Clash of Culture: The Northern Ireland Conflict
Clash of Culture: The Northern Ireland Conflict
In 1968, a civil war broke out between Irish Catholics and Protestants. The conflict lasted from 1968 to 1988; or so the history books will note. However, many will argue that the conflict goes back to the 1700s in the times of plantation – the organised colonisation of Ulster by Great Britain. The goal of the unionist and overwhelmingly Protestant majority was to remain part of the United Kingdom. The goal of the nationalist, republican and almost exclusively Catholic minority was to become part of the Republic of Ireland. Known internationally as the Northern Ireland conflict, sometimes referred to as a “guerrilla war”, and locally as “The Troubles,” the conflict escalated to the violence and killings of many innocent individuals and families.
At the heart of this conflict lies two exclusive versions of clashing national identity. Widespread media – from newspapers to television – was particularly poignant during the struggle, depicting dehumanising views of whichever side was the opposition, through murals, falsified attacks and news reports by exaggerating stories and essentially placing the blame of the war on the opposing community. As Kelman, a critical writer notes, “dehumanisation of the enemy makes it even more difficult to acknowledge and access the other person’s perspective.”
The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 marked what was considered the ceasefire of the conflict. However, as a young Irish creative, living in England yet proud of my national identity and Irish citizenship, I can assert, the war may have become less violent but the stigmatised mentality lives on. For example, a peace wall still stands between the two communities, emblazoned with propaganda; symbols that serve to further the divide. During “The Troubles” it was a means of protection, and now it stands as a historical and cultural mural. But why does the barbed wire need to remain? Or is that just another way that the conflict is regurgitated and reinforced?
Throughout “The Troubles” there were various forms of propaganda: resistance propaganda, propaganda of violence, and propaganda searching for peace. The problem with the remaining propaganda from this time is that the extremely violent extremist murals remain. In Protestant sections of the city, they display British flags and encourage Northern Ireland’s colonisation by Great Britain. Yet murals in Catholic neighborhoods boast Irish flags, commemorating nationalists who lost their lives fighting for an end to British rule and depict the struggle to join the independent Republic of Ireland in the south. These murals are a huge part of Northern Irish citizens’ identity. However, it’s incontestable that consistent depictions proposing that your national identity should be the only valid option for every citizen in your country is bound to formulate aggression to those of differentiating identity. That’s where the conflict continues. Each community is viewing completely opposing propaganda, translating to completely opposing views.
There has been progress recently in normalising the relationship between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. The ‘Re-Imagining Communities’ project is the current campaign to paint over violent murals replacing them with images upholding peace and culture. However, remember this is almost 30 years after the ceasefire. I question severely why this has taken so long; why these violent murals were allowed to stand throughout my childhood.
Even the media continues to focus on a group or individuals’ political beliefs when reporting, whether it be dissident republican or unionist. Bomb scares continue to happen on a regular basis in Northern Ireland, completely normalised, and barely affect individuals (apart from the inconvenience of increased traffic). With consistent reminders of identity differences, depicted in a negative light, this serves only to further the divide between the communities to this day. The only reason I am aware of this is due to the fact that I am an Irish citizen and therefore follow specifically Northern Ireland news. Since moving to England I view less and less of this content, outlining how little this is covered in different countries; the propaganda of the country is always portrayed in a positive light.
Being born in the ’90s, those in my generation were unaffected directly by “The Troubles”, but the shadowing of these horrific events continues to impact our lives. I myself have been directly affected by these, with family members passing away as a result of the turbulent era. The constant identity propaganda surrounding each community has undeniably shaped the identity of those even after the most violent period of the war. Therefore I am fully aware of the hurt and anger that “The Troubles” caused. But my generation should not have their identities fully formed by post-life events.
My personal cultural identity remains steadfast, but I refuse to let past propaganda influence my view of a whole community, regardless of differences. It’s time to let go.
Written by Roisin O’Hare
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