‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, one of the most turbulent episodes in modern British history, had political and religious roots that were centuries old – Some people in Northern Ireland, especially the mainly Protestant Unionist community, believed it should remain part of the United Kingdom.
Others, particularly the mainly Catholic Nationalist community, believed it should leave the UK and become part of the Republic of Ireland.
‘The Troubles’ were finally brought to an end by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
The deployment of the British army to Northern Ireland became Britain’s longest-ever continuous military campaign. From 1969, a total of 300,000 troops served in the province, with a peak annual number of 21,000 in 1972 when the Troubles were at their most savage.
722 of them were killed by direct paramilitary action, while another 6100 were wounded but over the years, their tenacity gradually wore down the enemy, particularly through the use of sophisticated military intelligence.
Towards the end of the 1980s, the entire IRA network was riddled with British agents. Even Frank Scappaticci, the Republicans’ own head of its feared Internal Security Unit – known as the “Nutting Squad” – was alleged to be an informer.
Such deep penetration made it almost impossible for the IRA to carry on their terror campaign effectively, and by the close of the Troubles, British security forces were estimated to be foiling two out of every three planned IRA operations.
After the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the Republicans agreed to decommission their weapons without achieving any of their key political aims. Northern Ireland remained in the United Kingdom, while the partition of Ireland continued.
How the Troubles unfolded
August 1969: The British government deploys troops in Northern Ireland in a “limited operation” to restore law and order, following three days of violence in the Catholic Bogside area of Londonderry
February 1971: Gunner Robert Curtis becomes the first British soldier to die when he is shot dead by the IRA
30 January 1972: On Bloody Sunday, the British Army shoot and kill 13 unarmed people during a civil rights march in Londonderry
March 1972: The Stormont Government is dissolved and direct rule imposed by Westminster
October 1974: Pubs are bombed in Guildford as the IRA expands its campaign to mainland Britain. A month later, there are more pub bombings in Birmingham, killing 21 people
July 1976: British Ambassador to Ireland Christopher Ewart Biggs is murdered by a car bomb in Dublin
October 1984: A bomb explodes at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is staying during the Conservative Party conference
November 1985: Margaret Thatcher and Garret FitzGerald, the Irish Taoiseach, sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement, paving the way for co-operation between the two governments
November 1987: 11 civilians are killed by a Provisional IRA bomb at a Remembrance Day service in Enniskillen
April 1998: The Good Friday Agreement is signed, hailing the end of the Troubles