An international commission, established under US leadership and headed by US Senator George Mitchell, worked unsuccessfully to break the impasse. Under strong Unionist pressure, London refused to agree to a proposal to start the decommissioning process after the commencemen of talks.

In early 1996 the IRA Northern Ireland abandoned its cease-fire and resumed its bombing campaign. Its most spectacular explosion caused Ј500 million worth of damage in London's Docklands. The targeting was deliberate. Many Republicans were convinced that, in the words of one man, 'The only time the Brits listen to us is when we give them grief. 'The IRA kept Northern Ireland high on Britain's political agenda but the Tory government was too weak and too beholden to the Unionists in the Commons to be capable of transacting negotiations. Everyone awaited the expected new Labour government.

Within five weeks of his election victory Blair conceded to Northern Ireland Sinn Fein the unmet demands on whfcft trie cease-fire had foundered: guaranteed entry to peace talks six weeks after a renewal of the cease-fire, a brisk timetable for negotiations beginning in September and ending in May 1998, and the abandonment of prior decommissioning as an entry qualification. But Blair also warned that peace talks would not be delayed for Sinn Fein if it could not persuade the IRA to abandon violence.

Sinn Fein and the IRA accepted Blair's challenge and announced a new cease-fire. They knew that the Nationalists of the Province were, like the Unionists Northern Ireland, sick of a war that could not be won. Now every party felt the challenge, whether or not to participate in difficult discussions based on the idea that the existing constitutional status of the Province was most unlikely to change in the short term, but allowing for the possibility of future democratic change, and attempting within that framework to identify an acceptable form of executive government by the people of the Province. On the Unionist side, the DUP refused to do so, and the UUP expressed great reluctance. Remarkably, it was the smaller parties representing the Loyalist paramilitaries which Northern Ireland were most willing to negotiate.

The negotiations proved extremely difficult. Both Nationalists and Unionists held to cherished principles regarding the solution they sought. In addition, both Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries carried out killings, leading to the temporary exclusion of their political representatives from the negotiations, until they pledged themselves once again committed to the process. With symbolism for the devout among both the Catholic and Protestant communities, a peace plan was finally agreed by the leaders of the participating parties on Good Friday, 10 April 1998.

The key points of the agreement were:

1 the establishment of a Northern Ireland Northern Ireland assembly, composed of 109 members elected by proportional representation, with an executive committee of 12 members, thereby ensuring cross-community representation at both levels.

2 the assembly to have the power to legislate, with its first task to establish a North-South ministerial council to develop cooperation on all-island and cross-border issues.

3 the amendment by the government of Ireland of those articles of its constitution which laid claim to the six counties, and the replacement by the London government of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act which established the separate status of the six counties. These measures thus render both governments agnostic Northern Ireland concerning the future.

4 the establishment of a Council of the Isles, as a forum for discussion of issues of interest to the South and North of Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, and possibly even the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands which already enjoy their own governments for internal affairs.

Inevitably, reaching agreement proved extremely stressful for both Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein and David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. Both succeeded in persuading the majority of the respective parties to support the deal. Yet many also rejected it. On the Republican side, the IRA refused Northern Ireland to 'decommission' its weapons, while three splinter groups, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), Continuity IRA and the Real IRA, decided to continue the armed struggle, as they described their actions. In August 1998 the Real IRA detonated a bomb in Omagh, a mixed town in County Tyrone, killing 29 people mainly women and children. It was the worst single outrage since the 'Troubles' began in 1969. In addition Dr Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party and the 60,000-strong Orange Order both rejected the agreement. In a referendum in May 1998 71 per cent of the people of Northern Ireland supported the peace agreement. While Northern Ireland Catholics overwhelmingly voted in favour, however, only very slightly more than half the Protestants did so. For the very first time, however, Catholics felt they belonged to a majority viewpoint. (In the Republic over 90 per cent supported the agreement.) In the Assembly elections one month later, the pro-agreement vote slightly increased. The result for the main parties was: the UUP 28 seats, the SDLP 24, Dr Paisley's (anti-agreement) DUP 20 seats and Sinn Fein 18. David Trimble of the UUP was appointed First Minister of the new Northern Ireland Executive, with Seamus Mallon of the SDLP as his Northern Ireland deputy. However, the UUP was deeply split and Tumble's political credibility seemed likely to come under greater pressure within the Unionist community over the participation of Sinn Fein in the Executive.

