Come all you young rebels, and list while I sing,
The love of one's country is a terrible thing,
It banishes fear with the speed of a flame,
It makes us all part of the patriot game.
Like beauty, patriotism in Northern Ireland is in the eye of the beholder. Those who are committed to the creation of a thirty-two county Irish republic claim it as readily and as self-righteously as those who affirm their loyalty to the British crown. It is only one of the differences that has divided the Ulster community for the last four centuries and continues to make it a province of the United Kingdom where governing without consensus remains the rule.
In 1839 Gustave de Beaumont remarked that “Ireland is a small country where the greatest questions of politics, morality and humanity are fought out.” The period between the collapse of the Sunningdale power-sharing agreement in May 1974 and the dissolution of Ulster's Constitutional Convention in March 1976 might lead one to conclude that the problems of Northern Ireland remain as far from resolution today as they were in the nineteenth century. Events in Northern Ireland during that period, however, may prove to be a turning point in the history of the province, providing the impetus for action that shatters the existing stalemate.
Political developments in Northern Ireland during these two years follow a pattern of action and reaction between three sets of actors: the Ulster Protestants, the Catholic faction in the province, and the British government. 1 It has been said that the Catholics in Northern Ireland are preoccupied with the British Army, while the Protestants are preoccupied with the Catholics. During the past year, however, both communities in Ulster have been keenly conscious of the British government's policies emanating from Westminster. It is the interaction of these three groups, therefore, that is the focus of this analysis. While the discussion concentrates primarily on the acts of violence relating to the Ulster troubles, it must place those acts in the political context created by the interactions of Protestant, Catholic, and British politicians.