Sunday, February 07, 2010

Concurrence at Hillsborough Castle

NPR: Justice Deal May Save Northern Ireland Government
The Guardian: Brown Hails 'New Chapter' in Northern Ireland as End to Years of Violence
New York Times: Agreement Saves Northern Ireland Government

Northern Ireland is one of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, and Wales are the other three). For decades Britain governed many aspects of Northern Ireland’s activities, a situation that has long been a source of social disorder and political unrest. While Protestant Unionists want to remain part of the United Kingdom, Nationalist Catholics have opposed British rule and have fought, often violently, for independence from Britain and assimilation with the rest of Ireland.

The focus of recent independence debate has been on Northern Ireland’s freedom from British oversight in policing and legal authority. This week British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen met with Northern Ireland’s religious and political leaders Peter Robinson, head of the Democratic Unionist Party (predominantly Protestant) and Martin McGuinness, head of the Sinn Fein Party (predominantly Catholic). Together these leaders came to an agreement to terminate the British power-sharing plan and formally transfer the policing and judicial power from British to Northern Irish rule and ultimately create a Department of Justice in Belfast.

Before this accord, entitled the Hillsborough Castle Agreement, is finalized, the Northern Ireland Assembly must ratify the proposed agreement on March 9. In addition to the settlement regarding police power and justice, the agreement also establishes a number of commissions to resolve key political issues dealing with the “parades issue” and protecting the Irish language. The parades under scrutiny are politically and emotionally charged spectacles that commemorate the Protestant defeat of Catholic forces many years ago. The proposed agreement will establish a framework that empowers local residents to regulate the contentious parades through mostly Catholic neighborhoods. The Irish language commissions’ role is to protect Northern Ireland’s linguistic heritage, a concession to Nationalist Catholics despite that fact that English is the predominant language.

Despite the accord, republican dissidents have carried out violent attacks on Northern Ireland police stations this week in protest of the power-sharing arrangement between the Protestant and Catholic leaders. True political reconciliation may take time, but some suggest political stability might be the most important factor in strengthening Northern Ireland’s fragile economy.

Discussion Questions:
1. Can you really preserve culture by legislating the use of language? Did it work in Quebec?
2. With respect to the “parades issue,” when does recognizing a controversial event become a provocation?

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