: Tuaisceart Éireann[ˈt̪ˠu͜əʃkʲəɾˠt̪ˠ ˈeːɾʲən̪ˠ] (listen)
: Norlin Airlann
) is a part
of the United Kingdom
that is variously described
as a country, province, territory or region.
Located in the northeast of the island of Ireland
, Northern Ireland shares a border
to the south and west with the Republic of Ireland
. In 2011
, its population was 1,810,863,
constituting about 30% of the island's population and about 3% of the UK's population
. The Northern Ireland Assembly
(colloquially referred to as Stormont
after its location), established by the Northern Ireland Act 1998
, holds responsibility for a range of devolved
policy matters, while other areas are reserved for the British government
. Northern Ireland co-operates with the Republic of Ireland in several areas.
The traditional counties of Northern Ireland
The creation of Northern Ireland was accompanied by violence
both in defence of and against partition. During 1920–22, the capital Belfast
saw major communal violence
, mainly between Protestant unionist and Catholic nationalist civilians.
More than 500 were killed
and more than 10,000 became refugees, mostly Catholics.
In the following decades, Northern Ireland had an unbroken series of Unionist Party governments
There was informal mutual segregation
by both communities,
and the Unionist governments were accused of discrimination against the Irish nationalist and Catholic minority,
in what First Minister of Northern Ireland
, David Trimble
, called a "cold house" for Catholics.
In the late 1960s, a campaign to end discrimination
against Catholics and nationalists was opposed by loyalists
, who saw it as a republican
This unrest sparked the Troubles
; a thirty-year conflict involving republican and loyalist paramilitaries and state forces, which claimed over 3,500 lives and injured 50,000 others.
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement
was a major step in the peace process
, including paramilitary disarmament
and security normalisation, although sectarianism
remain major social problems, and sporadic violence has continued.
The economy of Northern Ireland
was the most industrialised in Ireland at the time of partition
, but declined as a result of the political and social turmoil of the Troubles.
Its economy has grown significantly since the late 1990s. The initial growth came from the "peace dividend
" and increased trade with the Republic of Ireland, continuing with a significant increase in tourism, investment and business from around the world. Unemployment in Northern Ireland peaked at 17.2% in 1986, dropping to 6.1% for June–August 2014 and down by 1.2 percentage points over the year,
similar to the UK figure of 6.2%.
Following the Williamite victory, and contrary to the Treaty of Limerick
(1691), a series of Penal Laws
were passed by the Anglican Protestant ruling class
in Ireland. The intention was to disadvantage Catholics and, to a lesser extent, Presbyterians
. Some 250,000 Ulster Presbyterians emigrated to the British North American
colonies between 1717 and 1775.
It is estimated that there are more than 27 million Scotch-Irish Americans
now living in the United States,
along with many Scotch-Irish Canadians
in Canada. In the context of institutional discrimination, the 18th century saw secret, militant societies
develop in Ulster and act on sectarian tensions in violent attacks. This escalated at the end of the century, especially during the County Armagh disturbances
, where the Protestant Peep o'Day Boys
fought the Catholic Defenders
. This led to the founding of the Protestant Orange Order
. The Irish Rebellion of 1798
was led by the United Irishmen
; a cross-community republican
group founded by Belfast Presbyterians, which sought Irish independence. Following this, the government of the Kingdom of Great Britain
pushed for the two kingdoms to be merged, in an attempt to quell sectarianism, remove discriminatory laws, and prevent the spread of French-style republicanism. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
was formed in 1801 and governed from London. During the 19th century, legal reforms
continued to remove discrimination against Catholics, and progressive programs enabled tenant farmers to buy land from landlords.
Home Rule Crisis
By the late 19th century, a large and disciplined cohort of Irish Nationalist
MPs at Westminster
committed the Liberal Party
to "Irish Home Rule"
—self-government for Ireland, within the United Kingdom. This was bitterly opposed by Irish Unionists
, most of whom were Protestants, who feared an Irish devolved government dominated by Irish nationalists and Catholics. The First
Home Rule Bills were defeated. However, Home Rule became a near-certainty in 1912 after the Third Home Rule Bill
was introduced. The Liberal government was dependent on Nationalist support, and the Parliament Act 1911
prevented the House of Lords from blocking the bill indefinitely.
Unionists were in a minority in Ireland as a whole, but a majority in the province of Ulster
, especially the counties Antrim
Unionists argued that if Home Rule could not be stopped then all or part of Ulster should be excluded from it.
In May 1914, the British government introduced an Amending Bill to allow for 'Ulster' to be excluded from Home Rule. There was then debate over how much of Ulster should be excluded and for how long. Some Ulster unionists were willing to tolerate the 'loss' of some mainly-Catholic areas of the province.
