Ian Paisley

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Posted by kaori 03/02/2009 @ 03:06

Tags : ian paisley, northern ireland, united kingdom, europe, world

News headlines
The DUP and office costs that don't add up for the taxpayer - Belfast Telegraph
DUP leader Ian Paisley and his MLA son Ian Paisley jnr then moved in, establishing the address as their joint new office. Their rental expenses from the Assembly for the address are at a combined level of £57200 a year. That total was revealed last...
EU dream not lighting many fires in the North - Irish Times
Where once unionists condemned and resented US interest in “Northern Ireland's affairs” Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson in turn have delighted in Oval Office photo opportunities. America became a big player on the Northern stage, with acute political...
Drama as man grabs Paisley's microphone - Belfast Telegraph
Taking the mic: The man (right) who grabbed Mr Paisley's microphone remonstrates with police afterwards. There were the dramatic scenes yesterday as a young man was dragged away from Ian Paisley's traditional Friday open air religious service outside...
Malachi O'Doherty: Is this the moment the Executive came of age? - Belfast Telegraph
Ian Paisley senior perhaps understood that his greatest achievement was to lead his people across the Jordan. After that, it made sense to let them settle the new land themselves, for he would never do anything as historic again....
DUP office rent expenses would be banned under Commons rules - Belfast Telegraph
The Ballymena DUP premises are jointly run by ex-First Minister Ian Paisley and his son Ian Paisley jnr. Their combined £57200-a-year rental total is paid from the Assembly's Office Cost Allowance system for MLAs. A report last week by Stormont...
Inquiry wants £12k from Paisley - BBC News
The Billy Wright Inquiry wants Ian Paisley Jnr to pay legal costs of £12000 after he unsuccessfully challenged one of its rulings. Earlier in April, a judge ruled that Mr Paisley did not have the right to protect the identity of a source....
Rules on MLA expenses still raise 'serious questions' - Belfast Telegraph
Sir Alistair Graham's comments follow renewed controversy on rental expenses claimed for the DUP's Ballymena advice centre by Ian Paisley and Ian Paisley jnr. A report last week said their combined £57200-a-year rent was “significantly” above normal...
Liam Clarke: Uphill task for Sinn Fein in EU election - Times Online
For years Ian Paisley topped the poll with John Hume coming second and the UUP taking the third seat using transfers from Paisley's surplus. Now that personality element is gone. With the assembly as the centre of political power, Europe is seen an...
Paisley 'should have declared interest' - Belfast Newsletter
IAN Paisley Jnr should have formally told the Assembly of his relationship with developer Seymour Sweeney, the Assembly Ombudsman has found. Ombudsman Tom Frawley's report into a complaint by SDLP MLA Declan O'Loan, leaked to the News Letter,...

Ian Paisley

Ian Paisley

Ian Richard Kyle Paisley (born 6 April 1926), styled The Rt Hon. The Revd Ian Paisley and also known as Dr Ian Paisley, was the First Minister of Northern Ireland until his resignation on 5 June 2008. Paisley is a veteran politician and Protestant church leader in Northern Ireland. As the then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the largest single grouping in the 2007 elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, he was elected First Minister with Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness as deputy First Minister on 8 May 2007.

In addition to co-founding and leading the DUP (from 1971 to 2008), he is a founding member and immediate past Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. Paisley has been a UK Member of Parliament for the constituency of North Antrim since 1970, and is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for the same constituency.

In 2005, Paisley's political party became the largest Unionist party in Northern Ireland, displacing his long-term rivals, the Ulster Unionists (UUP), who had dominated Unionist politics in Northern Ireland since the partition of Ireland. Paisley is also an author, lecturer and speaker.

On 4 March 2008 he announced that he would step down as First Minister and leader of the DUP after the US-Northern Ireland Investment Conference in May 2008.. Peter Robinson duly took over as DUP leader on 31 May 2008, and replaced Paisley as First Minister on 5 June 2008.

Ian Paisley was born in Armagh, County Armagh and brought up in the town of Ballymena, County Antrim, where his father James Kyle Paisley was an Independent Baptist pastor. The senior Paisley had served in the Ulster Volunteers under Edward Carson. His Scottish mother Isabella Paisley was instrumental in his evangelical conversion at the age of six.

He married Eileen Paisley on 13 October 1956. They have five children, three daughters Sharon, Rhonda and Cherith and twin sons, Kyle and Ian. Three of their children have followed their father into politics or religion: Kyle, into the church; Ian is a DUP assemblyman; and daughter Rhonda a retired DUP councillor and artist. He has a brother, Harold, who currently preaches the Gospel in the United States and Canada.

Following rumours, it was confirmed in July 2004 that Paisley had been undergoing tests for an undisclosed illness and in 2005 Ian Paisley, Jr. confirmed that his father had been gravely ill. Ian Paisley confirmed in 2006 that he had made a full recovery.

During his time working on the farm, the young Paisley felt that he received a vocation to enter the Christian ministry. He undertook theological training at the Barry School of Evangelism (eventually renamed the South Wales Bible College which was later replaced by the Evangelical Theological College of Wales), and later, for a year, at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Hall in Belfast.

In 1946 he was ordained at a ceremony in the independent Ravenhill Evangelical Mission Church on the Ravenhill Road, Belfast. Four ministers from four different denominations performed various roles in the service but some have questioned whether they had ecclesiastical authority from their churches to participate.

Paisley eventually set up his own newspaper in February 1966, the Protestant Telegraph, a strongly anti-Catholicism paper, as a mechanism for further spreading his message. He has authored numerous books and pamphlets on religious and political subjects including a commentary on the Epistle to the Romans.

Paisley's use of the title 'Dr' derived initially from a 1954 qualification from the (outlawed ) American Pioneer Theological Seminary in Rockville, Illinois. Later this was somewhat legitimised by an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree awarded by Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist Christian college in Greenville, South Carolina that was unaccredited at the time. Bob Jones, Jr. was a close personal friend and, with Paisley, a leader in evangelical Christianity. Paisley continues to maintain a friendly relationship with the institution and has often spoken at the University's annual Bible Conference.

He preaches against homosexuality and supports laws criminalising its practice. Intertwining his religious and political views, "Save Ulster from Sodomy" was a campaign launched by Paisley in 1977, in opposition to the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform (Northern Ireland), established in 1974. Paisley's campaign sought to prevent the extension to Northern Ireland of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which had decriminalised homosexual acts between males over 21 years of age in England and Wales. The campaign failed when legislation was passed in 1982 as a result of the previous year's ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Dudgeon v. United Kingdom.

In 1994, warning of dire consequences in encouraging the average Briton to gamble instead of earning a living, Paisley bitterly opposed the creation of the state-run National Lottery, resulting in the DUP becoming the only major British political party to campaign against it.

Paisley promotes a form of Biblical literalism, which he describes as "Bible Protestantism". The website of Paisley's public relations arm, the European Institute of Protestant Studies (ianpaisley.org), describes the Institute's purpose as to "expound the Bible, expose the Papacy, and to promote, defend and maintain Bible Protestantism in Europe and further afield." Paisley's website describes a number of doctrinal areas in which he believes that the "Roman church" (which he termed Popery) has deviated from the Bible and thus from true Christianity. These include the doctrine of transubstantiation, which Paisley claims on his website has given rise to "revolting superstitions and idolatrous abuses", the veneration of saints and the Virgin Mary (excessive and not Biblically supported, in Paisley's view), and the institution of the Papacy, which Paisley believes has no biblical foundation.

Paisley continued to denounce the Catholic Church and the Pope after the incident. In a television interview for The Unquiet Man, a 2001 documentary on Paisley's life, he expressed his pride at being the only person to have the courage to denounce the Pope. After the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, Paisley expressed sympathy for Catholics stating "We can understand how Roman Catholics feel at the death of the Pope and we would want in no way to interfere with their expression of sorrow and grief at this time." This was in contrast to Paisley's reaction to the death of Pope John XXIII in June 1963, when Paisley organised protests against the lowering of flags in public buildings after the death of the Pope .

He and his organisation have publicly spoken out against what he views to be blasphemy in popular culture, including criticism of the stage productions Jesus Christ Superstar and Jerry Springer: The Opera, as well as being strongly pro-life. Some of these views are in agreement with many Catholics, regardless of their theological differences, which has led to united opposition to abortion in Northern Ireland, but not to a consensus on gay issues.

Though often at political odds with the Republic of Ireland, he has some religious followers in the Republic. It was specifically in his religious capacity that he first agreed to meet the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. Paisley revised this stance in September 2004, when he agreed to meet Ahern in his political capacity as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party. Known for a sense of humour, at an early meeting with Ahern at the Irish embassy in London, Paisley requested breakfast and asked for boiled eggs; when Ahern asked him why he had wanted boiled eggs, Paisley quipped "it would be hard for you to poison them", much to Ahern's amusement.

Paisley, an ardent teetotaller all his life, has sometimes asked journalists and nationalist politicians "let me smell your breath" when they asked him tough questions, insinuating that they had taken on board some alcohol, or "devil's buttermilk" as he often puts it.

From the majority unionist community, Paisley was among those invited in 1956 to a special meeting at the Ulster Unionist Party's offices in Glengall Street, Belfast. Many Loyalists who were to become major figures in the 1960s and 1970 also attended, and the meeting's declared purpose was to organise the defence of Protestant areas against anticipated Irish Republican Army (IRA) activity, as the old Ulster Protestant Association had done after partition in 1920. The new body decided to call itself Ulster Protestant Action (UPA), and the first year of its existence was taken up with the discussion of vigilante patrols, street barricades, and drawing up lists of IRA suspects in both Belfast and in rural areas.

Even though no IRA threat materialised in Belfast, and despite it becoming clear that the IRA's activities during the Border Campaign were to be limited to the border areas, Ulster Protestant Action remained in being (the UPA was to later become the Protestant Unionist Party in 1966). Factory and workplace branches were formed under the UPA, including one by Paisley in Belfast's Ravenhill area under his direct control. The concern of the UPA increasingly came to focus on the defence of 'Bible Protestantism' and Protestant interests where jobs and housing were concerned. As Paisley came to dominate Ulster Protestant Action, he received his first convictions for public order offences. In June 1959, a major riot occurred on the Shankill Road in Belfast following a rally at which he had spoken.

