Northern Ireland

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Ireland, Northern

Ireland, Northern, division of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (2011 pop. 1,810,863), 5,462 sq mi (14,147 sq km), NE Ireland. Made up of six of the nine counties of the historic province of Ulster in NE Ireland, it is frequently called Ulster. The capital is Belfast.

Land, People, Economy, and Government

The land is mountainous and has few natural resources. It comprises 26 districts. English is the official language. The population is 48% Protestant and 45% Catholic. Farming (livestock, dairy products, cereals, potatoes) is the largest single occupation. Heavy industry is concentrated in and around Belfast, one of the chief ports of the British Isles. Machinery and equipment manufacturing, food processing, and textile and electronics manufacturing are the leading industries; papermaking, furniture manufacturing, and shipbuilding are also important. Northern Ireland's fine linens are famous.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has limited devolved powers from the British Parliament, and often has been suspended since its establishment in 1999. The government is based on a power-sharing arrangement that requires that its members include a minimum number of both Protestants and Catholics, and that those members have the support of the representatives elected by their respective communities. Northern Ireland has 18 representatives in the British Parliament.


A Troubled History

Northern Ireland's relatively distinct history began in the early 17th cent., when, after the suppression of an Irish rebellion, much land was confiscated by the British crown and “planted” with Scottish and English settlers. Ulster took on a Protestant character as compared with the rest of Ireland; but there was no question of political separation until the late 19th cent. when William Gladstone presented (1886) his first proposal for Home Rule for Ireland. The largely Protestant population of the north feared domination under Home Rule by the Catholic majority in the south. In addition, industrial Ulster was bound economically more to England than to the rest of Ireland.

Successive schemes for Home Rule widened the rift, so that by the outbreak of World War I civil war in Ireland was an immediate danger. The Government of Ireland Act of 1920 attempted to solve the problem by enacting Home Rule separately for the two parts of Ireland, thus creating the province of Northern Ireland. However, the Irish Free State, now the Republic of Ireland (see Ireland, Republic of), which was established in 1922, refused to recognize the finality of the partition; and violence erupted frequently on both sides of the border.

The late 1960s marked a new stage in the region's troubled history. The Catholic minority, which suffered economic and political discrimination, had grown steadily through immigration from the Republic. In 1968 civil-rights protests by Catholics led to widespread violence. Prime Minister Terence O'Neill had sought to end anti-Catholic bias as part of his policy of fostering closer ties between Ulster and the Irish Republic, but opponents within his ruling Unionist party forced his resignation in Apr., 1969. His successor, James Chichester-Clark, was unable to restrain the growing unrest and in August called in British troops to help restore order.

The IRA and Sectarian Struggle

At the end of 1969 a split occurred in the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is the illegal military arm of the Sinn Fein party; the new “provisional” wing of the IRA was made up of radical nationalists. Brian Faulkner became leader of the Unionist party and prime minister of Northern Ireland in Mar., 1971, and began a policy of imprisoning IRA and other militants. However, the IRA and the Ulster Defense Association, a Protestant terrorist group, continued and even intensified their activities.

On Mar. 30, 1972, the British prime minister, Edward Heath, suspended the government and appointed William Whitelaw secretary of state for Northern Ireland. Westminster's direct rule over the province was renewed in Mar., 1973. An assembly was formed in June, 1972, with the Unionist party, a moderate pro-British group, in the majority. In November the Unionist party formed a coalition with the Social Democratic Labor party (SDLP), the major Catholic group, and the nonsectarian Alliance party. A Northern Ireland Executive was formed to exercise day-to-day administration.

In late 1973, the British prime minister, the head of the Executive, and the Irish Republic's prime minister agreed to form a Council of Ireland to promote closer cooperation between Ulster and the Republic. However, both the IRA and Protestant extremists sought to destroy the Executive and the Council, as they found power-sharing between Protestants and Catholics unacceptable. In 1974, hard-line Ulster Protestants won 11 of the province's 12 seats in the British House of Commons and pledged to renegotiate Ulster's constitution in order to end the Protestant-Catholic coalition and progress toward a Council of Ireland.

