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Paul Sparks - Online English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas for "Culture of English Speaking Countries Lessons", Xiangtan Normal University...




Northern Ireland


History & Culture: Due to the damp weather in Ireland there are many large grass areas with numerous shades of green, because of this, Ireland has the nickname the Emerald Isle. Another name for Ireland is Eire. The capital city is Dublin and the religion is split between mainly Protestant and Catholic. 

Many different events and festivals take place around the country over the year. Famous events include the Dublin International Film Festival and St Patrick's Day. In Northern Ireland, Easter is the start of the marching season, where Protestants march through towns. The currency in Ireland is the Irish pound, known as the punt, but will be changing to the euro when the new currency for Europe is introduced.

The capital, Dublin, is a colourful city of fine Georgian buildings, a history of literature and extremely welcoming bars. Another of Dublin's more obvious landmarks is its castle. The Irish Republic's second largest city is called cork, which by night the town is very lively. Walking is one of Ireland's biggest attractions, and the country has miles of man-made walks. Cycling is another good way of getting away, although some areas are very hilly. Ireland is also renowned for its fishing as well as water sports.

The Treaty of 1921 gave independence to 26 Irish counties, and allowed six, largely Protestant, Ulster counties the choice of opting out. The Northern Ireland parliament then came into being. The politics of the North became increasingly divided on religious grounds, and discrimination against Catholics was common in politics, housing, employment and social welfare. The south of Ireland was finally declared a republic in 1948, and left the British Commonwealth in 1949.

Instability in the North began to reveal itself in the 1960s and when a peaceful civil rights march in 1968 was violently broken up by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the Troubles were under way. British troops were sent in August 1969. Peaceful measures had clearly failed and the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which had fought the British during the Anglo-Irish war, re-surfaced. Northern Ireland lost its parliamentary independence and has been ruled from London ever since.

Music plays a big part in Irish culture, the most famous group being U2. Most traditional music is performed on fiddle, tin whistle, goatskin drum and pipes. Almost every village seems to have a pub renowned for its music where you can show up and find a session in progress. Other well known singers include Enya, Bob Geldof and Sinéad O'Connor.

Although English is the main language of Ireland, it is spoken with a very different accent, however Ireland also has its own language, Irish. The Republic of Ireland has declared itself to be bilingual, and many documents and road signs are printed in both Irish and English.

Irish meals are usually based around meat - in particular, beef, lamb and pork. Traditional dishes include bacon, cabbage, pancakes and bread. Guinness is the national drink, a thick black beer. 

Economy: The main employment sectors in Northern Ireland are services (74%), manufacturing (18%). The problem of unemployment is still an issue in Northern Ireland with around 12.0% of the workforce without a job. 

Northern Ireland's educational standards excel, with an educational system that produces employees who are highly skilled and adaptable to new technologies. Close co-operation between universities and industry ensures that education is designed to prepare students for the world of work.

Political Background: The existing political division in Ireland dates from 1920-21. At that time, after centuries of British rule including 120 years when all of Ireland was governed as part of the United Kingdom, 26 of the 32 counties of Ireland gained independence. The remaining six counties were allowed to opt out and this area continued in political union with Britain as "Northern Ireland". However, while the United Kingdom Parliament at Westminster continued to exercise sovereignty, power on a variety of matters was devolved to a local parliament and Government established at Stormont in Belfast in 1920.

From 1921 to 1972, although Northern Ireland elected members to the Westminster Parliament, the devolved Government at Stormont operated with virtual autonomy from London on local matters. Power remained exclusively in the hands of the Unionist party which drew its support from the majority unionist community in the area (i.e. those who favoured union with Britain). The nationalist community, amounting to about one third of the population of Northern Ireland, shared the desire of the people of the rest of the island for Irish unity. They had no role in Government and suffered systematic discrimination at local level in many areas including voting rights, housing and employment.

In 1969 non-violent campaigners for civil rights met with a hostile and repressive response. Since then Northern Ireland has endured a sustained political crisis. In the early 1970's there was a revival and a growth of paramilitary activity by the IRA, which had occurred sporadically in earlier decades; there was also a corresponding growth in paramilitary violence by Loyalist extremist groups.

In a deteriorating security situation in 1972 and the British Government assumed direct responsibility for all aspects of the Government of Northern Ireland. Since then, with the exception of one brief period in 1974 when a local executive was established on a power-sharing basis, Northern Ireland has continued to be governed under a system of direct rule under the authority of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who is a member of the British Cabinet.

In 1980, at a meeting in Dublin Castle between the then Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey, and the then British Prime Minister, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, the British and Irish Governments reached agreement on a broadening of the scope of relations between the two parts of Ireland and between Britain and Ireland. This marked a significant new departure in Anglo-Irish relations and was followed in 1981 by the establishment of an Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. The Council provided a formal framework within which relations between the two countries could be conducted, with particular emphasis on facilitating progress toward a resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict. 