The majority of Paisley's political career was characterised by vehement opposition to accommodation of the aspirations and policies of the minority nationalist community in Northern Ireland. This first came to general public attention in the 1960s when he campaigned against Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Terence O'Neill's rapprochement with the Republic of Ireland and his meetings with Taoiseach of the Republic, Seán Lemass, a veteran of Easter 1916 and the anti-Treaty IRA. He opposed efforts by O'Neill to deliver civil rights to the nationalists, which included the abolition of gerrymandering of local electoral areas for the election of urban and county councils. In 1964 his demand that the police remove an Irish Tricolour from Sinn Féin's Belfast offices led to two days of rioting, after this was followed through (see Flags and Emblems Act – the public display of any symbol which could cause a breach of the peace was illegal until Westminster repealed the Flags Act in 1987). Paisley's approach led him in turn to oppose O'Neill's successors as Prime Minister, Major James Chichester-Clark (later called Lord Moyola) and Brian Faulkner.

In 1969, he was jailed along with Ronald Bunting for organising an illegal counter-demonstration against a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march in Armagh. He was released during a general amnesty for people convicted of political offenses.

In the 1970 UK general election Paisley was elected the member of Parliament (MP) for the North Antrim constituency which he has retained since then and is now the longest serving MP from Northern Ireland. The following year, 1971 Paisley and Desmond Boal established the most successful and longest lasting of his political movements, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which replaced his Protestant Unionist Party. It soon won seats at local council, provincial, national and European level; Paisley was elected one of Northern Ireland's three Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) at the first elections to the Brussels and Strasbourg-based European Parliament in 1979, holding a rare, triple mandate, as an MEP, an MP, and a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). On his first day he attempted to interrupt the then President of the European Council Jack Lynch, Taoiseach of Ireland, but was shouted down by fellow MEPs.

Paisley easily retained his seat in every European election until he stood down in 2004, receiving the highest popular vote of any British MEP (although as Northern Ireland uses a different electoral system to Great Britain for European elections, the figures are not strictly comparable).

The DUP has been elected to each of the Northern Ireland conventions and assemblies set up since the party's creation. For a long time it was the principal challenger to the major unionist party, the Ulster Unionist Party (known for a time in the 1970s and 1980s as the Official Unionist Party (OUP) to distinguish it from the then multitude of other unionist parties, some set up by deposed former leaders).

In the 2003 Northern Ireland Assembly elections, the DUP overtook the UUP to become the largest party in Northern Ireland, achieving thirty seats to the UUP's twenty-seven, and in the 2005 UK General Election, achieving almost twice their vote share and taking nine seats to the UUP's one (successfully unseating then UUP leader David Trimble) and becoming the fourth largest party in the British House of Commons.

Paisley opposed the 1972 suspension by the British government of Edward Heath of the Northern Ireland parliament and government (known metonymically by the term Stormont due to the location of Parliament Buildings on the Stormont estate). He opposed the Sunningdale Agreement which sought to rework relationships between Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, and which provided for a power-sharing executive (government) involving both communities in Northern Ireland, and a controversial all-island Council of Ireland linking Northern Ireland and the Republic on a legal but not constitutional level. Sunningdale collapsed following the Ulster Workers' Council Strike, which cut water and electricity supplies to many homes, and the failure of the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Merlyn Rees and the British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, to defend the power-sharing executive. Supporters of Paisley played an important role in orchestrating the strike. In January 1974, he (Paisley) was subdued and thrown out of the Stormont Assembly by members of the RUC.

In April 1977, Paisley famously declared he would retire from politics if a forthcoming United Unionist Action Council general strike was unsuccessful. The strike failed, but Paisley did not keep the promise.

In December 1981 the United States State Department revoked his visa, citing his "divisive rhetoric".

In the 1980s Paisley, like all the major Unionist leaders, opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985), signed by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Dr. Garret FitzGerald. The Agreement provided for an Irish input into the governing of Northern Ireland, through an Anglo-Irish Secretariat based at Maryfield, outside Belfast and meetings of the Anglo-Irish Conference, co-chaired by the Republic's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Britain's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Unionists objected due to the fact that the Agreement was imposed on the people with no referendum, and to the notion of a foreign government "interfering" in the affairs of a part of the United Kingdom. Sinn Féin also objected.

A rally of protesters, estimated between 100,000 and 200,000 people (depending on which source), met in front of Belfast City Hall after a campaign dubbed after its slogan "Ulster Says No". The rally, which was addressed by Paisley and then UUP leader James Molyneaux, passed off peacefully but was ignored by the government. On 9 December 1986, Paisley was once again ejected from the European Parliament for continually interrupting a speech by Mrs Thatcher.

In 1985, he and the rest of the Unionist MPs resigned from Parliament at Westminster in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement and were, all but one (Jim Nicholson, who lost his seat to the Social Democratic and Labour Party's Seamus Mallon), returned in the resulting by-elections.

Paisley is a former member of the Orange Institution. He addresses the annual gathering of the Independent Orange Order every Twelfth of July.

In 1995, he played a part in the Drumcree conflict over marching at Drumcree, County Armagh between the Orange Order and local residents of the Garvaghy Road. The march passed off after the decision was made by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to allow it and Paisley ended the march hand in hand with David Trimble who appeared to perform a "Victory Jig". This "Victory Jig" was seen by some as an act of triumphalism.

Paisley's DUP was initially involved in the negotiations under former United States Senator George J. Mitchell that led to the Belfast Agreement of 1998. However the party withdrew in protest when Sinn Féin, a republican party with links to the Provisional Irish Republican Army, was allowed to participate after its ceasefire. Paisley and his party opposed the Agreement in the referendum that followed its signing, and which saw it approved by over 70% of the voters in Northern Ireland and by over 90% of voters in the Republic of Ireland.

Although Paisley often stresses his loyalty to the Crown, he accused Queen Elizabeth of being Tony Blair's "parrot" when she voiced approval of the Agreement. The claim is reflective of the current custom in the United Kingdom of the Monarch reflecting the position of the government, never publicly contradicting official government policy.

As part of the deal, the Republic altered the controversial Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of Ireland, which had originally claimed its government's de jure right to govern the whole island of Ireland, including Northern Ireland.

The DUP fought the resulting election to the Northern Ireland Assembly, to which Paisley was elected, while keeping his seats in the Westminster and European parliaments. The DUP took two seats in the multi-party power-sharing executive (Paisley, like the leaders of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Féin chose not to become a minister) but those DUP members serving as ministers (Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds) refused to attend meetings of the Executive Committee (cabinet) in protest at Sinn Féin's participation.

Having spent most of his career, as he himself jokingly admitted once, saying 'No', Paisley assumed the chairmanship of the Agriculture committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly created by the Belfast Agreement, where he was praised (even by Sinn Féin members with whom he worked) as an effective, coordinating chairman. The Minister for Agriculture, Nationalist SDLP's Bríd Rodgers, remarked that she and Paisley had a "workmanlike" relationship.

After a number of stop/starts the Executive and Assembly created by the 1998 Belfast Agreement were ultimately suspended in October 2002 amid unionist unhappiness on the nature of Provisional IRA disarmament and the alleged discovery of a Republican spy network operating in Stormont.

During fresh elections in 2003 Paisley and the DUP campaigned on the need for re-negotiation of the Belfast Agreement and emerged from the elections as the leading party entitled to the position of First Minister with Sinn Féin entitled to the Deputy First minister position. Progress could now only be achieved with Paisleys agreement. He refused to accept Sinn Féin in Government without further progress, and the British Government maintained the suspensions of the institutions.

Paisley and the DUP entered negotiations with the Governments and the other parties on the steps required and the changes needed to the Belfast Agreement. The December 2004 Comprehensive Agreement upheld the principles of the Belfast Agreement but foundered on the DUP demand for photographic evidence of IRA decommissioning. Following IRA disarmament in September 2005, the Governments set deadlines for the DUP and Sinn Féin to agree on a new Executive, with the alternative being direct rule from London.

Sinn Féin did endorse the PSNI, and in the subsequent election Paisley and the DUP received an increased share of the vote and increased their assembly seats from 30 to 36. On Monday 26 March 2007, the date of the British Government deadline for devolution or dissolution, Paisley led a DUP delegation to a meeting with a Sinn Féin delegation led by Gerry Adams which agreed on a DUP proposal that the executive would be established on 8 May. Later in April, Paisley met in Dublin with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and publicly shook his hand, something Paisley had refused to do until there was peace in Northern Ireland.

At the age of 78 he retired from his European Parliament seat at the 2004 elections and was succeeded by Jim Allister.

Following his January 2008 retirement as a religious leader and pressure from party insiders, on 4 March 2008 Ian Paisley announced that he will stand down as DUP leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland in May 2008. On 17 April, Peter Robinson was elected unopposed as his successor.

Ian was awarded the 2008 'Oldie of The Year Award' from The Oldie Magazine for his contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process.

From the 1960s, one of his main rivals was civil rights leader and co-founder of the nationalist SDLP, John Hume.

Though their parties are often at loggerheads, Hume and Paisley worked jointly on behalf of Northern Ireland in the European Parliament and on occasion worked jointly in the House of Commons. Indeed the complexity of their relationship was demonstrated when it was discovered that Hume had visited Paisley's home to dine with Ian and his wife, Eileen, on Boxing Day (26 December) one year in the 1990s.

His critics see his work in the European Parliament and in Stormont of late and argue that he could have been, had he so wished, one of the greatest builders of a new inclusive Northern Ireland. To his supporters, Paisley is seen as a passionate defender of the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. They argue that he stood up for unionists who were under attack from nationalists from the Republic of Ireland and from British governments willing to give away "unionist rights" and ignore unionist fears to placate nationalists and the Provisional Irish Republican Army. To some, he is seen as the wrecker whose extremism almost destroyed Northern Ireland (see Richard Quinn (victim of The Troubles). To others, Ian Paisley is the great defender, the protector who saved Northern Ireland from "Rome Rule" and "Dublin rule".