Even with a majority, led by the political parties, now committing themselves to peace, it is inevitable that factions on both sides will continue the conflict. So long as the troubles continue, the combined cost to both governments will probably be about Ј500 million each year. Furthermore, there is an estimated loss of a similar sum in terms of potential business and tourism in the Province, let alone the potential Northern Ireland to create an estimated 20,000 jobs.

Behind the historical record, social and economic factors continue to influence events. One of the most important of these has been the voluntary and involuntary segregation of the two communities. Within a year of the outbreak of the troubles, walls and wire-mesh fences were erected to separate the warring communities. Mixed communities separated as the pressures of sectarian identity outweighed individual neighbourliness. In many cases mixed areas became battlegrounds for the youths of both groups. Many threatened families and individuals fled their homes out of fear, a process still happening in 1997, making intercommunity Northern Ireland reconciliation much harder. However, much of the segregation is also voluntary. Where Catholics become a majority, for example in Derry and also central Belfast, Protestants tend to leave, feeling more secure in still predominantly Protestant areas. Yet housing in mixed middle-class areas of Belfast is in great demand by both communities.

Education has always been segregated, and barely 10 per cent of children attend integrated schools. Much of the resistance to integration has been because the Catholic Church has strong views regarding education. Yet generally speaking Catholic children tend to perform more poorly than their Protestant counterparts. Integration might remove Northern Ireland this difference, thereby improving parity of career opportunity. As importantly, if Catholics and Protestants do not learn to relate to each other creatively as children, they are almost bound to develop and perpetuate entrenched sectarian loyalties. Continued segregation militates against forging a spirit of reconciliation. According to opinion polls, more than half of both communities believe that integrated schooling and residential areas should be encouraged by government. But what most people wish and what they do remains in contradiction.

Another crucial factor has been the high level of unemployment, affecting the Catholic community most. In 1976 London legislated against employment Northern Ireland discrimination. Within the public sector (apart from the security forces) Catholics are now proportionately represented. The police force remains 92 per cent Protestant. But in the private sector the situation reflects continuing disparity. Progress can be slow. Unemployment remains about twice as high among Catholics than among Protestants. In 1995 unemployment stood at 18 per cent for Catholics and 8 per cent for Protestants, but male unemployment revealed a sharper disparity, 23 per cent for Catholics and 9 per cent for Protestants.

Unemployment in both communities has a political as well as an economic consequence. Young men with few prospects, little education Northern Ireland and peer group or gender pressure are the easiest to recruit into paramilitary'forces. In the words of one young man, 'In riots, people say you're a coward if you wouldn't throw a brick.' Throwing stones or bricks becomes meaningful in terms of male identity. Some start as early as eight or nine years old.

