The Troubles: Protests Getting out of Control

Northern Irish nationalists wanted — and still want — Northern Ireland to be part of the country of Ireland, not the United Kingdom.

While the rest of Ireland pulled out, unionist-led Northern Ireland remained in the United Kingdom in the early 1920s. With that, Northern Ireland’s pro-British part of the population had gotten what it wanted. However, reigning unionist administrations realized that there was a chance that pro-Irish nationalists, by way of political elections, one day could come to power in Northern Ireland. This, they feared, could lead to Northern Ireland coming under the Irish flag instead of the British flag, a prospect that caused them to gerrymander election districts in order to maximize the pro-British vote. In addition, as a means to further help the unionist cause, the administrations also favored members of the unionist community in domains such as housing allocation.

Pro-Irish protests

The partisan policies, quite naturally, upset the nationalist part of the population. This anger on the part of the nationalists then, in the 1960s, spurred street protests that were aimed at peacefully opposing discrimination. However, many of the street protests erupted in violence directed at the police on site during the marches, and involved stone-throwing as well as rioters throwing petrol bombs and challenging police barriers.

Violent confrontations

The police officers at the protest marches erupting in violence were seen both stoically enduring barrages of items thrown at them and violently subduing nationalists. These actions on the part of the law enforcement, as a logical consequence, left both a large number of police officers and numerous civilians injured. Moreover, because the police were perceived as unionist sympathizers, their confrontations with nationalist rioters and protesters caused ethnic tensions to rise all over Northern Ireland, particularly when violent episodes were caught on camera and shown on TV.

To revert the escalating spiral of violence, the Northern Irish government called in the British army to restore order. Nevertheless, as explained in the next chapters, order would not be restored for a long time to come.