The Long Road to Peace in Northern Ireland: Second Edition

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Peace may have come but militant commemorative murals showing fallen heroes and historic scenes on the side walls of houses are repainted every few years. But the British Army fortresses in the area have all gone, the places where they once stood used for public housing or community centres. I had mostly lived close to Queens University during my three years in Belfast, but when I went back the houses along University Road had been demolished, which was no great loss, and replaced with better looking buildings. The pub where I used to drink, the Club Bar, had been replaced, so far as I could see, by a small Tesco store.


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Could Belfast and Northern Ireland go back to the three-cornered battle between Protestants, Catholics and the British security forces which I had witnessed? The British government is meant to be neutral between unionists and nationalists so as to enable it to play a mediating role between the two communities. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here.

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Health insurance. Money Deals. The Independent Books. Voucher Codes. Just Eat. National Trust. They appear to ignore its toxic legacy as an issue that has bedevilled British politics from the First Home Rule Bill in until the partition of Ireland in , and again during the year conflict from the first Catholic civil rights march in to the GFA in The latter agreement was under pressure but was working until the Brexit vote in the UK reopened old issues and old wounds.

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Northern Ireland voted Remain by 56 to 44 per cent but sectarian divisions have widened. Just how bad tends to be underestimated in Westminster because British politicians, aside from Tony Blair, have traditionally had a blind spot about Ireland until things go irredeemably wrong and it is too late to do anything about them.

The same is largely true of the British media according to commentators in Belfast. Not all the arrows point in the same direction — though there are too many for comfort pointing towards an escalating political crisis. Neither the nationalist community nor Sinn Fein, which has won more than two-thirds of the nationalist vote in Northern Ireland in recent elections, wants to go back to war. Nationalists have done well out of the peace. Within two years, the Catholics may be the majority of the voting population, though this does not necessarily guarantee political power.

These were the worst years of the Troubles. In alone some people were killed, including soldiers, and 4, were injured. I got used to the sounds of bombs and gunfire and the sectarian geography of Belfast became imprinted on my brain. Along with the rest of the population, I automatically calculated the real proximity of danger without giving the matter much thought.

Almost everything is safe in Belfast today, though the sectarian boundaries are largely the same as they were 50 years ago. I drove through the site of Harland and Wolff shipyard that at its peak employed 35, men, almost all Protestants from east Belfast. Housing is, and has always been, segregated in Belfast; and east Belfast remains a Protestant stronghold, aside from a small Republican nationalist enclave called Short Strand pressed up against the Lagan river. It is protected by one of the many peace lines or walls in the city topped by metal staves. I once had a shabby flat off the Antrim Road in north Belfast, but I could not remember the name of the street.

This used to be a particularly murderous part of Belfast because of the jigsaw puzzle of Protestant and Catholic districts permanently engaged in low level war against each other, most often in the shape of tit-for-tat or retaliatory killings. If a Catholic was killed in Short Strand where the Catholics were weak and outnumbered, then the retaliatory killing of a Protestant might be arranged from Ardoyne, where the Catholics were strong and well organised. Peace may have come but militant commemorative murals showing fallen heroes and historic scenes on the side walls of houses are repainted every few years.


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  6. But the British Army fortresses in the area have all gone, the places where they once stood used for public housing or community centres. I had mostly lived close to Queens University during my three years in Belfast, but when I went back the houses along University Road had been demolished, which was no great loss, and replaced with better looking buildings. The pub where I used to drink, the Club Bar, had been replaced, so far as I could see, by a small Tesco store. Could Belfast and Northern Ireland go back to the three-cornered battle between Protestants, Catholics and the British security forces which I had witnessed?

    The British government is meant to be neutral between unionists and nationalists so as to enable it to play a mediating role between the two communities. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here. Want to discuss real-world problems, be involved in the most engaging discussions and hear from the journalists? Try Independent Premium free for 1 month. Independent Premium Comments can be posted by members of our membership scheme, Independent Premium.

    It allows our most engaged readers to debate the big issues, share their own experiences, discuss real-world solutions, and more. Our journalists will try to respond by joining the threads when they can to create a true meeting of independent Premium. The most insightful comments on all subjects will be published daily in dedicated articles. You can also choose to be emailed when someone replies to your comment. The existing Open Comments threads will continue to exist for those who do not subscribe to Independent Premium.

    Due to the sheer scale of this comment community, we are not able to give each post the same level of attention, but we have preserved this area in the interests of open debate.