In May, 1974, militant Protestants sponsored a general strike in the province, and the Northern Ireland Executive collapsed on May 28. The British government then took direct control of the province with the passage of the Northern Ireland Act of 1974. Meanwhile, bombings and other terrorist activities had spread to Dublin and London. In 1979 Lord Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA, and in 1981 protests broke out in Belfast over the death by hunger strike of Bobby Sands, an IRA member of Parliament.

Throughout most of the 1980s and 1990s terrorist violence by the IRA and other groups remained a problem. An assembly formed in 1982 to propose plans for strengthening legislative and executive autonomy in Northern Ireland was dissolved in 1986 for its lack of progress. In 1985, an Anglo-Irish accord sought to lay the groundwork for talks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Dublin agreed not to contest Northern Ireland's allegiance to Great Britain in exchange for British acknowledgment of the Republic's interest in how Northern Ireland is run. A 1993 Anglo-Irish declaration offered to open negotiations to all parties willing to renounce violence, and in 1994 the IRA and, later, Protestant paramilitary groups declared a cease-fire. Formal talks began in 1995. A resumption of violence (1996) by the IRA threatened to derail the peace process, but negotiations to seek a political settlement went ahead.

In July, 1997, the IRA declared a new cease-fire, and talks begun in September of that year included Sinn Féin. The result was an accord (the Good Friday Agreement) reached in 1998 that provided for a new Northern Ireland Assembly as well as a North-South Ministerial Council to deal with issues of joint interest to the province and the Irish Republic. The Republic of Ireland also agreed to give up territorial claims on Northern Ireland. The formation of a new government was slowed, however, by disagreement over the disarmament of paramilitary groups, but in Dec., 1999, a multiparty government was formed after further negotiations, and Britain ended direct rule of the province. Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble became leader of the Northern Irish government.

In Feb., 2000, however, Britain suspended self-government after the IRA refused to agree to disarm, but subsequent concessions by the IRA led to the resumption of self-government in May. Continued resistance by the IRA to disarming has threatened self-government and led Trimble to resign on July 1, 2001. Subsequently, Britain twice suspended the Northern Irish government in an attempt to avoid its complete collapse. Negotiations on disarming the IRA and other paramilitary groups, however, were relatively fruitless until late 2001, when the IRA began disarming; Trimble subsequently returned to office.

The arrests in 2002 of Sinn Féin government members for intelligence gathering for the IRA threatened the power-sharing government once again, leading Britain to suspend home rule once more, but in 2005 charges against the alleged spies, one of whom was a long-time government informant, were dropped, raising questions about the entire affair. The May, 2003, elections that would have reestablished the assembly were suspended by the British government. The ostensible reason was the insufficient specificity of the IRA's commitment to the peace process, but Trimble and the moderate Unionists also seem likely to suffer losses if the elections were held. Disagreements over the way the IRA's disarming was being handled continued.

When the elections were held in Nov., 2003, the more extreme Protestant and Catholic parties, Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists and the Sinn Féin, outpolled their more moderate counterparts. Home rule remained suspended, but in early 2004 Britain, the Irish Republic, and Northern Irish political parties began a “review” of the 1998 agreement in hopes of reestablishing a Northern Irish government. Subsequent accusations that the IRA was involved in criminal activities threatened any future participation of Sinn Féin in a government. In Apr., 2005, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams called on the IRA to abandon the use of arms and restrict its activities to politics, and an independent report affirmed in September that the IRA had decommissioned its weapons.

In Apr., 2006 the British and Irish governments called for the Northern Irish assembly to begin formation of an executive in May and complete the work before the end of November; if they failed to do so, the members of the assembly would no longer receive their salaries. The assembly reconvened in May, but there was no quick progress in forming an executive. However, talks in October produced some progress, and the November deadline was pushed back to Mar., 2007. In Jan., 2007, Sinn Féin agreed to back the Protestant-dominated Northern Irish police force.

