Photo via the BBC
Anyone who’s seen the hit sitcom Derry Girls or listened to The Cranberries’ “Zombie” knows about the Troubles, the period of unrest in Northern Ireland from the 1960s until the late 1990s. Now, nearly three decades later, recent legislation has been introduced in the U.K. Parliament that is attempting to heal the emotional wound that still runs deep within Northern Ireland.
The Troubles were a continuation of the centuries-long conflict between Ireland and England, fueled by the persistent effects of British colonization and religious differences. A largely Protestant England historically oppressed the colony of Ireland, in part because of the Catholic majority in the region. After the Irish War of Independence in 1921, the Republic of Ireland was officially formed, comprising 26 mostly-Catholic counties. Northern Ireland, which shares a land mass with the republic, was also created after the war, made up of six majority-Protestant counties. It is important to note that Northern Ireland is not its own country—rather, it is a part of the United Kingdom, along with Wales, Scotland, and England. The reason behind Northern Ireland’s inclusion in the U.K. is mainly due to the Protestant majority in the six counties that it comprises. So, rather than have the entire isle unified as one Irish country, the English insisted that Northern Ireland remain a part of the United Kingdom.
Lasting for over three decades, the Troubles were largely focused on the unification of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The official conflict concluded in 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement was voted into law, restoring the right of self-governance to Northern Ireland.
The Troubles is often characterized by the devastating and violent conflicts between citizens, paramilitary groups, and governments, all of which have had a long-lasting effect on Northern Irish people. A study by Ulster University found that Northern Ireland has the highest rate of post-traumatic stress disorder out of any studied region in the world, and the suicide rate in Northern Ireland is currently about twice that of England or Ireland. Both of these statistics highlight the mental and emotional impact the Troubles have had on those who lived through it.
The U.K. Parliament has recently decided to take action to try and alleviate some of this emotional stress and help people move forward from the trauma of the Troubles: on September 12th, 2023, the House of Lords passed the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill. According to the BBC, the goal of the bill “is to help families find out more about the circumstances of how their loved ones were killed or seriously injured.” The means through which they seek to achieve this is with amnesty for those accused of committing a crime during the Troubles, therefore protecting those from prosecution and permitting individuals to come forward with any transgressions made amidst the time of disorder. Absolution of crimes would be evaluated and doled out by a soon-to-be-formed organization, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, or ICRIR.
There are just three conditions that must be met for one’s request for immunity to be approved by the ICRIR:
- A person must apply for immunity through the ICRIR;
- The reviewing panel must be certain that the applicant “has provided them with an account of their conduct which forms part of the Troubles and is true to the best of their knowledge and belief;”
- The review panel must be certain that the actions discussed by the applicant would lead to an investigation and/or prosecution for an offense as related to the Troubles.
The bill is supported by several veterans’ groups within Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but finds little public support elsewhere.
Not only is the entirety of the Irish government opposed to the bill, but so are all five political parties within Northern Ireland. Moreover, the families of victims and their representatives are dissatisfied with the bill, and the Irish public is aggravated by the Parliamentary evasion of justice. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the Irish Prime Minister, has openly expressed his disapproval of the bill and discussed the possibility of taking up an international legal case against the U.K.
This legislation could severely damage the relationship between Great Britain and both Northern Ireland and Ireland; Irish academics insist that this bill is not the correct way to solve the history of tension between the states. By providing amnesty to those who committed crimes, the bill will not provide peace and knowledge to the families of victims. Rather, it will cause uneasiness amongst the Irish. Families will live knowing that those responsible for taking the lives of their loved ones—their fathers, mothers, children, aunts, uncles—will be allowed to walk free without punishment for what they had done.
Ultimately, the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill will do everything but aid in the reconciliation process. Instead, it will only further deepen the divide between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and propel forward the movement for Irish unification.
This article was edited by Alyssa Sawicki and Hannah Pearce.