The crisis was interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War
in August 1914, and Ireland's involvement in it
. The British government abandoned the Amending Bill, and instead rushed through a new bill, the Suspensory Act 1914
, suspending Home Rule for the duration of the war,
with the exclusion of Ulster still to be decided.
Partition of Ireland
By the end of the war (during which the 1916 Easter Rising
had taken place), most Irish nationalists now wanted full independence rather than home rule. In September 1919, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George
tasked a committee with planning another home rule bill. Headed by English unionist politician Walter Long
, it was known as the 'Long Committee'. It decided that two devolved governments should be established—one for the nine counties of Ulster and one for the rest of Ireland—together with a Council of Ireland
for the "encouragement of Irish unity".
Most Ulster unionists wanted the territory of the Ulster government to be reduced to six counties, so that it would have a larger Protestant unionist majority. They feared that the territory would not last if it included too many Catholics and Irish nationalists. The six counties of Antrim
comprised the maximum area unionists believed they could dominate.
Crowds in Belfast for the state opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament on 22 June 1921
Meanwhile, the Fourth Home Rule Bill
passed through the British parliament in 1920. It would divide Ireland into two self-governing UK territories: the six northeastern counties (Northern Ireland) being ruled from Belfast
, and the other twenty-six counties (Southern Ireland) being ruled from Dublin
. Both would have a shared Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
, who would appoint both governments and a Council of Ireland
, which the British government intended to evolve into an all-Ireland parliament.
The Act received royal assent
that December, becoming the Government of Ireland Act 1920. It came into force on 3 May 1921, partitioning Ireland
and creating Northern Ireland. Elections to the Northern parliament
were held on 24 May, in which Unionists won most seats. Its parliament first met on 7 June and formed its first devolved government
, headed by Unionist Party leader James Craig
. Republican and nationalist members refused to attend. King George V addressed the ceremonial opening of the Northern parliament on 22 June.
During 1920–22, in what became Northern Ireland, partition was accompanied by violence
"in defence or opposition to the new settlement".
The IRA carried out attacks on British forces in the north-east, but was less active than in the south of Ireland. Protestant loyalists attacked the Catholic community in reprisal for IRA actions. In summer 1920, sectarian violence erupted in Belfast and Derry, and there were mass burnings of Catholic property in Lisburn
Conflict continued intermittently for two years, mostly in Belfast, which saw "savage and unprecedented" communal violence
between Protestant and Catholic civilians. There was rioting, gun battles and bombings. Homes, business and churches were attacked and people were expelled from workplaces and from mixed neighbourhoods.
More than 500 were killed
and more than 10,000 became refugees, most of them Catholics.
The British Army was deployed and the Ulster Special Constabulary
(USC) was formed to help the regular police. The USC was almost wholly Protestant and some of its members carried out reprisal attacks on Catholics.
A truce between British forces and the IRA was established on 11 July 1921, ending the fighting in most of Ireland. However, communal violence continued in Belfast, and in 1922 the IRA launched a guerrilla offensive in border areas of Northern Ireland.
The Anglo-Irish Treaty
was signed between representatives of the British Government and the Irish Republic
on 6 December 1921. This created the Irish Free State
. Under the terms of the treaty, Northern Ireland would become part of the Free State unless the government opted out by presenting an address to the king, although in practice partition remained in place.
As expected, the Parliament of Northern Ireland
resolved on 7 December 1922 (the day after the establishment of the Irish Free State) to exercise its right to opt out of the Free State by making an address to the King
The text of the address was:
Most Gracious Sovereign, We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Senators and Commons of Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, having learnt of the passing of the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922
, being the Act of Parliament for the ratification of the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, do, by this humble Address, pray your Majesty that the powers of the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State shall no longer extend to Northern Ireland.
Shortly afterwards, the Boundary Commission
was established to decide on the border between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. Owing to the outbreak of civil war in the Free State
, the work of the commission was delayed until 1925. The Free State government and Irish nationalists hoped for a large transfer of territory to the Free State, as many border areas had nationalist majorities, leaving the remaining Northern Ireland too small to be viable.
However, the commission's final report recommended only small transfers of territory, and in both directions. The Free State, Northern Ireland and UK governments agreed to suppress the report and accept the status quo
, while the UK government agreed that the Free State would no longer have to pay its share of the UK national debt.
