Civil Rights and the Troubles

“The Troubles” in Ireland was a period of time in which a civil rights movement for those of the Catholic faith resulted in a sustained system of violence. Both the state and people who formed alliances against the state used war tactics in a cycle against one another. As Catholic people continued to lack basic constitutional rights such as equal representation in government, Protestants and the British government periodically ignored requests for such rights. This occurred particularly in Northern Ireland, as John Conroy made evident in Belfast Diary, when he lived in a Catholic neighborhood for a number of years to gain an “unbiased” perspective on the issue. The escalation of the situation from 1969, when it was a civil rights movement, to 1979, when “war was the way of life” according to John Conroy, can be attributed to the fact that, when treated as criminal, inferior people, eventually the group will become just that.

Civil rights groups formed to raise awareness of the situation Irish Catholics were facing in the 1960s in Ireland. They introduced pamphlets detailing the discrepancies between rights afforded to Irish Protestants and Catholics. Issues such as job discrimination, police brutality, the establishment of ghettoes for Catholics, and separation for education were outlined and described. However, similar to the situation with the hunger strikes, the British government continued to ignore the Catholics’ pleas for basic rights. As the situation continued, police brutality worsened, and violence became the way of life in Northern Ireland.

Catholic and Protestant children did not always want to throw stones at one another for fun. Teenagers do not typically wish to have their kneecaps shot to simultaneously make money and prove oneself to one’s friends. During The Troubles, that was the way of life. People like John Conroy’s landlady, Mrs. Barber, who were born into the situation, did not wish to move out of it because it was all they had ever known. Because they were forced into ghettoes, jobless, and without hope of governmental help without adequate representation, groups like the IRA formed. Suddenly, the oppressed had a means of fighting back, in equally horrific ways as their oppressors. It was terrorism as a means of the “powerless gaining power” according to the romantic sublime.

The campaign for social justice pamphlet and Belfast Diary describe two consecutive decades in Northern Ireland throughout which a civil rights movement turned into much more than that. The movement became a condition in which open violence was normal and continuous, from beatings to bombings in order to sustain the oppression of the Catholic people and the Catholic attempt to fight back. Terrorism, in its definition as a social problem, erupted as the powerless Catholics struggled to gain any power from their intimidators. The Troubles marked a time in which the state openly tortured and intimidated and the provos terrorized them in return, all as their way of life. What began as an attempt to gain basic human rights for those of the Catholic faith became a decades long war, one in which people were born into and died within. The Irish people, like so many others, have created a perpetual cycle for themselves in which Protestants treat Catholics like criminals, and so Catholics respond that way.


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