To his opponents however, including some unionists, Paisley is seen as a demagogue, a crude rabble-rouser who spent his political career saying 'no' and being passed by; "no" to O'Neill's reform, "no" to contacts with the Republic, "no" to Sunningdale, "no" to the convention, "no" to James Prior's rolling devolution, "no" to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, "no" to the Belfast Agreement. By them he is seen as a uniquely destructive influence whose extremism lost potential friends and helped alienate people outside Northern Ireland sympathetic to unionism. Paisley has never accepted any culpability for any violence, despite his many fiery speeches, which often presented the political conflict in stark Biblical terms as a millenarian battle between good and evil (see Historicism).

In September 2005, he was criticised for stoking unionist violence in Belfast over the 75-metre diversion of a provocative Orange Order march along a thoroughfare serving as a boundary between nationalist and unionist communities. Quoted by The Guardian newspaper, he called the diversion "the spark which kindles a fire there could be no putting out". Widespread loyalist riots followed, producing, among other results, what Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain called "serious attempts to kill police in some instances".

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Northern Ireland

Location of Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland (Irish: Tuaisceart Éireann, Ulster Scots: Norlin Airlann) is a country that is part of the United Kingdom situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland. It shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west. At the time of the 2001 UK Census, its population was 1,685,000, constituting between a quarter and a third of the island's total population and about 3% of the population of the UK.

Northern Ireland consists of six of the traditional nine counties of the historic Irish province of Ulster. It was created as a distinct administrative subdivision of the UK on 3 May 1921 under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, though its constitutional roots lie in the 1800 Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland. For over 50 years it had its own devolved government and parliament. These institutions were suspended in 1972 and abolished in 1973, to be replaced in 1998 and 1999, after earlier repeated attempts to restore devolution, by the present-day Northern Ireland Executive and Northern Ireland Assembly. The Assembly operates on consociational democracy principles requiring cross-community support.

Northern Ireland was for many years the site of a violent and bitter ethno-political conflict ("The Troubles") between those claiming to represent Nationalists, who are predominantly Roman Catholic, and those claiming to represent Unionists, who are predominantly Protestant. In general, Nationalists want Northern Ireland to be politically reunited with the rest of Ireland, while Unionists, who form a small majority, want it to remain part of the United Kingdom. In general, Unionists consider themselves British (or "Ulstermen") and Nationalists see themselves as Irish, though these identities are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Since the signing of the Belfast Agreement (or "Good Friday Agreement") in 1998, most of the paramilitary groups involved in the Troubles have ceased their armed campaigns.

For events before 1922 see Ulster or History of Ireland.

The area that is now Northern Ireland has had a diverse history. From serving as the bedrock of Irish resistance in the era of the plantations of Queen Elizabeth and James I in other parts of Ireland, it became the subject of major planting of Scottish and English settlers after the Flight of the Earls in 1607 (when the Gaelic aristocracy fled to Catholic Europe).

The all-island Kingdom of Ireland (1541—1800) merged into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801 under the terms of the Act of Union, under which the kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain merged under a government and monarchy based in London. In the early 20th century, Unionists led by Sir Edward Carson opposed the introduction of Home Rule in Ireland. Unionists were in a minority on the island of Ireland as a whole, but were a majority in the northern province of Ulster, a very large majority in the counties of Antrim and Down, small majorities in the counties of Armagh and Londonderry, with substantial numbers also concentrated in the nationalist-majority counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone. These six counties, containing an overall unionist majority, would later form Northern Ireland.

The clash between the House of Commons and House of Lords over the controversial budget of Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd-George produced the Parliament Act 1911, which enabled the veto of the Lords to be overturned. Given that the Lords had been the unionists' main guarantee that a home rule act would not be enacted, because of the majority of pro-unionist peers in the House, the Parliament Act made Home Rule a more likely prospect. Opponents to Home Rule, from Conservative Party leaders like Andrew Bonar Law to militant unionists in Ireland, threatened the use of violence, producing the Larne Gun Running incident in 1914, when they smuggled thousands of rifles and rounds of ammunition from Imperial Germany for the Ulster Volunteers. The prospect of civil war in Ireland loomed.

In 1914, the Third Home Rule Act, which contained provision for a temporary partition, received the Royal Assent. Its implementation was suspended for the duration of the intervening First World War, which was expected to last only a few weeks, but, in fact, lasted four years.

By the end of the war, the Act was seen as dead in the water, with public opinion in the majority nationalist community having moved from a demand for home rule to something more substantial: independence. David Lloyd George proposed in 1919 a new bill which would divide Ireland into two Home Rule areas, twenty-six counties being ruled from Dublin, six being ruled from Belfast, with a shared Lord Lieutenant of Ireland appointing both executives and a Council of Ireland, which Lloyd George believed would evolve into an all-Ireland parliament.

The island of Ireland was partitioned in 1921 under the terms of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Six of the nine Ulster counties in the north-east formed Northern Ireland and the remaining three counties (including County Donegal, despite it having a large Protestant minority as well as it being the most northern county in all of Ireland) joined those of Leinster, Munster and Connacht to form Southern Ireland. Whilst Southern Ireland had only a brief existence between 1921 and 1922, a period dominated by the Anglo-Irish War and its aftermath, Northern Ireland was to continue on.

Northern Ireland provisionally became an autonomous part of the Irish Free State on 6 December 1922. However, as expected, the Parliament of Northern Ireland chose, under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, to opt out of the Irish Free State the following day. Shortly after Northern Ireland had exercised its opt out of the Irish Free State, a Boundary Commission was established to decide on the territorial boundaries between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. Though leaders in Dublin expected a substantial reduction in the territory of Northern Ireland (with nationalist border areas moving to the Free State), the Boundary Commission decided against this; in fact the unpublished report had recommended that land should be ceded from Southern Ireland to Northern Ireland. To prevent argument, this report was suppressed, and the initial 6-county border was approved by the Dáil in Dublin on 10 December 1925 by a vote of 71 to 20.

In June 1940, to encourage the Irish state to join with the Allies, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill indicated to the Taoiseach Éamon de Valera that the United Kingdom would push for Irish unity, but believing that Churchill could not deliver, de Valera declined the offer. (The British did not inform the Northern Ireland government that they had made the offer to the Dublin government, and De Valera's rejection was not publicized until 1970).

The Ireland Act 1949 gave the first legal guarantee to the Parliament and Government that Northern Ireland would not cease to be part of the United Kingdom without consent of the majority of its citizens.

The Troubles, starting in the late 1960s, consisted of about thirty years of recurring acts of intense violence between elements of Northern Ireland's nationalist community (principally Roman Catholic) and unionist community (principally Protestant) during which 3,254 people were killed. The conflict was caused by the disputed status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and the domination of the minority nationalist community, and discrimination against them, by the unionist majority. The violence was characterised by the armed campaigns of paramilitary groups, including the Provisional IRA campaign of 1969-1997 which was aimed at the end of British rule in Northern Ireland and the creation of a new "all-Ireland" or "thirty-two county", Irish Republic, and the Ulster Volunteer Force, formed in 1966 in response to the perceived erosion of both the British character and unionist domination of Northern Ireland. The state security forces--the British Army and the police (the Royal Ulster Constabulary)--were also involved in the violence. The British government's point of view is that its forces were neutral in the conflict, trying to uphold law and order in Northern Ireland and the right of the people of Northern Ireland to democratic self-determination. Irish republicans, however, regarded the state forces as "combatants" in the conflict, alleging collusion between the state forces and the loyalist paramilitaries as proof of this. The "Ballast" investigation by the Police Ombudsman has confirmed that British forces, and in particular the RUC, did collude with loyalist paramilitaries, were involved in murder, and did obstruct the course of justice when such claims had previously been investigated, although the extent to which such collusion occurred is still hotly disputed, with some Unionists claiming that reports of collusion are either false or highly exaggerated. See also the section below on Collusion by Security Forces and loyalist paramilitaries.

As a consequence of the worsening security situation, autonomous regional government for Northern Ireland was suspended in 1972. Alongside the violence, there was a political deadlock between the major political parties in Northern Ireland, including those who condemned violence, over the future status of Northern Ireland and the form of government there should be within Northern Ireland. A plebiscite within Northern Ireland on whether it should remain in the United Kingdom, or form part of a united Ireland, was held in 1973. The vote went heavily in favour (98.9%) of maintaining the status quo with approximately 57.5% of the total electorate voting in support, but only 1% of Catholics voted following a boycott organised by the SDLP.

The Troubles were brought to an uneasy end by a peace process which included the declaration of ceasefires by most paramilitary organisations and the complete decommissioning of their weapons, the reform of the police, and the corresponding withdrawal of army troops from the streets and from sensitive border areas such as South Armagh and Fermanagh, as agreed by the signatories to the Belfast Agreement (commonly known as the "Good Friday Agreement"). This reiterated the long-held British position, which had never before been fully acknowledged by successive Irish governments, that Northern Ireland will remain within the United Kingdom until a majority votes otherwise. Bunreacht na hÉireann, the constitution of the Irish state, was amended in 1999 to remove a claim of the "Irish nation" to sovereignty over the whole of Ireland (in Article 2), a claim qualified by an acknowledgement that Ireland could only exercise legal control over the territory formerly known as the Irish Free State. The new Articles 2 and 3, added to the Constitution to replace the earlier articles, implicitly acknowledge that the status of Northern Ireland, and its relationships within the rest of the United Kingdom and with Ireland, would only be changed with the agreement of a majority of voters in both jurisdictions Ireland (voting separately). This aspect was also central to the Belfast Agreement which was signed in 1998 and ratified by referenda held simultaneously in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. At the same time, the British Government recognised for the first time, as part of the prospective, the so-called "Irish dimension": the principle that the people of the island of Ireland as a whole have the right, without any outside interference, to solve the issues between North and South by mutual consent. The latter statement was key to winning support for the agreement from nationalists and republicans. It also established a devolved power-sharing government within Northern Ireland where the government must consist of both unionist and nationalist parties.

These institutions were suspended by the British Government in 2002 after Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) allegations of spying by people working for Sinn Féin at the Assembly (Stormontgate). The resulting case against the accused Sinn Féin member collapsed.