July each year has become a moment of tension, when the 'lodges' (or local branches) of the Orange Order organise parades to celebrate the Battle of the Boyne. Some of these marches go through Catholic areas. What Orangemen see as a celebration of Northern Ireland community identity. Catholics see as an unacceptable humiliation and provocation. They expect government to protect their rights as a minority, but the Orangemen assert their right to march 'the Queen's highway', as a form of freedom of assembly. If thwarted, they can create enough disorder to bring Northern Ireland to a virtual standstill. That is what they did in 1996 when the government tried to reroute the first march of the season to avoid the Catholic Garvaghy Road at Drumcree, near Portadown. The government gave way. Nationalists were furious. In 1997, having failed to obtain any form of compromise from community Northern Ireland leaders, the government again allowed the Drumcree march to go down the Garvaghy Road. It believed that, if frustrated, the Loyalists planned a wave of sectarian killings. This decision caused great Nationalist bitterness and rioting. The government used this anger to warn the Orange Order that it was unable to police all its planned marches sufficiently, and that the Order risked unrestrained and unpoliced civil conflict. This held severe political, economic and social consequences, and the Orange Order decided to reroute its more contentious marches. Growing recognition of the great damage these marches inflict on the whole Northern Ireland community may lead to their modification. It was a senior Orangeman who admitted of the Loyalist rioting in the 1996 Drumcree crisis, 'For 26 years the IRA bombed us and for 26 years the people were defiant and stood up to them. But today the country's being ruined: we're going to lose tourists; our businesses are failing; it's bad for everybody. It is worse than all the damage the IRA has done.' (David McKittrick, The Independent) However, until the Orange marchers and Catholic residents can agree mutually acceptable ground rules for marches, July each year will remain a very tense time. In Northern Ireland July 1998 the Orangemen were forbidden to march down the Garvaghy Road at Drumcree. A major trail of strength, clearly also about the new political settlement, seemed inevitable. However, the savage killing of three young Catholic children living in a Protestant area caused a major crisis of confidence within Orange ranks, and many deserted them. This crisis may prove decisive in undermining the long-term influence of the OrangeOrder.

While political leaders struggle to find a mutually acceptable and durable political settlement, another dynamic is at work. Less than a decade ago the higher Catholic birth rate Northern Ireland seemed offset by higher Catholic emigration, and any decisive demographic change seemed half a century away. |" That equation has radically changed, although at first this was unnoticed. In fact the Catholic population has increased from 34 per cent in 1969 to approximately 43 per cent by the early 1990s. The Catholic population is also significantly younger, and 52 per cent of under-1 6-year-olds in the Province are now Catholic. Meanwhile the Protestant community is ageing, with over 30 per cent of them over the age of 70. Part of this accelerating change has been caused by the relatively recent flight of the young Protestant middle class Northern Ireland to England, for both work and also for university study, after which few return. Queen's University once had a substantial Protestant majority. Today, however. Catholics form 65 per cent of the student body.

The shifting balance is already evident from election results. Sixty per cent of the territory of the Province, virtually all the territory west of Lough Neagh, is now under Nationalist (SDLP or SF) control. Protestants tend to move eastwards. But they have also lost local government control of two traditional bastions of Unionism, Londonderry (Derry) and Belfast. Protestants have a sense of diminishing political power. This may Northern Ireland partly explain Loyalist sectarian killings and also the assertiveness of the Orange Order marches, a form of defiance as electoral power slowly drains away.

Today Catholics feel more confident. In the words of the 1993 Opsahl Report, published by an international commission which investigated the feelings and aspirations of the ordinary people of Northern Ireland, 'The Catholic political future is vibrant, active, with a dynamic civil society - they have, for example, a profusion of political groups. The Protestant community, by comparison, is apolitical. Outside the public life of the churches, civil society barely exists.' Indeed, the Protestant community faces critical Northern Ireland weakness. It is used to civic passivity because political and institutional authority has always been mainly Protestant. The shifting electoral balance demands strong Unionist leadership, if it is to secure the Unionists' best interests in any settlement. Yet they lack an outstanding political leader, lack a vision beyond clinging onto membership of the United Kingdom, and lack unity. The Unionist parties are distracted from these crucial issues by inter-party rivalry. David Trimble may prove able to provide the leadership the Unionists have previously lacked.

If the Catholic population was openly determined upon integration with the Republic, Unionists Northern Ireland might have greater grounds for fear. However, it is uncertain what the Catholic majority really wants. Catholic opinion has always been a spectrum from those concerned solely with civil rights to those wanting union with the Republic. This ambivalence about a desirable outcome also exists in the Republic. It is also true that the decline in influence of the Catholic Church in the Republic makes the idea of a united Ireland seem less threatening to most Protestants than it did. Thus, while remaining part of the United Kingdom for the time being, an increasing degree of Irishness is Northern Ireland more acceptable than it once was. Given the way in which the European Union has developed, the way forward may be for a political entity independent of, but in close relationship with, both the United Kingdom and also the Republic.


