Northern Ireland History -1928-1968

Northern Ireland History 1928-1968

The economy of Northern Ireland in and around 1928 was dependent on ship-building, the linen industry and agriculture.  Both ship-building and the linen industries suffered badly during the depression that followed the First World War.  For the people of Northern Ireland, employment was high and those in work were being paid much less than an equivalent job in Britain.  The Northern Ireland economy was driven by the relationship with the United Kingdom and all expenditure was negotiated between the local Finance Ministry and the British Treasury.  In 1930 Northern Ireland introduced unemployment benefit that had existed in Britain along with cash payments when someone was ill from work.  They also introduced national assistance and brought pensions into line with those of Britain.

In 1932 Northern Ireland experienced a spate of rioting which also broke out in some cities of England and in particular in London and Belfast.  These were caused by the government imposing a cut in unemployment benefit during a time of very high unemployment.  An outdoor relief worker's movement was created to try and get the same unemployment benefit payment amount as the rest of Britain and eventually this grew into a worker's strike. 

A series of mass demonstrations took place and minor outbreaks of violence broke out.  The group who organised these protests were called the Revolutionary Worker's Group and they planned a mass meeting which the Northern Ireland government banned.  The police force called the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) tried to prevent the meeting and rioting broke out in both Protestant and Catholic areas of Belfast.  The RUC concentrated their efforts in the Catholic Falls Road area but became more widespread as rioting also brought out in Protestant streets in support of Catholic workers.

Two workers were killed by RUC gun fire and many civilians and police were injured before the rioting subsided and the government increased the unemployment benefit.  It was a strange show of solidarity between Protestant and Catholic working classes against a social injustice.  It was however to be a short lived show of unity.

As the riots passed and government continued the Unionist government of the day were still concerned that the Irish Free State may yet try to interfere in the running of Northern Ireland and developed what is probably best described as a siege mentality.  This caught momentum to the point where it was suggested that anyone who worked for any government department, be that civil servant or teacher, would have to take an oath of allegiance to the King and Government.  

In essence the impact of that was that very few Catholics were in any of these posts.  Clearly this did little for community relations and the attitude of not trusting anyone who would not show loyalty to the Northern Ireland state was extended by the Unionists in conjunction with the Ulster Protestant League to include anything that had a hint of socialism and in particular communism.  The offices of the Northern Ireland Labour Party and the Communist Party in Belfast were attacked by Protestant mobs in Belfast.  This kicked off sectarian rioting which lasted for three weeks with another 13 deaths, countless injuries and many Catholics burned out of their houses.

Nationalist politics were in a real quandary at this time and were deeply divided.  Their tactics of abstention from the Northern Ireland government divided that Nationalist Party and the Republican Party were now beginning to emerge.  This of course could threaten the Nationalist Party vote and by splitting the nationalist vote, hand the parliamentary seat to a Unionist candidate.  An agreement was eventually hatched when the Republicans agreed to drop their candidates if the Nationalist Party would give them a written agreement if they got elected they would not enter the British Parliament.  

After this, many nationalist conventions and associations were put together to try and agree a unified policy, but they remained unsure as to which was the best policy that would unite the nationalist voters.

In the Irish Free State they went about distancing themselves from Britain by introducing Irish language schools, and developing the Irish language which further alienated the Ulster Unionists.  The power and influence of the Catholic Church in the Irish Free State was very tangible and the Irish Free State built a lot of its policies around that fact.  

They introduced legislation against divorce and although stating they would not discriminate against Protestants they would actively be firm in their allegiance to the Catholic Church teachings.  This did confirm the fears of the Unionist people that in a United Ireland, their own Protestant religious freedom and liberty would be lost.
Ulster Unionists were also angered by two elements of the Constitution of Ireland; 
  1. Article 2 stated that the Irish nation was defined as the whole island of Ireland, its islands and territorial seas.  
  2. Article 3 stated that pending the re-integration of the national territory and without prejudice to the right of the Parliament and Government established by this Constitution to exercise jurisdiction over the whole of that territory, the laws enacted by that Parliament shall have the like area and extent of application as the laws of Saorstat Eireann and the like extra-territorial effect.

In simple terms the Irish Free State claimed Northern Ireland as part of the whole island and this would become important during the Good Friday Agreement in1998.

Northern Ireland History 1938

In 1938 there was an announcement that Irish and British ministers were going to meet and discuss the repayment by Ireland of land annuities and would also include Anglo-Irish difficulties.  This delighted nationalists and worried unionists, who called an election to show their strength of opposition to any notion of a United Ireland.  

Nationalists knew their only hope of a United Ireland now rested with Britain agreeing something with Ireland, again something that would be worked upon many years later in the Good Friday Agreement.  The nationalist hopes rested with De Valera and his negotiating skills with the British.  

He was however unable to move the British on the question of partition as they viewed any decisions on that should be taken by the Northern Ireland government.  Their only solace was that Britain had agreed some financial relief packages and many nationalist people in Northern Ireland believed that De Valera had no real sense of purpose when it came to the nationalist people in Northern Ireland.

You should now read about the Birth of Northern Ireland.