Politicians elected to the Assembly at the 2003 Assembly Election were called together on 15 May 2006 under the Northern Ireland Act 2006 for the purpose of electing a First Minister of Northern Ireland and a deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and choosing the members of an Executive (before 25 November 2006) as a preliminary step to the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Following the election held on 7 March 2007, devolved government returned to Northern Ireland on 8 May 2007 with DUP leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin deputy leader Martin McGuinness taking office as First Minister and Deputy First Minister, respectively.

Northern Ireland has devolved government within the United Kingdom. There is a Northern Ireland Executive together with the 108 member Northern Ireland Assembly to deal with devolved matters with the UK Government and UK Parliament responsible for reserved matters. Elections to the Assembly are by single transferable vote with 6 representatives elected for each of the 18 Westminster constituencies.

Northern Ireland elects 18 MPs to the House of Commons; only 13 take their seats, however, as the 5 Sinn Fein MPs refuse to take the oath to serve the Queen that is required of all MPs. The Northern Ireland Office represents the UK government in Northern Ireland on reserved matters and represents Northern Irish interests within the UK government. The Northern Ireland office is led by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who sits in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland is a distinct legal jurisdiction, separate from England and Wales and Scotland.

The main political divide in Northern Ireland is between Unionists who wish to see Northern Ireland continue as part of the United Kingdom and Nationalists or Republicans who wish to see Northern Ireland join the rest of Ireland, independent from the United Kingdom. These two opposing views are linked to deeper cultural divisions. Unionists are overwhelmingly Protestant, descendants of mainly Scottish, English, Welsh and Huguenot settlers as well as indigenous Irishmen who had converted to one of the Protestant denominations. Nationalists are predominantly Catholic and descend from the population predating the settlement, with a minority from Scottish Highlanders as well as some converts from Protestantism. Discrimination against nationalists under the Stormont government (1921–1972) gave rise to the nationalist civil rights movement in the 1960s. Some Unionists argue that any discrimination was not just because of religious or political bigotry, but also the result of more complex socio-economic, socio-political and geographical factors. Whatever the cause, the existence of discrimination, and the manner in which Nationalist anger at it was handled, was a major contributing factor which led to the long-running conflict known as the Troubles. The political unrest went through its most violent phase between 1968 and 1994.

The population of Northern Ireland was estimated as being 1,759,000 on 10 December 2008. In the 2001 census, 45.6% of the population identified as belonging to Protestant denominations (of which 20.7% Presbyterian, 15.3% Church of Ireland), 40.3% identified as Catholic, 0.3% identified with non-Christian religions and 13.9% identified with no religion. In terms of community background, 53.1% of the Northern Irish population came from a Protestant background, 43.8% came from a Catholic background, 0.4% from non-Christian backgrounds and 2.7% non-religious backgrounds. The population is forecast to pass the 1.8 million mark by 2011.

36% of the present-day population define themselves as Unionist, 24% as Nationalist and 40% define themselves as neither. According to a 2007 opinion poll, 66% express long term preference of the maintenance of Northern Ireland's membership of the United Kingdom (either directly ruled or with devolved government), while 23% express a preference for membership of a united Ireland. This discrepancy can be explained by the overwhelming preference among Protestants to remain a part of the UK (89%), while Catholic preferences are spread across a number of solutions to the constitutional question including remaining a part of the UK (39%), a united Ireland (47%), Northern Ireland becoming an independent state (6%), and those who "don't know" (7%). Official voting figures, which reflect views on the "national question" along with issues of candidate, geography, personal loyalty and historic voting patterns, show 54% of Northern Ireland voters vote for Pro-Unionist parties, 42% vote for Pro-Nationalist parties and 4% vote "other". Opinion polls consistently show that the election results are not necessarily an indication of the electorate's stance regarding the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.

Most of the population of Northern Ireland are at least nominally Christian. The ethno-political loyalties are allied, though not absolutely, to the Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations and these are the labels used to categorise the opposing views. This is, however, becoming increasingly irrelevant as the Irish Question is very complicated. Many voters (regardless of religious affiliation) are attracted to Unionism's conservative policies, while other voters are instead attracted to the traditionally leftist, nationalist Sinn Féin and Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and their respective party platforms for Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy. For the most part, Protestants feel a strong connection with Great Britain and wish for Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Catholics generally aspire to a United Ireland, or are less certain about how to solve the constitutional question. In the 2007 survey by Northern Ireland Life and Times, 39% of Northern Irish Catholics supported Northern Ireland remaining a part of the United Kingdom, either by direct rule (4%) or devolved government (35%).

Protestants have a slight majority in Northern Ireland, according to the latest Northern Ireland Census. The make-up of the Northern Ireland Assembly reflects the appeals of the various parties within the population. Of the 108 MLA's, 55 are Unionists and 44 are Nationalists (the remaining nine are classified as "other"). The largest single religious denomination is the Roman Catholic Church, which comprises a plurality, followed by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Church of Ireland (Anglican) and the Methodist Church.

People from Northern Ireland can hold British and/or Irish citizenship.

As a result of the Agreement, the Constitution of Ireland was amended so that people born in Northern Ireland are entitled to be Irish citizens on the same basis as people from any other part of the island of Ireland.

Neither government, however, extends its citizenship to all persons born in Northern Ireland. Both governments exclude some people born in Northern Ireland (e.g. certain persons born in Northern Ireland neither of whose parents is a UK or Irish national).

In general, Protestants in Northern Ireland see themselves primarily as being British, while Roman Catholics regard themselves primarily as being Irish. Several studies and surveys performed between 1971 and 2006 show this.

This does not however, account for the complex identities within Northern Ireland, given that many of the population regard themselves as "Ulster" or "Northern Irish", either primarily, or as a secondary identity. A 1999 survey showed that 51% of Protestants felt "Not at all Irish" and 41% only "weakly Irish" where 77% of Catholics polled said they felt "strongly Irish".

Recently, however, in spite of the religious and traditional conflict of beliefs between unionist and nationalist political parties operating within the NI Assembly, the NI Executive had its first meeting after a staunch 152-day abstention from meeting on Thursday the 20th of November, 2008. This was significant because MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) that were part of the Executive were receiving funding for work that wasn't being carried out, and also, a large political backlog of work was left to be done by the largely inactive Executive.

The current First Minister and deputy First Minister for the NI Executive are Peter Robinson (Democratic Unionist Party) and Martin McGuinness (Sinn Féin). These positions, however, only differ in name and are equally important and authoritative.

Northern Ireland comprises a patchwork of communities whose national loyalties are represented in some areas by flags flown from lamp posts. The Union Flag and the former Northern Ireland Flag are flown in some loyalist areas, and the Tricolour, adopted by republicans as the flag of Ireland in 1848, is flown in some republican areas. Even kerbstones in some areas are painted red-white-blue or green-white-orange (or gold), depending on whether local people express unionist/loyalist or nationalist/republican sympathies.

The only official flag is the Union Flag. The Northern Ireland flag was officially the former Governmental Northern Ireland banner (also known as the "Ulster Banner" or "Red Hand Flag") and was based on the arms of the former Parliament of Northern Ireland, and was used by the Government of Northern Ireland and its agencies between 1953 and 1972. Since 1972, it has no official status. It remains, however used uniquely to represent Northern Ireland in certain sporting events. The arms from which the Ulster Banner derives were themselves based on the flag of Ulster.

The Union Flag and the Ulster Banner are mainly used by Unionists. Nationalists generally eschew symbols which uniquely represent Northern Ireland; some instead use the Tricolour, the Irish National Flag, particularly at sporting events. Many people, however, prefer to avoid flags altogether because of their divisive nature. Paramilitary groups on both sides have also developed their own flags. Some unionists also occasionally use the flags of secular and religious organisations to which they belong.

The Irish Rugby Football Union and the Church of Ireland have used the Flag of St. Patrick. However, it is felt by some to be a loyalist flag, as it was used to represent Ireland when the whole island was part of the UK and is used by some British army regiments. Foreign flags are also found, such as the Palestinian flags in some Nationalist areas and Israeli flags in some Unionist areas, which represent general comparisons made by both sides with conflicts in the wider world. This is also true during matches with Scottish teams. Some will take on the persona of either Israel or Palestinians when playing against Northern Ireland teams.

The United Kingdom national anthem God Save the Queen is often played at state events in Northern Ireland. At some cross-community events, however, the Londonderry Air (also known as Danny Boy) may be played as a neutral substitute.

At the Commonwealth Games, the Northern Ireland team uses the Ulster Banner as its flag and Danny Boy / A Londonderry Air is used as its national anthem. The Northern Ireland football team also uses the Ulster Banner as its flag but uses God Save The Queen as its national anthem. Major Gaelic Athletic Association matches are opened by the Ireland national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann (The Soldier's Song), which is also used by some other all-Ireland sporting organisations. Since 1995, the Ireland national rugby union team has used a specially commissioned song, Ireland's Call, in place of, or alongside, the Ireland national anthem at international matches.

Northern Irish murals have become well-known features of Northern Ireland, depicting past and present divisions, both also documenting peace and cultural diversity. Almost 2,000 murals have been documented in Northern Ireland since the 1970s (see Conflict Archive on the Internet/Murals).

Northern Ireland was covered by an ice sheet for most of the last ice age and on numerous previous occasions, the legacy of which can be seen in the extensive coverage of drumlins in Counties Fermanagh, Armagh, Antrim and particularly Down. The centrepiece of Northern Ireland's geography is Lough Neagh, at 151 square miles (392 km²) the largest freshwater lake both on the island of Ireland and in the British Isles. A second extensive lake system is centred on Lower and Upper Lough Erne in Fermanagh. The largest island of Northern Ireland is Rathlin, off the Antrim coast. Strangford Lough is the largest inlet in the British Isles, covering 150 km² (58 sq mi).

There are substantial uplands in the Sperrin Mountains (an extension of the Caledonian fold mountains) with extensive gold deposits, granite Mourne Mountains and basalt Antrim Plateau, as well as smaller ranges in South Armagh and along the Fermanagh–Tyrone border. None of the hills are especially high, with Slieve Donard in the dramatic Mournes reaching 849 metres (2,785 ft), Northern Ireland's highest point. Belfast's most prominent peak is Cave Hill. The volcanic activity which created the Antrim Plateau also formed the eerily geometric pillars of the Giant's Causeway on the north Antrim coast. Also in north Antrim are the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Mussenden Temple and the Glens of Antrim.