Wales was conquered by the English 700 years ago and incorporated into a single political and administrative system with England in the sixteenth century. However, the Welsh sense of difference survived. A cultural self-consciousness was awakened in the mid-nineteenth century, through a revival of literature in Welsh and the literary and music festivals, eisteddfods, for which Wales became Northern Ireland famous. It was also awakened through higher education which emphasised Welsh identity. From 1900 onwards identity was also expressed through rugby football, which became a sport of national importance.

Welsh society in the nineteenth century was divided between the dominant Anglo-Welsh culture of the rich land-owning class, and the culture of the ordinary, mainly Welsh-speaking people. Dissent from the Anglo-Welsh and from mainstream English life has remained a vital aspect of Welsh identity. Until the Second World War its religious expression was through 'non-conformism', attendance at Methodist and Baptist chapels rather than at Anglican churches Northern Ireland. Political dissent was expressed through support for Labour.

There had been a short-lived autonomy campaign in the 1890s which shrank, and did not revive again until the 1960s, when there was growing disappointment with both the Conservatives and Labour on account of the recession which hit the v industrial region in South Wales. Between 1957 and 1959 23 Welsh coal mines stopped production. The closure of mines led to a collapse of valley communities. In the words of one Welsh historian: 'The neighbourliness of old communities gave way to the alien impersonality of housing estates or commuter suburbs. Much of Northern Ireland the vital culture of the Welsh heartland disappeared with them.' One veteran nationalist wrote in 1968, 'We Welsh are not just being denied self-expression as a nation today ... we are fighting in the last ditch for our very identity.'

The London government responded by delegating some administrative responsibility, with the appointment in 1964 of a Secretary of State for I Wales. It also used the Royal Family as a symbol of British unity. In 1969 Prince Charles was invested as Prince of Wales at a ceremony in Caernarfon Castle. The ceremony had been invented in 1911 to channel Welsh national feeling back Northern Ireland to loyalty to the United Kingdom. The castle, however, had been built by the English King Edward I in his conquest of the Welsh, and inside its walls he had proclaimed his own baby son Prince of Wales in 1284. Not surprisingly, some Welsh found the ceremony symbolic of English rule, not Welsh identity.

The following year Plaid Cymru, the Welsh National Party founded in 1925, attracted 11 per cent of the Welsh vote and won three parliamentary seats in the 1974 election. Yet when asked by referendum in 1979 whether they wanted the proposed legislative devolution and the creation of a Welsh Assembly Northern Ireland in Cardiff, the Welsh overwhelmingly rejected it - only 11.8 per cent were for it, and 46.5 per cent against. Plaid Cymru lost credibility and declined in popularity as a result. However, during the 1980s closures in both the coal and steel industries resumed and deep alienation from the Conservative government took place. In 1987 the Conservatives won only eight out of the 38 Welsh seats and appointed Englishmen as Welsh Secretaries of State. They lost two more seats in 1992, and lost the remaining six in 1997. Plaid Cymru won and kept four seats, but remained confined to the rural periphery.

Labour dominates Wales politically. As part of Northern Ireland its strategy for devolved government, in 1997 Labour held a referendum in Wales on the proposed establishment of an elected Welsh assembly. This time the vote was in favour, but only by a fraction and only 50 per cent of the electorate bothered to vote. Nevertheless, the assembly will be formed. It will have 40 directly elected members using the traditional FPTP system, and 20 additional members elected by PR. The Welsh Assembly, to be located in Cardiff, will not be a law-making body, but will enjoy the powers already delegated by Westminster to the Secretary of State for Wales.

There Northern Ireland are only 2.9 million Welsh, and they have struggled to maintain their identity in the second half of the twentieth century. They have had to do this not only against the political might of London but also the erosion of Welsh culture through English radio and television. Take, for example, the use of the Welsh language. At the end of the nineteenth century over 50 per cent still spoke Welsh as their first language. Since then the decline has been dramatic:

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