In March, elections for the assembly led to strong showings by the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin, and later in the month the two parties agreed to form a power-sharing government in May. Ian Paisley became first minister. Also in May the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), the oldest Protestant paramilitary group, announced that it was renouncing violence; it did not plan then, however, to decommission its weapons, but by June, 2009, it had decommissioned its weapons. British troops ended their military mission in Northern Ireland, which began in 1969, in July, 2007.

UDA factional clashes during the summer of 2007 led to a demand that they decommission their arms or lose funding for a loyalist project associated with the UDA; the social development minister's insistence on the deadline and cutoff of funds led to tensions in the North Irish executive in Oct., 2007, with the DUP and Sinn Féin supporting a more lenient approach to the UDA. In November the UDA announced that its fighters' weapons were being put beyond use (but not decommissioned), and in Jan., 2010, it announced that it had decommissioned its weapons. Violence by republican and unionist splinter groups, some of them operating as criminal gangs, remains a problem.

Paisley retired as first minister and was succeeded by Peter Robinson, the new DUP leader, in June, 2008. A dispute over the devolution of justice and policing powers subsequently deadlocked the executive, and it continued until early 2010, when negotiations resulted in an agreement that led (Mar., 2010) to an assembly vote in favor of assuming those responsibilities, passing a significant home-rule milestone. Peter Robinson's tenure as first minister was threatened in late 2009 by a personal and political scandal involving his wife, who was reported to have obtained money from property developers for her lover. The 2011 elections again saw the DUP and Sinn Féin finish strongly ahead in first and second.

In late 2012 and early 2013 there were riots and demonstrations by Protestant loyalists in Belfast after the city council voted to greatly reduce the number of days the British flag was flown over city hall. In Sept., 2015, Robinson and most of the DUP ministers resigned for several weeks from a government deadlocked over the alleged continued existence of the IRA and over changes to social welfare programs; an agreement in November eased the crisis. The DUP's Arlene Foster was elected to succeed Robinson as first minister in Jan., 2016. In the 2016 elections the DUP and Sinn Féin again finished far ahead in first and second.

In the 2016 referendum in which Britain voted to leave the European Union local voters supported remaining in the EU. The nature of the border with the Irish Republic after Britain's exit from the EU became a contentious issue in subsequent “Brexit” negotiations. The DUP strongly objected to any solution that might modify the North's relationship to Britain, and the Irish Republic objected to anything that might undermine the Good Friday Agreement. Ultimately the North remained aligned with the EU's Single Market, with controls imposed on some trade with Britain.

In Jan., 2017, Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness, the deputy first minister, resigned to protest the handling of a flawed energy program instituted under Foster in 2012 when she was enterprise minister. A financial boondoggle that was ended in 2016, it had led to calls for Foster to resign as first minister. McGuinness's resignation forced new elections (March) in which the DUP, which had supported leaving the EU, lost a significant number of seats and was nearly tied by Sinn Féin. Forming a new power-sharing government subsequently proved difficult, A new government was finally formed in Jan., 2020; Foster again became first minister.


See A. Blacam, The Black North (1938); M. Wallace, Northern Ireland: Fifty Years of Self-Government (1971); P. Arthur, Northern Ireland Since 1968 (1988); B. Rowthorn, Northern Ireland: The Political Economy of Conflict (1988); F. Gaffikin, Northern Ireland: The Thatcher Years (1990); E. Collins, Killing Rage (with M. McGovern, 1999); G. Mitchell, Making Peace (1999); P. Taylor, Loyalists (1999).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Northern Ireland


(Ulster), an administrative-political unit in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; situated in the northeastern part of the island of Ireland. Area, 14,100 sq km. Belfast is the principal city. Administratively, Northern Ireland has, since 1975, consisted of districts. Population, 1.5 million (1971), 55 percent urban.