The Lower and Upper River Bann, River Foyle and River Blackwater form extensive fertile lowlands, with excellent arable land also found in North and East Down, although much of the hill country is marginal and suitable largely for animal husbandry.

The valley of the River Lagan is dominated by Belfast, whose metropolitan area includes over a third of the population of Northern Ireland, with heavy urbanisation and industrialisation along the Lagan Valley and both shores of Belfast Lough.

The whole of Northern Ireland has a temperate maritime climate, rather wetter in the west than the east, although cloud cover is persistent across the region. The weather is unpredictable at all times of the year, and although the seasons are distinct, they are considerably less pronounced than in interior Europe or the eastern seaboard of North America. Average daytime maximums in Belfast are 6.5 °C (43.7 °F) in January and 17.5 °C (63.5 °F) in July. The damp climate and extensive deforestation in the 16th and 17th centuries resulted in much of the region being covered in rich green grassland.

Highest maximum temperature: 30.8 °C (87.4 °F) at Knockarevan, near Garrison, County Fermanagh on 30 June 1976 and at Belfast on 12 July 1983.

Lowest minimum temperature: -17.5 °C (0.5 °F) at Magherally, near Banbridge, County Down on 1 January 1979.

These counties are no longer used for local government purposes; instead there are twenty-six districts of Northern Ireland which have different geographical extents, even in the case of those named after the counties from which they derive their name. Fermanagh District Council most closely follows the borders of the county from which it takes its name. Coleraine Borough Council, on the other hand, derives its name from the town of Coleraine in County Londonderry.

Although counties are no longer used for governmental purpose, they remain a popular means of describing where places are. They are officially used while applying for an Irish passport, which requires one to state one's county of birth. The name of county then appears in both Irish and English on the passport's information page, as opposed to the town or city of birth on the United Kingdom passport. The Gaelic Athletic Association still uses the counties as its primary means of organisation and fields representative teams of each GAA county.

Many people inside and outside Northern Ireland use other names for Northern Ireland, depending on their point of view. These are grouped under sectarian headings below, however, most of these phrases are often also used as synonyms for Northern Ireland in non-sectarian contexts.

Notwithstanding the ancient realm of Dál Riata which extended into Scotland, disagreement on names, and the reading of political symbolism into the use or non-use of a word, also attaches itself to some urban centres. The most famous example is whether Northern Ireland's second city should be called "Derry" or "Londonderry".

Choice of language and nomenclature in Northern Ireland often reveals the cultural, ethnic and religious identity of the speaker. The first Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Seamus Mallon, was criticised by unionist politicians for calling the region the "North of Ireland" while Sinn Féin has been criticised in some Irish newspapers for still referring to the "Six Counties".

Those who do not belong to any group but lean towards one side often tend to use the language of that group. Supporters of unionism in the British media (notably the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express) regularly call Northern Ireland "Ulster". Some nationalist and republican-leaning media outlets in Ireland almost always use "North of Ireland" or the "Six Counties".

Government and cultural organizations in Northern Ireland, particularly those pre-dating the 1980s, often use the word "Ulster" in their title; for example, the University of Ulster, the Ulster Museum, the Ulster American Folk Park, the Ulster Orchestra, and BBC Radio Ulster.

Many news bulletins since the 1990s have opted to avoid all contentious terms and use the official name, Northern Ireland. The North is still used by some news bulletins in the Republic, to the annoyance of some Unionists. Bertie Ahern, the previous Taoiseach, now almost always refers to Northern Ireland in public, having previously only used The North. For Northern Ireland's second largest city, broadcasting outlets which are unaligned to either community and broadcast to both use both names interchangeably, often starting a report with "Londonderry" and then using "Derry" in the rest of the report. However, within Northern Ireland, print media which are aligned to either community (the News Letter is aligned to the unionist community while the Irish News is aligned to the nationalist community) generally use their community's preferred term. British newspapers with unionist leanings, such as the Daily Telegraph, usually use the language of the unionist community. In its style guide, The Guardian recommends using "Derry" and "Co Derry", and "not Londonderry". The media in the Republic use the names preferred by nationalists. Whether this is all an official editorial policy or a personal preference by the writers is unknown.

The division in nomenclature is seen particularly in sports and religions associated with one of the communities. Gaelic games use Derry, for example. Nor is there clear agreement on how to decide on a name. When the nationalist-controlled local council voted to re-name the city "Derry" unionists objected, stating that as it owed its city status to a Royal Charter, only a charter issued by the Queen could change the name. The Queen has not intervened on the matter and thus the council is now called "Derry City Council" while the city is still officially "Londonderry". Nevertheless, the council has printed two sets of stationery - one for each term - and their policy is to reply to correspondence using whichever term the original sender used.

At times of high communal tension, each side regularly complains of the use of the nomenclature associated with the other community by a third party such as a media organisation, claiming such usage indicates evident "bias" against their community.

Northern Ireland's legal and administrative systems have evolved from those in place in pre-partition United Kingdom, and were developed by its devolved government from 1922 until 1972. From 1972 until 1999 (except for brief periods), laws and administration relating to Northern Ireland have been handled directly from Westminster. Between the years 1999 and 2002, and since May 2007, devolution has returned to Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland economy is the smallest of the four economies making up the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland has traditionally had an industrial economy, most notably in shipbuilding, rope manufacture and textiles, but most heavy industry has since been replaced by services, primarily the public sector. Tourism also plays a big role in the local economy. More recently the economy has benefited from major investment by many large multi-national corporations into high tech industry. These large organisations are attracted by government subsidies and the skilled workforce in Northern Ireland. Despite the presence of many multi-national corporations, the largest employer in the country is the Government.

Northern Ireland is served by three airports - Belfast International near Antrim, George Best Belfast City in East Belfast, and City of Derry in County Londonderry.

Major sea ports at Larne and Belfast carry passengers and freight between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The cross-border European Route E01 is a major EU-funded cross-border route that will eventually upgrade the road connecting the ports between Larne in Northern Ireland and Rosslare in the Republic of Ireland.

With its improved international reputation, Northern Ireland has recently witnessed rising numbers of tourists who come to appreciate the country's unique heritage. Attractions include cultural festivals, musical and artistic traditions, countryside and geographical sites of interest, pubs, welcoming hospitality and sports (especially golf and fishing). Since 1987 pubs have been allowed to open on Sundays, despite some limited vocal opposition.

The Ulster Cycle is a large body of prose and verse centring around the traditional heroes of the Ulaid in what is now eastern Ulster. This is one of the four major cycles of Irish Mythology. The cycle centres around the reign of Conchobar mac Nessa, who is said to have been king of Ulster around the time of Christ. He ruled from Emain Macha (now Navan Fort near Armagh), and had a fierce rivalry with queen Medb and king Ailill of Connacht and their ally, Fergus mac Róich, former king of Ulster. The foremost hero of the cycle is Conchobar's nephew Cúchulainn.

The Mid Ulster dialect of English spoken in Northern Ireland shows influence from Scotland, with the use of such Scots words as wee for 'little' and aye for 'yes'. Some jocularly call this dialect phonetically by the name Norn Iron. There are supposedly some minute differences in pronunciation between Protestants and Catholics, the best known of which is the name of the letter h, which Protestants tend to pronounce as "aitch", as in British English, and Catholics tend to pronounce as "haitch", as in Hiberno-English. However, geography is a much more important determinant of dialect than ethnic background. English is spoken as a first language by almost 100% of the Northern Irish population, though under the Good Friday Agreement, Irish and Ulster Scots (one of the dialects of the Scots language), sometimes known as Ullans, have recognition as "part of the cultural wealth of Northern Ireland".

The Irish language is the native language of the whole island of Ireland. It was spoken predominantly throughout what is now Northern Ireland before the settlement of Protestants from Great Britain in the 17th Century. Most placenames throughout Northern Ireland are anglicised versions of their Gaelic originals. These Gaelic placenames include thousands of lanes, roads, townlands, towns, villages and all of its modern cities. Examples include Belfast- derived from Béal Feirste, Shankill- derived from Sean Cill and Lough Neagh- derived from Loch nEathach.

In Northern Ireland the Irish language has long been associated with Irish nationalism. The language was seen as a common heritage and indeed the object of affection by many prominent 19th century Protestant republicans and Protestant unionists. There are three main dialects in the island of Ireland—Ulster, Munster and Connaught. Speakers of each dialect often find others difficult to understand. Speakers in Northern Ireland speak the Ulster dialect.

The early years of the 20th century, the language became a political football throughout Ireland as Republican activists became increasingly linked with it. In the 20th century, the language became in Unionist eyes increasingly polarised for political ends and many in that community would blame Sinn Féin in this regard. After Ireland was partitioned, the language was largely rejected in the education system of the new Northern Ireland. It is argued that the predominant use of the English language may have served to exacerbate the Troubles.

The erection by some Local District Councils of legal bilingual street names (English/Irish), invariably in predominantly Catholic/Nationalist/Republican districts, may be perceived as creating a 'chill factor' by Unionists and as such not conducive to fostering good cross community relationships. However other regions in the United Kingdom, such as Wales and Scotland, enjoy the use of Bilingual signs in Welsh and Scots Gaelic respectively. Because of this, nationalists in Northern Ireland argue for equality in this regard. In responses to the 2001 census in Northern Ireland 10% of the population claimed "some knowledge of Irish", 4.7% to "speak, read, write and understand" Irish. It was not asked as part of the census but in a poll, 1% of respondents said they speak it as their main language at home. Following a public consultation, the decision was taken not to introduce specific legislation for the Irish language at this time, despite 75% of the (self-selecting) respondents stating that they were in favour of such legislation.

