Escalation of the Troubles

Escalation of the Troubles

Bombings on the Mainland

Escalation of the Troubles The PIRA also changed tactics after 1973. For the first time, it started to bomb targets in the UK mainland. For example, in February 1974 it bombed a coach carrying British Army soldiers on the M62. In October it bombed two pubs in Guildford, killing four soldiers and a civilian. And then it bombed some more pubs in Birmingham, this time killing twenty-one civilians. The PIRA also targeted politicians. In October 1984 it bombed a hotel in Brighton, where the ruling Conservative Party was holding its annual conference. An MP were killed and the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was nearly injured.

Attempts to Build Peace in the 1980s

Provisional IRA - History GCSE RevisionThe failure of the Sunningdale Agreement meant that Northern Ireland would have to be ruled directly from London for the foreseeable future. The Government tried to loosen up some of the controls that had been put in place to stop terrorist groups, for example by stopping the practice of internment, but fundamentally things stayed the same. The Army stayed on the street and the PIRA and Unionist terrorists continued to launch attacks. At regular intervals there were cases of either soldiers killing PIRA members (or even unarmed civilians, something that never went down well), or PIRA or Unionist groups carrying out bomb attacks or murders against not just one another, but also the Army or civilian targets.

However, there were some developments in how the Troubles played out:

Prison protests – an increasingly large number of Nationalist and Unionist paramilitaries started to fill Northern Ireland’s jails. Various protests were launched over the seventies and eighties by inmates, generally in response to the way they were treated in the justice system. The most dramatic case of this was the 1981 hunger strike, where 10 Republican prisoners starved themselves to death in protest of the fact that it was decided that they would be treated as ordinary criminals rather than as political prisoners. At the same time as the strike was taking place, a by-election was held for the Fermagh and South Tyrone UK Parliament seat. One of the hunger strikers, Bobby Sands, was nominated for the seat and won the election. The combination of the two events created a huge amount of publicity for the Republican movement, and helped bring more people behind the more radical sides of the Republican cause. Sands died just a month after he was elected, and 100,000 people attended his funeral.

Anglo-Irish Agreement, 1985 – The protests, the rise of the more militant Sinn Fein and the on-going bombing campaigns all suggested that peace was a long way off. However, the British and Irish governments seemed eager to try and negotiate a solution, even if Republicans and Unionists in Northern Ireland were as bitter enemies as ever. In November 1985 Margaret Thatcher and Garret FizGerald, her Irish counterpart, signed an agreement that gave the Irish government a consultative role in the way Northern Ireland was governed.

Unionists were predictably outraged by the agreement, the thought of the Irish Republic being involved in the running of Northern Ireland appalling them. And on the Republican side, while the more moderate SDLP supported the agreement, Sinn Fein and the PIRA rejected it for exactly the opposite reason to the Unionists: because it recognised that Northern Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom and kept Ireland divided.

The Northern Ireland Assembly, 1982-1986 – Another attempt was made to set up some form of home rule in Northern Ireland with the creation of another assembly in 1982. Northern Ireland would still mainly be run from London, with the assembly merely limited to examining government policies. However, it was hoped powers could be devolved to the assembly at a later date.

However, the Assembly achieved little, in large measure because both Unionists and Republicans boycotted it at different points. Neither side was particularly interested in making the assembly work as a governing body, and as a result it was abolished in 1986.

Test It!

Terence O'Neill - History GCSE RevisionWhat role did economic inequality play in helping to cause the Troubles?

Why did Terence O’Neill’s attempts to bring in reforms in Northern Ireland fail?

Why did the Sunningdale Agreement fail?

Explain the significance of the events of Bloody Sunday

How successful were the prison protests?

What were the consequences of the British Army’s presence on the streets of Northern Ireland?

Explain the significance of the Battle of the Bogside

Why did Sinn Fein become more popular?

Did the presence of the British Army play during the Troubles increase or decrease tensions?

How close was Northern Ireland to peace by the mid-1980s?