Throughout history, the island of Ireland has been regarded as a single national unit. Prior to the Norman invasion from England in 1169, the Irish had their own system of law, culture and language and their own political and social structures. Following the invasion, the island continued to be governed as a single political unit, as a colony of Britain, until 1921.
At various times over the next 800 years Irish men and women resisted British rule and attempted to assert Irish independence. Between the years 1916 and 1921 Irish nationalists waged a combined political and military campaign against British occupation. In 1920 partition (dividing Ireland into two sections - the 26 and Six Counties) was imposed by a British Act of Parliament. The consent of the Irish people was never sought nor freely given.
Throughout the 19th Century and until partition in the 20th Century the British Government provided its colonial rule in Ireland with a cover of ‘democracy’. In the changed conditions of a partitioned Ireland it now used the wishes of Irish Unionists in North East Ireland as justification for its continued occupation.
Within the Six-County statelet the British government fostered political division between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants through a system of political, social and economic privilege. The in-built manufactured unionist majority meant continuous government by the Unionist party. Today the unionist community represent some one in five of the Irish nation.
For nationalists, life under Stormont rule meant institutionalised discrimination, electoral gerrymandering and human rights abuses and sectarian pogroms instanced by a sectarian state. Indeed patterns of discrimination which existed at this time remain today with nationalists still 2.5 times more likely to be unemployed.
Organised discontent began to emerge in the late 1960s, leading to the formation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. Their moderate demands were:
One person, one vote;
An end to the gerrymandered local government boundaries;
An end to discrimination in the allocation of housing;
An end to discrimination in employment;
The repeal of the repressive Special Powers Act.
These demands were viewed by the unionist majority as a threat to their privileged position. But the violent reaction of the state shocked the world as television cameras relayed scenes of unprovoked attacks on civil rights marches and demonstrations.
As widespread political unrest spread, on August 14th 1969, British soldiers were deployed into Belfast and Derry. Within a relatively short period came the introduction of curfews in nationalist areas, internment without trial and the murder by British Paratroopers of 14 unarmed civilians in Derry on Bloody Sunday in 1972. Within weeks of this massacre the British Government abolished its local assembly, Stormont, and resumed direct rule.