Ulster Gaelic/Ulster Irish or Donegal Gaelic/Irish, is the dialect which is nearest to Scots Gaelic. Some words and phrases of the dialect are shared with Scots Gaelic. The dialects of East Ulster - those of Rathlin Island and the Glens of Antrim - were very similar to the Scots Gaelic dialect formerly spoken in Argyll, the part of Scotland nearest to Rathlin Island. The Ulster Gaelic is the most central dialect of Gaelic, both geographically and linguistically, of the once vast Gaelic speaking world, stretching from the south of Ireland to the north of Scotland. At the beginning of the 20th century, Munster Irish was favoured by many revivalists, with a shift to Connaught Irish in the 1960s, which is now the preferred dialect by many in Ireland. Many younger speakers of Irish experience less confusion with dialects due to the expansion of Irish-language broadcasting (TG4) and the exposure to a variety of dialects. There are fewer problems regarding written Irish as there is a standardised spelling and grammar, created by the Irish Government, which was supposed to reflect a compromise between various dialect forms. However, Ulster Irish speakers find that Ulster forms are generally not favoured by the standard.

The dialect is often stigmatised in the non Ulster counties of Ireland, although all learners of Irish in Northern Ireland use this form of the language. Self-instruction courses in Ulster Irish include Now You’re Talking and Tús maith. The writer Séamus Ó Searcaigh RIP, once warned about the Irish Government's attempts at producing a Caighdeán or Standard for the Gaelic language in Ireland in 1953, when he wrote that what will emerge will be "Gaedhilg nach mbéidh suim againn inntí mar nár fhás sí go nádúrtha as an teangaidh a thug Gaedhil go hÉirinn" (A Gaelic which is of no interest to us, for it has not developed naturally from the language brought to Ireland by the Gaels). The Ulster Irish dialect is spoken throughout the area of the historical nine county Ulster, in particular the Gaeltacht region of County Donegal and the Gaeltacht Quarter of West Belfast. Mayo Irish has strong ties with Donegal Irish.

Ulster Scots comprises varieties of the Scots language spoken in Northern Ireland. Aodán Mac Poilín states that "While most argue that Ulster-Scots is a dialect or variant of Scots, some have argued or implied that Ulster-Scots is a separate language from Scots. The case for Ulster-Scots being a distinct language, made at a time when the status of Scots itself was insecure, is so bizarre that it is unlikely to have been a linguistic argument." Approximately 2% of the population claim to speak Ulster Scots, however the number speaking it as their main language in their home is negligible. Classes at colleges can now be taken but for a native English speaker " is comparatively accessible, and even at its most intense can be understood fairly easily with the help of a glossary." The St Andrews Agreement recognises the need to "enhance and develop the Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture".

There are an increasing number of ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland. Chinese and Urdu are spoken by Northern Ireland's Asian communities; though the Chinese community is often referred to as the "third largest" community in Northern Ireland, it is tiny by international standards. Since the accession of new member states to the European Union in 2004, Central and Eastern European languages, particularly Polish, are becoming increasingly common.

The most common sign language in Northern Ireland is British Sign Language (BSL), but as Catholics tended to send their deaf children to schools in Dublin (St Joseph's Institute for Deaf Boys and St. Mary's Institute for Deaf Girls), Irish Sign Language (ISL) is commonly used in the Nationalist community. The two languages are not related: BSL is in the British family (which also includes Auslan), and ISL is in the French family (which also includes American Sign Language).

Education in Northern Ireland differs slightly from systems used elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Unlike most areas of the United Kingdom, in the last year of Primary school, children can sit the eleven plus transfer test, and the results determine whether they attend grammar schools or secondary schools. This system is due to be changed in 2008 amidst some controversy, with the exception of North Armagh where the Dickson Plan is in effect.

Northern Ireland's state (controlled) schools are open to all children in Northern Ireland, although in practice are mainly attended by those from Protestant or non-religious backgrounds. There is a separate publicly funded school system provided for Roman Catholics, although Roman Catholics are free to attend state schools (and some non-Roman Catholics attend Roman Catholic schools). Integrated schools, which attempt to ensure a balance in enrolment between pupils of Protestant, Roman Catholic and other faiths (or none) are becoming increasingly popular, although Northern Ireland still has a primarily de facto religiously segregated education system. In the Primary School Sector, forty schools (8.9% of the total number) are Integrated Schools and thirty two (7.2% of the total number) are Gaelscoileanna.

There are two main universities in Northern Ireland - The Queen's University of Belfast, and the University of Ulster.

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Northern Ireland Assembly

Northern Ireland outline in blue.svg

The Northern Ireland Assembly (Irish: Tionól Thuaisceart Éireann, Ulster Scots: Norlin Airlann Semmlie) is the devolved legislature of Northern Ireland. It has power to legislate in a wide range of areas that are not explicitly reserved to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and to appoint the Northern Ireland Executive. It sits at Parliament Buildings at Stormont in Belfast.

The latest incarnation of the Assembly was established under the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, an accord aimed at bringing an end to Northern Ireland's violent 30-year Troubles. It is based on the principle of power-sharing under the D'Hondt method to ensure that Northern Ireland's largest political communities, the unionist and nationalist communities both participate in governing the region. The Assembly is a unicameral, democratically elected body comprising 108 members who are known as Members of the Legislative Assembly, or MLAs. Members are elected under the single transferable vote form of proportional representation.

The Assembly has been suspended on several occasions, the longest suspension being from 14 October 2002 until 7 May 2007, a period of over four and a half years. When the Assembly was suspended, its powers reverted to the Northern Ireland Office. Following talks that resulted in the St Andrews Agreement being accepted in November 2006, an election to the Assembly was held on 7 March 2007 and full power was restored to the devolved institutions on 8 May 2007.

From 7 June 1921 until 30 March 1972, the devolved legislature for Northern Ireland was the Parliament of Northern Ireland. That Parliament consistently chose the Ulster Unionist Party to govern the region. The Parliament was suspended on 30 March 1972 and formally abolished in 1973 under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973.

Shortly after this first parliament was abolished, attempts began to restore devolution on a new basis that would see power shared between nationalists and unionists. To this end a new parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, was established in 1973. However, this body was brought down by opposition from hard-line unionists and republicans and was abolished in 1974. In 1982 another Northern Ireland Assembly was established at Stormont, initially as a body to scrutinise the actions of the Secretary of State, the British minister with responsibility for Northern Ireland. It received little support from nationalists and was officially dissolved in 1986.

Attempts to secure its operation on a permanent basis have been frustrated by disagreements between the two main unionist parties (the Democratic Unionist Party and the Ulster Unionist Party) and Sinn Féin, the largest nationalist party, which is widely perceived to be the connected to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). Unionists refused to participate in the Good Friday Agreement's institutions alongside Sinn Féin until they were assured that the IRA had discontinued its activities, decommissioned its arms and disbanded.

The most recent suspension occurred after unionists withdrew from the Northern Ireland Executive after Sinn Féin's offices at Stormont were raided by the police investigating alleged intelligence gathering on behalf of the IRA by members of the party's support staff. The Assembly, already suspended, dissolved on 28 April 2003 as scheduled, but the elections due the following month were postponed by the United Kingdom government and were not held until November that year.

On 8 December 2005, three Belfast men at the centre of the alleged IRA spying incident (dubbed Stormontgate) were acquitted of all charges. The prosecution offered no evidence "in the public interest." Afterwards Denis Donaldson, one of those arrested, said that the "charges should never have been brought" as the police action was "political." On 17 December 2005, Donaldson publicly confirmed that he had been a spy for British intelligence since the early 1980s. Mr Donaldson was killed on 4 April 2006.

Although the Assembly remained suspended from 2002 until 2007, the persons elected to it at the 2003 Assembly election were called together on 15 May 2006 under the Northern Ireland Act 2006 to meet in an assembly to be known as "the Assembly" (or fully "the Assembly established under the Northern Ireland Act 2006") for the purpose of electing a First Minister and Deputy First Minister and choosing the members of an Executive before 25 November 2006 as a preliminary to the restoration of devolved government.

On 23 May 2006 Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refused Sinn Féin's nomination to be First Minister alongside Sinn Féin's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, as Deputy First Minister. Eileen Bell was appointed by the Secretary of State Peter Hain to be the Speaker of the Assembly, with Francie Molloy and Jim Wells acting as deputies. The Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 repealed the Northern Ireland Act 2006 and thus disbanded "the Assembly".

The Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 provided for a "Transitional Assembly" (or fully "the Transitional Assembly established under the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006") to take part in preparations for the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland. A person who was a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly was also a member of the Transitional Assembly. Eileen Bell was Speaker of the Transitional Assembly and Francie Molloy and Jim Wells continued as deputies. The Transitional Assembly first met on 24 November 2006, when the proceedings were suspended due to a bomb threat by loyalist paramilitary Michael Stone. It was dissolved on 30 January 2007 when the election campaign for the current Northern Ireland Assembly started.

An election to the then-suspended Northern Ireland Assembly was held on 7 March 2007. Secretary of State, Peter Hain signed a restoration order on 25 March 2007 allowing for the restoration of devolution at midnight on the following day. The two largest parties following the election, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin, agreed to enter power-sharing government together, and an administration was eventually established on 8 May with Ian Paisley as First Minister and Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister.

Each MLA is free to designate themselves as "nationalist", "unionist" or "other" as they see fit, the only requirement being that no member may change their designation more than once during an Assembly session. The system has been criticised by some, in particular the cross-community Alliance Party, as entrenching sectarian divisions. The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland supports ending the official designation of identity requirement and the taking of important votes on the basis of an ordinary super-majority.

The Assembly has both legislative powers and responsibility for electing the Northern Ireland Executive. The First and Deputy First Ministers were initially elected on a cross-community vote, although this was changed in 2006 and they are now appointed as leaders of the largest and second largest Assembly 'bloc' (understood to mean 'Unionist', 'Nationalist' and 'Other'). However the remaining ministers are not elected but rather chosen by the nominating officers of each party, each party being entitled to a share of ministerial positions roughly proportionate to its share of seats in the Assembly. The Assembly has authority to legislate in a field of competences known as "transferred matters". These matters are not explicitly enumerated in the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Rather they include any competence not explicitly retained by the Parliament at Westminster.

Powers reserved by Westminster are divided into "excepted matters", which it retains indefinitely, and "reserved matters", which may be transferred to the competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly at a future date. An incomplete list of "transferred", "reserved" and "excepted" matters is given below. While the Assembly was in suspension, its legislative powers were exercised by the UK government, which effectively has power to legislate by decree. Laws that would have normally been within the competence of the Assembly were passed by the UK government in the form of Orders-in-Council rather than legislative acts.