About two-thirds of the inhabitants of Northern Ireland are Protestants, who are descended from English and Scottish emigrants and who make up most of the population in the east. The rest are Catholics, who are relatively more numerous in the rural area in the west. Despite a high natural rate of population growth—10–11 per 1,000—especially in Catholic families, the population has grown relatively slowly because of emigration, which has abated to some extent only during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Internal migrations have typically gone from west to east, to Belfast and its environs.

Economy. Northern Ireland is economically less advanced than the other regions of the United Kingdom. Its manufacturing industry produces less per capita output, family income is lower, and wages are lower, only four-fifths of the average British wage. Northern Ireland also has the highest unemployment rate in the United Kingdom—8.1 percent (1972).

Agriculture plays a comparatively large role, employing 9.9 percent of the work force, a figure three times higher than the average for the country as a whole. The extraction industry is developed only to the extent of obtaining salt, peat, and building materials. The manufacturing industry, which employs 31.8 percent of the economically active population, has traditionally emphasized the shipbuilding, linen, and food-processing industries; newer industries include the production of synthetic fibers, for example, in Antrim, Kilroot, Coleraine, and Carrick-fergus, as well as Londonderry.

Industry is concentrated in the east. Greater Belfast has most of the transport machine building, including shipbuilding, and most of the electrical, printing, and paper industries. However, it has less than 30 percent of the textile and garment industry; the garment industry is more characteristic of Londonderry, and the linen industry is dispersed throughout many small cities.

Agriculture has emphasized animal husbandry, which accounts for nine-tenths of the value of agricultural production in Northern Ireland. Specifically, it has emphasized the raising and fattening of cattle (more than 1.6 million head in 1974), swine breeding (0.9 million), sheep raising (about 1 million), and poultry husbandry (13 million). Most of the cattle, bacon, and eggs go to the British market. Potatoes are widely grown throughout Northern Ireland, and vegetables and fruits around Belfast, in the Lagan River valley, and to the south of Lough Neagh. Many farms are quite small. Farms with fewer than 20 hectares (ha) make up 78.7 percent of all farms; 30 percent of these have fewer than 6 ha. Farms with 20 to 60 ha make up 18 percent of all farms, and those with more than 60 ha, 1.2 percent. Land is usually rented from year to year.

History. The history of Northern Ireland before the 20th century is inseparable from that of Ireland as a whole. The human presence in Northern Ireland dates from the sixth millennium B.C.; Celtic tribes first appeared in the fourth century B.C. During the early Middle Ages what is now Northern Ireland was part of the independent Irish kingdom of Ulster, which in the late 12th century was formally subordinated to the English crown, although real power still rested with the clan chieftains (seeULSTER).

With the establishment of English rule over all of Ireland in the 16th century, what is now Northern Ireland became a part of the province of Ulster. During the Reformation, Protestantism sank deep roots in Ulster, with only a few Catholics remaining. In the rest of Ireland, however, Catholicism remained dominant.

In the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, concluded after the Irish people’s war of national liberation against English imperialism from 1919 to 1921, Great Britain agreed to grant most of Ireland dominion status (in 1949 this part became the Republic of Ireland) but retained its rule over Northern Ireland. Here, in an area torn from the rest of Ireland, a formally autonomous province—Northern Ireland—came into being as a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. However, the Northern Ireland Parliament was not given power over basic questions of domestic and foreign policy, including questions of legislation; it could consider only local questions, such as health care, education, and transportation.

The dominant political party in Northern Ireland was the Unionist Party, a close ally of the British Conservatives and an advocate of unconditional union with Great Britain. Drawing support from imperialist circles in Great Britain, the Unionists installed a regime in Northern Ireland that was incompatible with democratic rights and liberties; they consciously encouraged religious strife between Protestants and Catholics.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, amid widespread police repression, an acute political crisis erupted in Northern Ireland, a crisis provoked by the masses’ economic difficulties and by social and political discrimination against Catholic toilers. Inresponse to the terror unleashed by ultra-right-wing Protestant extremists, the toiling masses initiated a civil rights struggle. In 1969, British troops were sent to Northern Ireland; by 1973 more than 20,000 had been sent.

