‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland and the troubles in the Southern Philippines



I cannot claim to be particularly knowledgeable about the complex politics of Northern Ireland. However, there do appear to be a few similarities between the goings-on with the Bangsamoro business and some of the happenings during the so called “Troubles” in Northern Ireland.

The Troubles had their germination back in the 1920s when partitioning proposals were first suggested; leaving six counties in the North remaining as part of the United Kingdom, with the rest of Ireland being given home rule after many years of British occupation and governance. Finally in 1948, the Irish Free State gained full independence from Britain, leaving the six Northern counties as nominally at least part of the United Kingdom

Northern Ireland, whilst remaining a part of UK sovereign territory, has its own parliament and devolved jurisdiction from the main UK parliament. Over time, there have been many different types of devolution and consequent areas of autonomy.

The Troubles took place mainly between 1968 and 1998 during which time 3,600 people were killed and many thousands injured, as well as significant damage wrought to property and times of martial law. Northern Ireland was a war zone for 30 years.

It is generally accepted that the cause of the Troubles was a territorial or constitutional issue; should the six counties be part of the United Kingdom or part of the Irish Free State? Underlying and reinforcing the constitutional issue were sectarian issues; the UK is a Protestant nation thanks to Henry VIII, and the Irish Free State is a Catholic nation. The population of Northern Ireland is mostly Protestant.

The Unionists or loyalists who represent the Protestant majority wanted Northern Ireland to remain as part of the UK, while the Republicans who were mostly Catholic wanted Northern Ireland to be integrated into the Irish Free State. In addition to this, there was much resentment by the Catholic minority who felt [often justifiably]discriminated against in many ways by government and the police – the Royal Ulster Constabulary who were staunchly Unionist.

There can be no doubt that an elephantine amount of political effort, compromise, force, time and money was expended in trying to resolve the Troubles which, in their time, spread into and affected the European Union and even Gibraltar and the USA in that much funding for the Republican cause was raised from sympathizers there.

Eventually in 1989, an agreement was arrived at giving the Republicans power sharing. A referendum was held which approved the agreement by an overwhelming majority of the electorate, including many Catholics, to retain the six counties as part of the UK.

There had been 30 years of continuous violence, a war in which the British armed forces (non partisan), the Ulster Defense Force (Unionist and Protestant) and the Irish Republican Army, the “IRA” (Republican and Catholic) as well as lots of splinter groups of varying degrees of violence, played significant roles. The violence perpetrated by both sides, Unionist and Republican, on each other and on the civilian population was every bit as bad, although lacking the militaristic Rambo’esque type appearance that hits the media, as that which apparently goes on in Mindanao; bombings, decapitations, random shootings and torture.

In the end, a political solution was arrived at which overcame the violence, and now there is relative peace, although the politicians as well as the forces of law and order have to continue to work hard in order to maintain it.

The Orangemen the Unionist lodges still march in military style with bands, flags and banners directly through Catholic areas, deliberately taunting the opposition on Orangeman’s day in mid June each year. It is still a very fragile peace even 16 years after the referendum, and there are currently fears that despite the power sharing, violent Republicanism is coming back again.

It is not for me to comment on the issues surrounding the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law bill or the Mamasapano incident, or the sectarian differences in the Southern Philippines.

There is enough controversy over all that already, it is a matter for the Philippines and Filipinos, but the experiences of other states in dealing with similar matters should always be considered.

My purpose in giving these few words on the Troubles is to highlight that the Southern Philippines issues are like the Northern Ireland issues — constitutional matters underlain with strong sectarian emotions and with several different groups on each side, albeit in the Philippine situation the main protagonists seem to be the central government and the secessionists—little is heard of the non-secessionists (the Philippine nationalists, or the Christians) in Mindanao although they must exist; there are many similarities as to cause and effect and the Mindanao problems have also been going on for many years.

Worth noting is that two lady peace activists from Northern Ireland, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for their efforts towards bringing peace to the province, but despite their undoubtedly notable efforts, peace did not arrive until matters were solved 12 years later by the political solution of 1998 and even now, nearly 30 years later, Northern Ireland, despite the peace agreement, remains divided.

It is quite obvious, not only from the Northern Ireland experience but also from other such conflicts, Israel and Palestine for example, that such territorial/constitutional/sectarian matters are not easy things to solve.

In the Philippine context it is highly unlikely that they would ever be solved during the term of a single six-year administration; they need a sustained and committed continuum of political effort and focus spanning many administrations. History and other comparables indicate that there are no “quick fixes” in matters such as these and even that any fix is a fragile thing.

A truly democratic political solution is needed to the problems in the Southern Philippines and only then will the investment and job creation arrive. To claim that more investment is even now being made there seems, to say the least of it, a bit anticipatory. Even if a peace agreement were reached, any thinking investor would have to wait a while to see how things turned out.

Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com.


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1 Comment

  1. “little is heard of the non-secessionists (the Philippine nationalists, or the Christians) in Mindanao although they must exist.”

    Exactly! We were not hearing them because the present government will brand anybody who will criticize the BBL as anti-peace and pro war.

    And we are only hearing some of the non-secessionists now in social media because they found a way to express their criticism of the BBL, unfortunately, after the Mamapasano incident who are now full of anger.