Although the British monarch is not formally a component of the Assembly (as is the case at Westminster), all bills passed by the Assembly must receive Royal Assent to become law. This is not a mere formality. If the Secretary of State believes that a bill violates the constitutional limitations on the powers of the Assembly, the Secretary of State will refuse to submit the bill to the monarch for Assent. If submitted by the Secretary of State, the monarch will, by convention, sign a bill into law. Acts of the Northern Ireland Assembly begin with the enacting formula: "Be it enacted by being passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly and assented to by Her Majesty as follows:".

The Assembly is chaired by the Speaker and three Deputy Speakers. Lord Alderdice served as the first regular Speaker of the Assembly, but retired to serve as part of the current Independent Monitoring Commission that supervises paramilitary ceasefires. The position is currently filled by William Hay. In the Assembly the Speaker and ten other members constitute a quorum. The Assembly Commission is the body corporate of the Assembly. It ensures that the Assembly has the property, staff and services it needs to carry out its work. Legal proceedings taken for or against the Assembly are taken for or against the Commission on behalf of the Assembly. The staff of the Assembly are collectively known as the Assembly Secretariat.

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Unionism in Ireland

The Ulster Banner - the flag of the former Government of Northern Ireland 1953-72

Unionism in Ireland is an ideology that favours the maintenance or strengthening of the political and cultural ties between Ireland (often, specifically, Northern Ireland) and Great Britain.

The political relationship between Britain and Ireland dates to the twelfth century, and reached its apogee in the Act of Union 1800, which created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1922, the southern 26 counties of Ireland gained independence from the UK as the Irish Free State (later the Republic of Ireland). The territory of Northern Ireland has remained part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Unionism today is overwhelmingly concerned with the relationship between Northern Ireland and Britain: Unionism is practically extinct in the remainder of the island.

Unionism and its opposing ideology, Irish nationalism, are associated with particular ethnic and religious communities: the former with Protestants of English or Scottish origin (many of whom migrated to Ireland in the Plantation of Ulster), and the latter with Catholics indigenous to the island. However, these generalisations must be nuanced, since a significant number of individuals do not fit neatly into such sets of categories, and the distinction between a "pure" indigenous Irish population and "foreign" British interlopers is not consistent with the centuries-old history of cross-community intermarriage, cultural assimilation and religious conversion.

The term Unionist was originally applied to opponents of Irish self-government in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Irish Unionism is centred on an identification with Britishness, though not necessarily to the exclusion of a sense of Irishness or of affinity to Northern Ireland ("Ulster") specifically. It emerged as a unified force in opposition to William Gladstone's Home Rule Bill in 1886. Whereas Irish nationalists believed in the need for separation from Great Britain - whether through repeal of the 1800 Act of Union, "home rule", or complete independence - Unionists believe fundamentally in the need to maintain and deepen the relationship between the various nations of the United Kingdom, expressing a pride in symbols of Britishness.

A key symbol for unionists is the Union Flag. Unionist areas of Northern Ireland often display this and other symbols to show the loyalty and sense of identity of the community. Unionism is also known for its allegiance to the British Crown, both historically and today.

Historically, most Unionists in Ireland have been Protestants and most Nationalists have been Catholics, and this remains the case. However, a significant number of Protestants have adhered to the Nationalist cause, and a significant number of Catholics have espoused Unionism. The phenomenon of Catholic Unionism continues to exist in Northern Ireland, where it may be seen in the context of middle-class Catholics' misgivings regarding the economic consequences of a united Ireland.

It is fair to say that both Unionism and Nationalism have had sectarian and anti-sectarian elements, and that both have attracted supporters from outside their base religious communities. However, while Nationalism has historically had a number of Protestant leaders (Henry Grattan, Theobald Wolfe Tone, Charles Stewart Parnell, Douglas Hyde), Unionism was invariably led by Protestant leaders and politicians. This lack of Catholic leadership encouraged accusations of sectarianism, particularly during the period when the Ulster Unionist Party had undisputed control of Northern Ireland (1921–1972). Only one Catholic served in government throughout this period (Dr. G.B. Newe, who was specially recruited to boost cross-community relations in the last UUP government in the 1970s). Ulster Unionist Leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble conceded that Northern Ireland had been a "cold house" for Catholics in the past.

Alongside the term Unionist, people espousing unionist beliefs are sometimes referred to as Loyalists. The two words are sometimes used interchangeably, but the latter is more often associated with particularly hardline forms of Unionism, and in some cases with individual or groups who support or engage in violence. Most unionists do not describe themselves as loyalists.

A similar distinction exists in relation to Irish nationalists on the opposing side. Mainstream nationalists, such as the supporters of the SDLP and the main parties in the Republic of Ireland, are generally referred to by that term, while the more militant strand of nationalism, comprising groups such as Sinn Féin, is known as republicanism. In the Republic of Ireland, the republican tradition has moderated and moved into the mainstream, and today the Republic's "Republican Party", Fianna Fáil, has little in common with militant republicans other than certain ideological and historical perspectives.

Unionism has traditionally been associated with strong loyalty to the British monarchy, and three members of the current Royal Family hold titles with roots in Northern Ireland: the Duke of York (Baron Killyleagh), the Earl of Ulster and the Duke of Kent (Baron Downpatrick). Older Irish royal titles included Lord of Ireland, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, Earl of Athlone and Baron Arklow. The Queen is still technically Sovereign of the Order of St. Patrick, the highest Irish order of chivalry, and the Norroy and Ulster King of Arms is an officer in the College of Arms in London.

Some unionists, however, are republicans, in the sense that they oppose the monarchy and wish to replace it with a British Republic. This form of "republicanism" is naturally wholly unconnected with Irish republicanism. There is no accurate statistical information available for how much actual support exists for this position, though there is anecdotal evidence that the attitude among unionists who do not support the monarchy is mainly one of indifference rather than a positive desire to abolish it.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries unionism had supporters throughout Ireland. As late as 1859 the Unionist Irish Conservative Party was predominant, winning more seats than either the Irish Liberal Party or the various Nationalist parties.

Unionists comprised the opposition to Home Rule. They believed that an Irish Parliament dominated by Catholic nationalists would be to their economic, social and religious disadvantage, and would move eventually towards total independence from Britain. In most of Ireland, Unionists were members of the governing and landowning classes and the minor gentry, but Unionism had a broad popular appeal among Protestants of all classes and backgrounds in Ulster. This part of the island had become industrialised, and had an economy that closely resembled that of Britain.

A series of British governments introduced Home Rule Bills in the British Parlilament. The 1886 Bill was rejected by the House of Commons, and managed to destroy the Liberal government in the process: Whig and Radical elements left the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Unionist Party, which allied itself with the Conservative Party. Eventually, the two parties merged into the Conservative and Unionist Party (generally known as the Conservative Party), which remains Britain's dominant right-of-centre party. The 1893 Bill passed the Commons but was rejected by the House of Lords, which had a permanent and large Conservative majority.

Political Unionism crystallised around the Protestant areas of Ulster in the northern part of Ireland. By the early 20th century, the Irish Unionist Party had become predominantly associated with this territory, and in 1905 the Ulster Unionist Council was founded, which in turn produced the Ulster Unionist Party, which replaced the IUP in Ulster. In the period up to 1920, most of the IUP's leadership (including the Earl of Middleton and the Earl of Dunraven) came from other parts of Ireland, and its most prominent leader, Sir Edward Carson, opposed not merely Home Rule but any attempt to partition Ireland.

In 1911, the House of Lords' veto over legislation was removed, and it became clear that a Home Rule Bill would finally be enacted. Unionists, particularly in Ulster, mounted a campaign against Home Rule, drawing up a "Solemn League and Covenant" and threatening to establish a Provisional Government of Ulster if Home Rule were imposed upon them. They set up a militia called the Ulster Volunteers and imported 25,000 rifles from Germany. By mid-1914, 90,000 men had joined the Volunteers.

On the eve of the First World War, the Home Rule Act 1914 passed into law. The War, however, prevented it from coming into force. The Easter Rising of 1916 and the events that followed it led to the enactment of a fourth Home Rule Bill after the War, known as the Government of Ireland Act 1920. This was heavily influenced by the Unionist leader Sir Edward Carson, and provided six of the nine counties of Ulster ("Northern Ireland") with its own devolved parliament independent from that of the rest of the island ("Southern Ireland"). The 1914 Act had provided for a similar partition as a temporary measure, for an unspecified length of time. In the end, only Northern Ireland became a functioning entity, and Southern Ireland was superseded by the Irish Free State.

Not all Protestants supported Unionism. Some - notably Charles Stewart Parnell - were nationalists, while by contrast some middle-class Catholics supported the maintenance of the union. In addition, Unionism received the support in the period from the 1880s until 1914 from leading mainland Conservative politicians, notably Lord Randolph Churchill and future prime minister Andrew Bonar Law. Churchill coined the well-known slogan "Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right".

The creation of Northern Ireland under the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and the later creation of the Irish Free State in the remainder of the island separated southern and northern unionists. The exclusion of three Ulster counties, Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan, from Northern Ireland left unionists there feeling isolated and betrayed. They established an association to persuade their fellow unionists to reconsider the border, but to no avail. Many assisted in the policing of the new region, serving in the B-Specials while continuing to live in the Free State (see here).

Unionists were in the majority in four counties of the new Northern Ireland (Antrim, Londonderry, Down and Armagh), and formed a large minority in the remaining counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone. Sir Edward Carson had expressly urged the new Northern Ireland Prime Minister, Sir James Craig, to ensure absolute equality in the treatment of Catholics, so to guarantee the stability of the new state. Discrimination, however, took place, particularly in the areas of housing, employment and local government representation. The extent of such discrimination is disputed, and there was also widespread poverty among Protestants: for example, recovery operations in working-class areas after the Belfast Blitz of 1941 revealed that both communities had disadvantaged elements. Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble has admitted that Northern Ireland was a "cold house" for Catholics for most of the 20th century. Many unionists, particularly in the Democratic Unionist Party, deny that organised discrimination took place and attribute the poverty suffered by both communities to wider economic conditions.

