History of Belfast - The Troubles

The Troubles

The post-war years were relatively placid in Belfast, but sectarian tensions and resentment among the Catholic population at widespread discrimination festered below the surface, and the city erupted into violence in August 1969 when sectarian rioting broke out in the city. The perceived one-sidedness of the police and the failure of the IRA to defend Catholic neighbourhoods of the city was one of the main causes of the formation of the militant Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), which would subsequently launch an armed campaign against the state of Northern Ireland.

The violence intensified in the early 1970s, with rival paramilitary groups being formed on both sides. Bombing, assassination and street violence formed a backdrop to life throughout The Troubles. The PIRA detonated twenty-two bombs, all in a confined area in the city centre in 1972, on what is known as "Bloody Friday", killing nine people. Loyalist paramilitaries, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA) retaliated against the PIRA campaign by killing Catholics at random from around August 1972 onward. A particularly notorious group, based on the Shankill Road in the mid 1970s became known as the Shankill Butchers.

The Army, first mobilized in 1969 to restore order, became a feature of Belfast life, with huge fortified barracks being constructed, predominantly in nationalist west Belfast. Initially the Army was welcomed by the minority nationalist community, but the relationship soured after such incidents as the Falls Curfew of July 1970, when the Army fought a three-day gun battle with the Official IRA in the Falls Road area, resulting in four deaths. Major confrontation continued between the Army and Republican paramilitaries throughout the 1970s, notably in Operation Motorman in 1972, when the Army re-took nationalist "no-go areas" in Belfast and elsewhere.

In the early 1970s, there were huge forced population movements as families, mostly but not exclusively Roman Catholic, living in areas dominated by the other community were intimidated from their homes, either directly or indirectly through general fear. The general decline in European manufacturing industry of the early 1980s, exacerbated by political violence, devastated the city's economy. As recently as 1971 the city was overwhelmingly Protestant, but today is almost evenly balanced due to higher Catholic birth rates and rising prosperity, together with Protestant emigration (both internal, e.g., to North Down and external) have fundamentally changed the balance.

In 1981, Bobby Sands a native of Greater Belfast, was the first of ten Republican prisoners to die on hunger strike in pursuit of political status. The event provoked major rioting in nationalist areas of the city. During the 1980s, the most notorious series of incidents in the city took place within a week in 1988. Firstly, a Republican funeral was attacked by loyalist Michael Stone (see Milltown Cemetery attack), then, the following week at the funerals of Stone's victims, two off-duty soldiers were lynched in the "corporals killings".

In the early 1990s, loyalist and republican paramilitaries in the city stepped up their killings of each other and "enemy" civilians. A cycle of killing continued right up to the PIRA ceasefire in August 1994 and the Combined Loyalist Military Command cessation six weeks later. The most horrific single attack of this period came in October 1993, when the PIRA bombed a fish shop on the Shankill Road in an attempt to kill the UDA leadership. The Shankill Road bombing instead killed nine Protestant shoppers as well as one of the bombers.

Despite the paramilitary ceasefires of 1994, today the city still remains scarred by the conflict between the two communities. In all, nearly 1,500 people have been killed in political violence in the city from 1969 until the present. Most of Belfast is highly segregated with enclaves of one community surrounded by another (e.g., Protestant Glenbryn estate in North Belfast, and the Catholic Short Strand in east Belfast) feeling under siege. Fitful paramilitary activity continues, often directed inwards as in the loyalist feuds and the killing of Catholic Robert McCartney by PIRA members in December 2004.

In 1997, unionists lost control of Belfast City Council for the first time in its history, with the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland gaining the balance of power between nationalists and unionists. This position was confirmed in the council elections of 2001 and 2005. Since then it has had two Catholic mayors, one from the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and one from Sinn Féin.

Read more about this topic:  History Of Belfast

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Famous quotes containing the word troubles:

    When there are no troubles in the world, fools will create them.
    Chinese proverb.

    The price of telling your troubles is having to listen to advice.
    Mason Cooley (b. 1927)