Since 1972 the British government, while continuing to rely on the use of armed force, has engaged in political maneuvering whose goal is to mitigate the crisis in Northern Ireland. In 1972, for example, it prorogued the Parliament; since then, it has maintained “direct rule” from London, which gives the British secretary of state for Northern Ireland unlimited plenipotentiary powers. It convoked the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1973 but prorogued it in 1974. It also convoked the Constitutional Convention in 1975 and prorogued it in 1976. As the Communist Party of Ireland (a union of Communists from the north and south of Ireland) and the Communist Party of Great Britain have repeatedly pointed out, these maneuvers are ineffective, for Great Britain’s ruling circles do not want genuinely democratic reforms, reforms that would take into consideration the interests of all social strata in Northern Ireland, including the Catholic minority.


See references under IRELAND.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

United Kingdom

Official name: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (note - Great Britain includes England, Scotland, and Wales)

Capital city: London

Internet country code: .uk

Flag description: Blue field with the red cross of Saint George (patron saint of England) edged in white superim­posed on the diagonal red cross of Saint Patrick (patron saint of Ireland), which is superimposed on the diagonal white cross of Saint Andrew (patron saint of Scotland); properly known as the Union Flag, but commonly called the Union Jack; the design and colors (especially the Blue Ensign) have been the basis for a number of other flags including other Commonwealth countries and their con­stituent states or provinces, and British overseas territo­ries

National anthem: “God Save the Queen”

Geographical description: Western Europe, islands includ­ing the northern one-sixth of the island of Ireland between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, northwest of France

Total area: 93,000 sq. mi. (243,000 sq. km.)

Climate: Temperate; moderated by prevailing southwest winds over the North Atlantic Current; more than onehalf of the days are overcast

Nationality: noun: Briton(s), British (collective plural); adjective: British

Population: 60,776,238 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: English 83.6%, Scottish 8.6%, Welsh 4.9%, Northern Irish 2.9%, African 2%, Indian 1.8%, Pakistani 1.3%, mixed 1.2%, other 1.6%

Languages spoken: English, Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic

Religions: Christian (Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyte­rian, Methodist) 71.6%, Muslim 2.7%, Hindu 1%, other 1.6%, unspecified or none 23.1%

Legal Holidays:

England and Wales

Boxing DayDec 26
Christmas DayDec 25
Early May Bank HolidayMay 2, 2011; May 7, 2012; May 6, 2013; May 5, 2014; May 4, 2015; May 2, 2016; May 1, 2017; May 7, 2018; May 6, 2019; May 4, 2020; May 3, 2021; May 2, 2022; May 1, 2023
Easter MondayApr 25, 2011; Apr 9, 2012; Apr 1, 2013; Apr 21, 2014; Apr 6, 2015; Mar 28, 2016; Apr 17, 2017; Apr 2, 2018; Apr 22, 2019; Apr 13, 2020; Apr 5, 2021; Apr 18, 2022; Apr 10, 2023
Good FridayApr 22, 2011; Apr 6, 2012; Mar 29, 2013; Apr 18, 2014; Apr 3, 2015; Mar 25, 2016; Apr 14, 2017; Mar 30, 2018; Apr 19, 2019; Apr 10, 2020; Apr 2, 2021; Apr 15, 2022; Apr 7, 2023
New Year's DayJan 1
Spring Bank HolidayMay 30, 2011; May 28, 2012; May 27, 2013; May 26, 2014; May 25, 2015; May 30, 2016; May 29, 2017; May 28, 2018; May 27, 2019; May 25, 2020; May 31, 2021; May 30, 2022; May 29, 2023
Summer Bank HolidayAug 29, 2011; Aug 27, 2012; Aug 26, 2013; Aug 25, 2014; Aug 31, 2015; Aug 29, 2016; Aug 28, 2017; Aug 27, 2018; Aug 26, 2019; Aug 31, 2020; Aug 30, 2021; Aug 29, 2022; Aug 28, 2023