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. (January 2021)
James Craig (centre) with members of the first government of Northern Ireland
Opening of the Northern Ireland parliament buildings (Stormont
) in 1932
Northern Ireland's border was drawn to give it "a decisive Protestant majority". At the time of its creation, Northern Ireland's population was two-thirds Protestant and one-third Catholic. Most Protestants were unionists/loyalists who sought to maintain Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom, while most Catholics were Irish nationalists/republicans who sought a united independent Ireland
. There was mutual self-imposed segregation
between Protestants and Catholics such as in education, housing and often employment.
For its first fifty years, Northern Ireland had an unbroken series of Unionist Party governments
Almost every minister of these governments were members of the Protestant Orange Order
Almost all judges and magistrates were Protestant, many of them closely associated with the Unionist Party. Northern Ireland's new police force was the Royal Ulster Constabulary
(RUC), which succeeded the Royal Irish Constabulary
(RIC). It too was almost wholly Protestant and lacked operational independence, responding to directions from government ministers. The RUC and the reserve Ulster Special Constabulary
(USC) were militarized police forces due to the threat from the IRA. They "had at their disposal the Special Powers Act
, a sweeping piece of legislation which allowed arrests without warrant, internment without trial, unlimited search powers and bans on meetings and publications".
The Unionist governments, and some unionist-dominated local authorities, were accused of discriminating against the Catholic and Irish nationalist minority; especially over gerrymandering
of electoral boundaries, the allocation of public housing, public sector employment, and policing. While some individual accusations were unfounded or exaggerated, there are enough proven cases to show "a consistent and irrefutable pattern of deliberate discrimination against Catholics".
In June 1940, to encourage the neutral Irish state
to join with the Allies
, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill
indicated to the TaoiseachÉamon de Valera
that the United Kingdom would push for Irish unity, but believing that Churchill could not deliver, de Valera declined the offer.
The British did not inform the Government of Northern Ireland that they had made the offer to the Dublin government, and de Valera's rejection was not publicised until 1970.
From 1956 to 1962, the Irish Republican Army
(IRA) carried out a limited guerrilla campaign in border areas of Northern Ireland, called the Border Campaign
. It aimed to destabilize Northern Ireland and bring about an end to partition, but ended in failure.
The Troubles, which started in the late 1960s, consisted of about 30 years of recurring acts of intense violence during which 3,254 people were killed
with over 50,000 casualties.
From 1969 to 2003 there were over 36,900 shooting incidents and over 16,200 bombings or attempted bombings associated with The Troubles.
The conflict was caused by the disputed status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and the discrimination against the Irish nationalist
minority by the dominant unionist
From 1967 to 1972 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association
(NICRA), which modelled itself on the US civil rights movement, led a campaign of civil resistance
to anti-Catholic discrimination in housing, employment, policing, and electoral procedures. The franchise for local government elections included only rate-payers and their spouses, and so excluded over a quarter of the electorate. While the majority of disenfranchised electors were Protestant, Catholics were over-represented since they were poorer and had more adults still living in the family home.
Responsibility for Troubles-related deaths between 1969 and 2001
NICRA's campaign, seen by many unionists as an Irish republican
front, and the violent reaction to it proved to be a precursor to a more violent period.
As early as 1969, armed campaigns of paramilitary groups began, including the Provisional IRA campaign of 1969–1997
which was aimed at the end of British rule in Northern Ireland and the creation of a United Ireland
, and the Ulster Volunteer Force
, formed in 1966 in response to the perceived erosion of both the British character and unionist domination of Northern Ireland. The state security forces – the British Army
and the police (the Royal Ulster Constabulary
) – were also involved in the violence. The British government's position is that its forces were neutral in the conflict, trying to uphold law and order in Northern Ireland and the right of the people of Northern Ireland to democratic self-determination. Republicans regarded the state forces as combatants
in the conflict, pointing to the collusion between the state forces and the loyalist paramilitaries
as proof of this. The "Ballast" investigation by the Police Ombudsman
has confirmed that British forces, and in particular the RUC, did collude with loyalist
paramilitaries, were involved in murder, and did obstruct the course of justice when such claims had been investigated,
although the extent to which such collusion occurred is still disputed.
As a consequence of the worsening security situation, autonomous regional government for Northern Ireland was suspended in 1972. Alongside the violence, there was a political deadlock between the major political parties in Northern Ireland, including those who condemned violence, over the future status of Northern Ireland and the form of government there should be within Northern Ireland. In 1973, Northern Ireland held a referendum
to determine if it should remain in the United Kingdom, or be part of a united Ireland. The vote went heavily in favour (98.9%) of maintaining the status quo. Approximately 57.5% of the total electorate voted in support, but only 1% of Catholics voted following a boycott organised by the Social Democratic and Labour Party
The Troubles were brought to an uneasy end by a peace process
which included the declaration of ceasefires by most paramilitary organisations and the complete decommissioning of their weapons, the reform of the police, and the corresponding withdrawal of army troops from the streets and from sensitive border areas such as South Armagh and Fermanagh
, as agreed by the signatories to the Belfast Agreement (commonly known as the "Good Friday Agreement
"). This reiterated the long-held British position, which had never before been fully acknowledged by successive Irish governments, that Northern Ireland will remain within the United Kingdom until a majority of voters in Northern Ireland decides otherwise. The Constitution of Ireland
was amended in 1999 to remove a claim of the "Irish nation" to sovereignty over the entire island (in Article 2).
