Northern Irish - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. The annual parades, open-air festivals, drum and fife bands, and commemorative events of sectarian organizations such as the Protestant Loyal Orange Lodge and the Roman Catholic Ancient Order of Hibernians socialize Protestants and Catholics into separate Communities, which crosscut ethnic and age divisions. Each has its own leisure facilities, dances, whist drives, bowling competitions, and the like. In the rural areas, between 30 and 40 percent of the total adult male Protestant population belongs to lodges while spouses and sons belong to ladies' committees and junior lodges or bands. Most members of rural lodges belong to skilled, semiskilled, or unskilled manual occupational categories; few professionals are involved.

Most organizations cutting across the sectarian divide have an occupational or life-experience foundation as in the Ulster Farmers Union, Young Farmer Clubs, the British Legion, and Women's Institutes. Historical or heritage societies based upon village or regional identity and including both Protestants and Catholics in their memberships are new developments.

Political Organization. The Northern Irish deviate from the British political system over one key issue: the question of the province's relation to the rest of the U.K. Voting patterns tend to map the distribution of Catholics and Protestants and there is thus a regional dimension to the vote. Antrim, north and central Down and Armagh, north and central Londonderry, and scattered areas of Fermanagh and Tyrone vote Unionist (i.e., to remain within the United Kingdom). The official Unionist party and Ian Paisley's Democratic party are the largest pro-union parties in Northern Ireland. A large Minority (around 34 percent) supports a variety of Irish nationalist and republican candidates seeking reunification with southern Ireland. These include the Social Democratic and Labor party and Sinn Fein (sometimes described as the Political wing of the illegal Irish Republican Army). Local election support for Sinn Fein has grown in recent years. The Alliance party bridges the sectarian divide, as do the small Socialist and Workers parties. Voter turnout at national and local elections is heavier than elsewhere in the U.K. After more than twenty years of civil strife, most people support constitutional politics. The Westminster government has pledged that there will be no change in Northern Ireland's constitutional status without majority consent.

Social Control. The United Kingdom is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights and legislation passed in 1973 outlawing discrimination by public bodies, Including the government, on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion. While statutory law provides the framework for social control in Northern Ireland, emergency powers were introduced in 1973, including special powers of arrest, nonjury courts, and the proscription of terrorist organizations. Internment without trial was also introduced as a temporary measure and, recently, emergency powers were extended to cover freedom of speech.


Conflict. As throughout the U.K., most disputes are Between people related by marriage. Class conflict has always been muted. Sectarianism has been a source of discrimination and violence since the seventeenth century. The IRA has contested British sovereignty over the six counties since 1920, but the Stormont government contained widespread bloodshed until 1973 when the British army was sent into the province. Loss of life from political violence between 1969 and 1985 amounted to 2,524 persons, of whom 1,507 were civilians. The use of violence as a means of overcoming Political differences has declined since the mid-1970s when the police (the Royal Ulster Constabulary) and a local militia (the Ulster Defence Regiment) took over the primary role from the British army. The IRA's campaign was thereafter Directed more specifically toward targets in England and Western Europe, and the British and Irish governments began to seek a diplomatic solution to the troubles. By 1990 more People were killed in road accidents in Northern Ireland than in "terrorist" incidents.

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