Anglo-Irish Agreement 1985: In November 1985, the British and Irish Governments signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and subsequently deposited it as an International Agreement with the United Nations. The Agreement has the aims of "promoting peace and stability in Northern Ireland; helping to reconcile the two major traditions in Ireland; creating a new climate of co-operation between the people of the two countries; and improving co-operation in combating terrorism" An Intergovernmental Conference was established which enables the Irish Government to put forward views and proposals on stated aspects of Northern Ireland affairs and requires both governments to make determined efforts to resolve any differences that may arise between them. The Conference is chaired jointly by a representative of each Government. The Joint Chairmen are the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ireland and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Round-Table Talks 1991/92: In 1991/92, the two Governments convened round-table talks involving the main constitutional political parties in Northern Ireland ( Sinn Fein were excluded). They were conducted on a three-stranded basis, reflecting the three sets of relationships which underlie the Northern Ireland situation, viz., relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between Britain and Ireland. While some common ground was identified, overall agreement could not be reached.

Joint Declaration 1993: On 15 December 1993, the then Taoiseach, Mr. Albert Reynolds, and the then British Prime Minister, Mr. John Major, issued a Joint Declaration which set out the basic principles which could underpin a peace process designed to culminate in a political settlement of relationships in Ireland and between Ireland and Britain. 

Central to the Declaration were the principles of self-determination and consent. The Declaration stated that the British Government had "no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland"and reaffirmed that "they will uphold the democratic wish of a greater number of the people of Northern Ireland on the issue of whether they prefer to support the Union or a sovereign united Ireland". The British Government agreed in the Declaration "that it is for the people of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively, to exercise the right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish". The Declaration recognized equally, on behalf of the Irish Government, that "the democratic right of self-determination by the people of Ireland as a whole must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland".

While the Declaration stated that all questions relating to the pursuit of political objectives must be settled exclusively by peaceful and democratic means, it sought to offer those associated with paramilitary violence a route into the political process by stating that "democratically mandated parties which establish a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods and which have shown that they abide by the democratic process, are free to participate fully in democratic politics and to join in dialogue in due course between the Governments and the political parties on the way ahead".

Paramilitary Ceasefires 1994: On 31 August 1994, the IRA announced a "complete cessation of military operations". This announcement was followed on 13 October 1994 by a similar statement from the Combined Loyalist Military Command. Following the ceasefires the two Governments engaged in direct political dialogue with Sinn Fein and the two loyalist parties. 

Joint Framework Document: On 22 February 1995, the then Taoiseach, Mr. John Bruton, and the then British Prime Minister, Mr. John Major, published A New Framework for Agreement, to provide a shared understanding between the two Governments to assist discussion and negotiation involving the Northern Ireland parties. It set out how an honourable accommodation could be envisaged across all the relationships, without compromising the long-term aspirations or interests of either tradition or of either community in Northern Ireland. The document seeks to apply the principles in the Joint Declaration, sketching out proposals for balanced constitutional change on both sides, and for new political structures covering all three relationships. It also envisages enhanced protection for human rights. Both Governments made clear that the Joint Framework Document was not intended as a blueprint but as a basis for discussion. They also committed themselves to comprehensive negotiations involving the Northern Ireland parties, the outcome of which would be submitted for democratic ratification through referendums North and South.
Coinciding with the publication of the Joint Framework Document, the British Government published its more detailed proposals for internal arrangements in Northern Ireland.

Subsequent Political Developments: The year following the publication of the Joint Framework Document was dominated by efforts to move forward to comprehensive and inclusive political talks. On 28 November 1995, the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister issued a Communiqué launching a twin-track process with the dual aim of agreeing the ground rules for negotiations and of reaching agreement on how to address the issue of the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.

The International Body, established by the two Governments under the chairmanship of US Senator George Mitchell to provide an independent assessment of the decommissioning issue, reported on 24 January 1996. Its report recognised that the paramilitaries would not decommission prior to negotiations. It recommended that all parties participating in negotiations should commit themselves to six principles of democracy and non-violence, including the total and verifiable decommissioning of all paramilitary weapons. It set out a number of suggested modalities for decommissioning and proposed that the parties consider a proposal whereby some decommissioning would occur during negotiations.

On 9 February 1996, the IRA ended its ceasefire. The two Governments ended Ministerial contact with Sinn Fein but maintained official-level channels of communication. They agreed that the resumption of Ministerial dialogue with Sinn Fein, and Sinn Fein's participation in the negotiations, would require the restoration of the IRA ceasefire of August 1994.

Political Negotiations: Following elections in Northern Ireland at the end of May, comprehensive negotiations involving the Northern parties (except Sinn Fein) and the Irish and British Governments began on 10 June 1996, under the chairmanship of former US Senator George Mitchell, Canadian General John de Chastelain and former Finnish Prime Minister Harri Holkeri.

Renewed Ceasefire: On July 20, 1997, the IRA resumed its ceasefire.

International Fund for Ireland: Under the terms of Article 10 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Irish and British Governments established the International Fund for Ireland in 1986 "to promote economic and social advance and to encourage contact, dialogue and reconciliation between nationalists and unionists throughout Ireland". The contributors to the Fund are the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In pursuit of its objectives, the Fund supports economic initiatives by private enterprise and community groups under various programme headings, with particular emphasis on improving the position of the most disadvantaged areas in Northern Ireland.

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