By the 1960s, the reforms of Prime Minister, Terence O'Neill, designed to create a more equitable society between unionists and nationalists, resulted in a backlash led by fundamentalist Protestant minister, Ian Paisley. Nationalists launched a Civil Rights movement in the mid 1960s with key demands made on matters such as one man one vote. With attacks on Northern Ireland's infrastructure by loyalists, and the resignation of a relative from the Cabinet over the principle of One man One Vote, O'Neill resigned on 2 April 1969 to be replaced by Chichester Clark.

By 1972 the situation in Northern Ireland had deteriorated considerably, and on January 30, thirteen civilians on a Civil Rights march in Derry were killed by the Parachute Regimenton Bloody Sunday. Three months later the Parliament of Northern Ireland and government were suspended, and later abolished. Within Unionism, Ian Paisley had entered electoral politics and quickly merged his Protestant Unionist Party into the new Democratic Unionist Party with former UUP MPs Desmond Boal and John McQuade. The new party quickly began to win support from the UUP, and since 1975 polled at least 10% of the vote at elections.

A power-sharing government between nationalists and unionists in 1974 was brought down by the Ulster Workers' Council Strike. Faulkner as a result lost the support of his party, where he was replaced as leader by Harry West, and formed his own Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. West subsequently resigned and was replaced by Jim Molyneaux in 1979. Secretary of State Jim Prior made another attempt at restoring devolution by introducing a plan for rolling devolution through an assembly between 1982 and 1986 but this was boycotted by nationalists. Violence intensified throughout this period.

After nearly three decades of conflict, a ceasefire and intense political negotiations produced the Belfast Agreement on 10 April, 1998 (also known as the "Good Friday Agreement"), which again attempted with mixed success to produce a power-sharing government for Northern Ireland with cross-community support. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) supported the agreement but it was opposed by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and other smaller parties.

Unionist - and nationalist - convictions in Northern Ireland are expressed in a number of different ways: through everyday preferences (which need not be consistent for each individual) such as choice of newspaper or sports team, participation in a locally developed unionist or nationalist subculture, and voting for the appropriate political parties and candidates at election time.

Most Unionists in Northern Ireland are Protestants and most Nationalists are Catholics, but this generalisation (which is evident in the work of some commentators) is subject to significant qualifications. The Ulster Unionist Party, for example, has some Catholic members and supporters, such as Sir John Gorman, a respected former MLA. Polls taken over the years have suggested that as many as one in three Catholics could be considered Unionist, though this may not translate into support for Unionist parties at election time and the size of the foregoing figure has been questioned.

In a more general sense, Catholics cannot be assumed to be hostile to the institutions of the Union: many Catholics serve in the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the British Army, just as their predecessors served in the RIC and the RUC, in the face of sometimes violent opposition from militant nationalists. The PSNI maintains a 50% quota for Catholic officers, though many of these today are Catholic immigrants mainly from Poland.

On the Nationalist side, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) has attracted a number of sympathetic Protestants, and Sinn Féin too is said to have some Protestant members and elected officials.

Northern Ireland has an increasing number of inhabitants who are neither Catholic nor Protestant, either being adherents of other religions or being non-religious. Increasingly, the trend has been to ignore the question of religion, particularly as the numbers of practising churchgoers on both sides have been in decline.

For some years, there has been a perception both in Britain and in Ireland that the Catholic birthrate will guarantee a Catholic - and hence supposedly Nationalist - majority in Northern Ireland at some point in the first half of the twenty-first century. However, a strong decline in the Catholic birthrate may slow down or even reverse the growth in the Catholic population (which may in turn be balanced by an increased rate of emigration of young Protestants, often to study and work in Britain). Recent influxes of immigrants, especially from Eastern Europe, are also having a significant effect on the demographic balance, although how many choose to reside permanently in Northern Ireland or take an interest in the political scene remains to be seen.

The rapid pace of economic growth in the Republic of Ireland in recent years is felt by many to have weakened the economic case for Unionism, though many Unionists insist that the level of growth in the Republic has been exaggerated and there are still clear economic benefits from being part of the UK, as the world's fifth largest economy. Considered by itself, Northern Ireland is a less wealthy territory than the Republic, and, ironically, one potential obstacle to a united Ireland is the suggested reluctance on the part of taxpayers in the Republic to shoulder the financial burden that unification would entail.

Northern Ireland currently has a number of pro-union political parties, the largest of which is the traditionalist Democratic Unionist Party led by Peter Robinson, followed by the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party led by Reg Empey. Both parties are active across Northern Ireland.

On a smaller level, the Progressive Unionist Party, which is the political wing of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) paramilitary group, attracts some support in the greater Belfast area, while the UK Unionist Party is centred on North Down and the United Unionist Coalition is a loose grouping of independent candidates across Northern Ireland.

The pluralist Conservative Party (officially named the Conservative and Unionist Party) also organises in Northern Ireland. While the Alliance Party supports the status quo position of Northern Ireland, it does not define itself as Unionist.

Moderate unionists who support the principle of equal citizenship between Northern Ireland and Great Britain have campaigned for mainstream British political parties to organise and contest elections in Northern Ireland. Equal citizenship pressure groups have included the Campaign for Equal Citizenship (CEC), Labour Representation Campaign, Democracy Now and, currently, Labour - Federation of Labour Groups. Momentum for this concept picked up after the Conservative Party Conference voted in favour of working in Northern Ireland in 1989. The Conservatives currently have one councillor on Down District Council, who was elected as an Ulster Unionist. No Conservative has been elected in Northern Ireland since the 1997 local government elections.

Under legal pressure from local trade unionists, Labour accepted members from the Northern Ireland in October 2002 and in September 2006 agreed to organise through a forum. The Liberal Democrats have a branch in Northern Ireland but do not contest elections.

Twenty peers in the House of Lords owe their peerages to a direct connection with Northern Ireland, usually through a political party. Of these eight Ulster Unionists (sitting as Cross-benchers) three DUP, two Conservative two Labour and one Liberal Democrat and the rest independent. As well as the two Unionist MEPs in the European Parliament, DUP MP Nigel Dodds is also an alternate member of the UK Parliament delegations to the Council of Europe and Western European Union and Unionists also participate in the EU Committee of the Regions.

Unionist candidates stand for election in most district electoral areas (small areas which make up district councils) in Northern Ireland. Exceptions, in 2005, were Slieve Gullion in South Armagh, Upper and Lower Falls in Belfast, Shantallow, Northland and Cityside in Derry - all of which are strongly nationalist. Likewise, nationalist parties and candidates did not contest some areas in North Antrim, East Antrim, East Belfast, North Down and the Strangford constituency which are strongly unionist and therefore unlikely to return a nationalist candidate.

Local government in Northern Ireland is not entirely divided on nationalist-unionist lines and the level of political tension within a council depends on the district that it represents and its direct experience of the Troubles.

Strategically, Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Belfast South will be the key target seats for unionism in the next general election, but previous experience suggests that neither seat can be won without an electoral pact between the DUP and the UUP. Both seats were lost, in 2001 and 2005 respectively, due to a divided Unionist vote.

Nevertheless, it is widely (though not universally) accepted that there is little evidence of widespread discrimination against Protestants in the Irish Free State. The first President of Ireland, Douglas Hyde (1938 – 1945) was Protestant, though only two senior Irish politicians attended his Church of Ireland funeral.

Some Unionists in the south simply adapted and began to associate themselves with the new southern Irish regime of Cumann na nGaedhael. On January 19, 1922, leading Unionists held a meeting and unanimously decided to support the Free State government. Many gained appointment to the Free State's Senate, including the Earl of Dunraven and Thomas Westropp Bennett. Several generations of one Unionist political family, the Dockrells, won election as TDs. The Dublin borough of Rathmines had a unionist majority up to the late 1920s, when a local government re-organisation abolished all Dublin borough councils. Later, the Earl of Granard and the Provost of Trinity College Dublin gained appointment to the President of Ireland's advisory body, the Council of State. Most Irish Unionists, however, simply withdrew from public life, and since the late 1920s there have been few professed Unionists elected to the Irish parliament.

Today, the Reform Movement, the Irish Unionist Alliance, and the Loyal Irish Union are active Irish Unionist or Neo-Unionist organisations in the Republic of Ireland.

While Southern Unionists in many ways identify with their Northern counterparts, one respect in which they differ is describing themselves as "Irish Unionists". Some Northern Unionists no longer like to regard themselves as Irish at all because of a perception that the discourse of "Irishness" has become associated with a narrow and politicised Gaelic cultural nationalism. They therefore prefer the term "Ulster Unionist". Southern Unionists contend that "Irish” does not necessarily imply "Gaelic”, and the term "Ulster Unionist" is both geographically incorrect (part of Ulster is in the Republic of Ireland) and excludes Unionists from the rest of Ireland.

The study of Irish history from a Unionist perspective is known in the Republic of Ireland as revisionist history, although some Catholic writers, such as Kevin Myers and Eoghan Harris, are regarded as revisionists. Indeed, a Southern Unionist is as likely to be Catholic (or secular) as Protestant. In turn, most nationalist historians today accept that the nationalist histories written in 1920-60 are often biased and simplistic, and a synthesis is emerging. Many historians have also come to the view that the accepted and traditional view of the history of the British Isles, particularly that of the history of the Gaels, was already subject to historical revisionism (for example, in the Book of the Taking of Ireland, known as The Book of Invasions).

Southern Irish Unionists are sometimes referred to as "Anglo-Irish", an often incorrect term as many Irish of English descent, such as Theobald Wolfe Tone and Roger Casement, were staunch nationalists. A more pejorative term for them, and for other Irish people seen as being unduly influenced by Britain and British culture, is "West Briton"s or "West Brits".

Some official agencies and organisations at a national level have developed specific structural links as part of the union. These links reflect the responsibilities of the agency or organisation to the citizens of Northern Ireland and the other UK regions. However, they do not indicate support for political unionism as the UK Civil Service is regulated by strict laws on impartiality. In addition, Northern Ireland is nowadays part of a web of co-operative links with the Republic of Ireland (north-south), the United Kingdom (east-west), the European Union and the United States.

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Source : Wikipedia