Socialist Worker

Northern Ireland: a sectarian state born in the violence of partition

Issue No. 2142

Britain presided over the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921, when it was forced to quit the rest of Ireland. The six counties in the north were formed into a one-party state born in violence.

Security forces terrorised the minority Catholic population that opposed the partition of Ireland.

The Unionists, who ran Northern Ireland for half a century, declared that it would be “a Protestant state for a Protestant people”.

The Northern Ireland state enshrined Britain’s traditional policy of divide-and-rule. It relegated Catholics to being third class citizens – after the Protestant elite and Protestant workers.

Sectarianism encouraged Protestant workers to look down on Catholic workers. These divisions within the working class weakened its ability to fight.


Consequently Northern Ireland has always had higher unemployment and lower wages than Britain.

The Troubles started in the city of Derry. Derry had a majority Catholic population, but its electoral boundaries were gerrymandered to ensure that Unionists controlled the city.

Police baton-charged peaceful civil rights marchers off the streets of Derry in October 1968.

A few months later Ian Paisley’s supporters ambushed civil rights marchers en route from Belfast to Derry.

Finally the city exploded in 1969. The police could not prevent riots spreading from Derry to other Catholic areas of Northern Ireland.

The Unionist regime called on the Labour government to send in British troops to maintain order. These security forces were there to prop up the Northern Ireland state – and soon they started killing Catholic civilians.

The Provisional IRA emerged in response to this repression and murder by the British. Internment without trial was imposed in August 1971.

“Bloody Sunday” in Derry on 30 January 1972 saw British troops murder 14 civil rights marchers in cold blood.

It was incidents like these that swelled the IRA’s ranks. Yet for decades Tory and Labour governments in Britain blamed the IRA for the violence and avoided the fact that the IRA grew in opposition to repression by the British state.

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