Irish Penal Laws - Impact
Seven insights, namely, low-intensity conflict, political disenfranchisement, economic oppression, exclusive fraternity, civil rights activism, the emergence of paramilitary forces, and peace walls, are some impacts of the Irish penal laws years after they were repealed. While some hard facts, statistics, and data have been provided in the findings below for these insights, the results are specifically on Belfast, the Troubles, and the Peace Walls.
- The Northern Ireland conflict (the Troubles) evolved from about 1968 through to 1998 on the dispute between the Roman Catholic nationalists (republicans) and the Protestant unionists (loyalists) over the desire for the country to become a part of the Republic of Ireland (advocacy of the republicans) or remain with the UK (advocacy of the loyalists).
- The rise of the Troubles cannot be dissociated from the origin of the penal laws from 1695 by the N. Ireland's parliament headed by lord Capel as the lord deputy.
- History has it that the lord Capel's led parliament only came to complete what the English parliament started, hence the reason for the distrust by the republicans to remain with the UK.
- More than 3500 people got killed, and over 30,000 more got wounded in the conflict that witnessed a lot of "street fighting, sensational bombings, sniper attacks, roadblocks, and internment without trial."
- One of the principal provisions in the Irish penal laws was social discrimination against the republicans, which made it difficult for the latter to attain or ascribe for social positions in society.
- The prolonged effect of this social discrimination was reflected in the long-standing dominance by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in the political scenery of N. Ireland, particularly in Belfast. The loyalists control the local politics in that they have a numerical advantage.
- Following the recognition of N. Ireland as "a self-governing region of the UK in 1922," the republicans' representation in local politics was effected through the gerrymandering of electoral districts.
- The right of the republicans to participate in the local politics was also stifled by "restricting the franchise to ratepayers (the taxpaying heads of households) and their spouses." Because loyalists, were likely to pay rates more, they get an "additional vote for each ward in which they held property."
Economic Oppression and Police Harassment
- Part of the stringent provisions in the penal laws was the high-level discrimination against Catholics (republicans). The republicans were not allowed to teach students, either in schools or private houses. They were also not permitted to send their children abroad for education.
- This provision impacted significantly on the Troubles, in that before it, republicans protested that they were discriminated against on grounds such as in the "allocation of public housing, appointments to public service jobs, and government investment in neighborhoods."
- The republicans were also likely more subjected to police harassment from constituted authorities saddled with protecting lives and properties.
- From the time of the penal laws and many years after its repeal, culture and politics have been the divide between loyalists and republicans. Through the period of the penal laws, Irish history and language were prohibited in schools, the same for the period between 1956 to 1974 when the Irish Republican party was banned.
- Loyalists consider themselves British, and the fear of losing their culture if the country were taken over by the republicans gave emergence to Protestant unionist fraternal organizations.
- This partisan solidarity, like the Orange Order, was inspired from the historical victory of "King William III (William of Orange) at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 over his deposed Catholic predecessor, James II, whose siege of the Protestant community of Londonderry had earlier been broken by William."
- In the mid-1960s, during the Troubles, N. Ireland's Prime Minister exchanged visits with the 'Prime Minister' in the attempt to lift the declining economy and douse social tensions, not minding the fact that the "republic’s constitution included an assertion of sovereignty over the whole island."
- Based on the impact of the Irish penal laws of many years before, this reconciliatory step was seen as not worthy by republicans, while loyalists saw it as too friendly.
Civil Rights Activism
- As mentioned earlier, one of the principal provisions in the Irish penal laws was the social discrimination against the republicans, which made it difficult for the latter to attain or ascribe for social positions in the society.
- The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was established by Catholic activists, John Hume and Bernadette Devlin, to champion civil rights activism.
- Although there had been one or more violence resulting from protests during the Troubles, the "march of October 5, 1968, in Derry organized by NICRA to protest discrimination and gerrymandering" was considered as the catalyst for the Troubles.
- The march led to a riot after the authority attempted to suppress the protesters with batons and other non-lethal forces.
- Similarly, a march held by "loyalists in Londonderry on August 12, 1969, that became known as the Battle of Bogside" led to two days of rioting.
- After rioting erupted in Belfast and some other places, "violent confrontation only escalated, and the Troubles began."
The Emergence of Paramilitary Forces
- One of the principal provisions in the Irish penal laws was the mandatory disarmament of all Catholics. The resistance to this law that would likely have started then and after the repeal of the law continued many years after with the emergence of paramilitary forces by the republicans and the loyalists.
- After the republicans ascribed the British army as an enemy of the state following "its aggressive efforts to disarm republican paramilitaries," the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was birthed to defend the nationalist cause just before the Troubles began.
- A splinter group from the IRA (Provisional Irish Republican Army [Provos]} emerged to fight for the Northern Ireland’s nationalists through the use of force. They employed the use of guerrilla warfare and, they were partly financed by "members of the Irish diaspora in the United States and later supplied with arms and munitions by the government of Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi."
- In return, loyalists also took up arms, giving birth to the likes of "the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defense Association UDA)."
- The Irish penal laws, through its provisions, made it look like the Protestants and the Catholics couldn't coexist on the same set of laws and principles. The continuous thought and practice of this ideology, even after the repeal of the laws, consequently led to the creation of barriers (known as peace walls) to put apart the sectarian communities.
- The British Army first laid barbed wires in 1969 following increased rioting and violence in Belfast and Derry that extended into the 1970s. It was these barbed wires that later evolved into "brick and steel 'peace walls,' some of which stood 45 feet (14 meters) high."
- Although the walls were meant to be temporary measures to keep republicans and loyalists at bay from one another, the walls never came down due to their effectiveness. Most of the walls were built "during the early years of the Troubles."
- Even though "Belfast is a small city, it is demarcated by almost 100 ‘peace walls’ that separate Catholic and Protestant areas."
We started our findings by using an academic journal by Jeff Wallenfeldt on Britannica and a history book by Patrick Weston Joyce from the Library of Ireland. The memorial writing of Jennifer Boyer also complemented our findings.
After concise analysis and study of these materials, we were able to provide seven pieces of information, insights, data, and any statistics surrounding the impact the Irish penal laws explicitly had on Belfast, the Troubles, and the Peace Walls, years after the laws were repealed.
We relied on hard facts, statistics, and data to present thorough evidence-backed insights.