Northern Ireland

Battle of the BoyneJul 12
Boxing DayDec 26
Christmas DayDec 25
Early May Bank HolidayMay 2, 2011; May 7, 2012; May 6, 2013; May 5, 2014; May 4, 2015; May 2, 2016; May 1, 2017; May 7, 2018; May 6, 2019; May 4, 2020; May 3, 2021; May 2, 2022; May 1, 2023
Easter MondayApr 25, 2011; Apr 9, 2012; Apr 1, 2013; Apr 21, 2014; Apr 6, 2015; Mar 28, 2016; Apr 17, 2017; Apr 2, 2018; Apr 22, 2019; Apr 13, 2020; Apr 5, 2021; Apr 18, 2022; Apr 10, 2023
Good FridayApr 22, 2011; Apr 6, 2012; Mar 29, 2013; Apr 18, 2014; Apr 3, 2015; Mar 25, 2016; Apr 14, 2017; Mar 30, 2018; Apr 19, 2019; Apr 10, 2020; Apr 2, 2021; Apr 15, 2022; Apr 7, 2023
New Year's DayJan 1
Spring Bank HolidayMay 30, 2011; May 28, 2012; May 27, 2013; May 26, 2014; May 25, 2015; May 30, 2016; May 29, 2017; May 28, 2018; May 27, 2019; May 25, 2020; May 31, 2021; May 30, 2022; May 29, 2023
St. Patrick's DayMar 21, 2011; Mar 19, 2012; Mar 18, 2013; Mar 17, 2014; Mar 16, 2015; Mar 21, 2016; Mar 20, 2017; Mar 19, 2018; Mar 18, 2019; Mar 16, 2020; Mar 15, 2021; Mar 21, 2022; Mar 20, 2023
Summer Bank HolidayAug 29, 2011; Aug 27, 2012; Aug 26, 2013; Aug 25, 2014; Aug 31, 2015; Aug 29, 2016; Aug 28, 2017; Aug 27, 2018; Aug 26, 2019; Aug 31, 2020; Aug 30, 2021; Aug 29, 2022; Aug 28, 2023


Boxing DayDec 26
Christmas DayDec 25
Early May Bank HolidayMay 2, 2011; May 7, 2012; May 6, 2013; May 5, 2014; May 4, 2015; May 2, 2016; May 1, 2017; May 7, 2018; May 6, 2019; May 4, 2020; May 3, 2021; May 2, 2022; May 1, 2023
Spring Bank HolidayMay 30, 2011; May 28, 2012; May 27, 2013; May 26, 2014; May 25, 2015; May 30, 2016; May 29, 2017; May 28, 2018; May 27, 2019; May 25, 2020; May 31, 2021; May 30, 2022; May 29, 2023
St. Andrew's DayNov 30
Summer Bank HolidayAug 29, 2011; Aug 27, 2012; Aug 26, 2013; Aug 25, 2014; Aug 31, 2015; Aug 29, 2016; Aug 28, 2017; Aug 27, 2018; Aug 26, 2019; Aug 31, 2020; Aug 30, 2021; Aug 29, 2022; Aug 28, 2023

Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.

Northern Ireland

that part of the United Kingdom occupying the NE part of Ireland: separated from the rest of Ireland, which became independent in law in 1920; it remained part of the United Kingdom, with a separate Parliament (Stormont), inaugurated in 1921, and limited self-government: scene of severe conflict between Catholics and Protestants, including terrorist bombing from 1969: direct administration from Westminster from 1972: assembly and powersharing executive established in 1998--99 following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and suspended indefinitely in 2002. Capital: Belfast. Pop.: 1 702 628 (2003 est.). Area: 14 121 sq. km (5452 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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