The new Articles 2 and 3
, added to the Constitution to replace the earlier articles, implicitly acknowledge that the status of Northern Ireland, and its relationships within the rest of the United Kingdom and with the Republic of Ireland, would only be changed with the agreement of a majority of voters in each jurisdiction. This aspect was also central to the Belfast Agreement which was signed in 1998 and ratified by referendums held simultaneously in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. At the same time, the British Government recognised for the first time, as part of the prospective, the so-called "Irish dimension": the principle that the people of the island of Ireland as a whole have the right, without any outside interference, to solve the issues between North and South by mutual consent.
The latter statement was key to winning support for the agreement from nationalists. It established a devolved power-sharing government within Northern Ireland, which must consist of both unionist and nationalist parties. These institutions were suspended by the British Government
in 2002 after Police Service of Northern Ireland
(PSNI) allegations of spying by people working for Sinn Féin at the Assembly (Stormontgate
). The resulting case against the accused Sinn Féin member collapsed.
On 28 July 2005, the Provisional IRA declared an end to its campaign and has since decommissioned what is thought to be all of its arsenal
. This final act of decommissioning was performed under the watch of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning
(IICD) and two external church witnesses. Many unionists, however, remained sceptical. The IICD later confirmed that the main loyalist paramilitary groups, the Ulster Defence Association
, UVF and the Red Hand Commando
, had decommissioned what is thought to be all of their arsenals, witnessed by former archbishop Robin Eames
and a former top civil servant.
Following the election
held on 7 March 2007, devolved government returned on 8 May 2007 with Democratic Unionist Party
(DUP) leader Ian Paisley
and Sinn Féin deputy leader Martin McGuinness
taking office as First Minister and deputy First Minister, respectively.
In its white paper on Brexit
the United Kingdom government reiterated its commitment to the Belfast Agreement. With regard to Northern Ireland's status, it said that the UK Government's "clearly-stated preference is to retain Northern Ireland’s current constitutional position: as part of the UK, but with strong links to Ireland".
A flowchart illustrating all the political parties that have existed throughout the history of Northern Ireland and leading up to its formation (1889 onwards).
The main political divide in Northern Ireland is between unionists, who wish to see Northern Ireland continue as part of the United Kingdom, and nationalists, who wish to see Northern Ireland unified with the Republic of Ireland, independent from the United Kingdom. These two opposing views are linked to deeper cultural divisions. Unionists are predominantly Ulster Protestant
, descendants of mainly Scottish
, English, and Huguenot
settlers as well as Gaels
who converted to one of the Protestant denominations. Nationalists are overwhelmingly Catholic and descend from the population predating the settlement, with a minority from the Scottish Highlands
as well as some converts from Protestantism. Discrimination against nationalists under the Stormont
government (1921–1972) gave rise to the civil rights movement
in the 1960s.
While some unionists argue that discrimination was not just due to religious or political bigotry, but also the result of more complex socio-economic, socio-political and geographical factors,
its existence, and the manner in which nationalist anger at it was handled, were a major contributing factor to the Troubles. The political unrest went through its most violent phase between 1968 and 1994.
In 2007, 36% of the population defined themselves as unionist, 24% as nationalist and 40% defined themselves as neither.
According to a 2015 opinion poll, 70% express a long-term preference of the maintenance of Northern Ireland's membership of the United Kingdom (either directly ruled
or with devolved government
), while 14% express a preference for membership of a united Ireland.
This discrepancy can be explained by the overwhelming preference among Protestants to remain a part of the UK (93%), while Catholic preferences are spread across a number of solutions to the constitutional question including remaining a part of the UK (47%), a united Ireland (32%), Northern Ireland becoming an independent state (4%), and those who "don't know" (16%).
Official voting figures, which reflect views on the "national question" along with issues of candidate, geography, personal loyalty and historic voting patterns, show 54% of Northern Ireland voters vote for unionist parties, 42% vote for nationalist parties and 4% vote "other". Opinion polls consistently show that the election results are not necessarily an indication of the electorate's stance regarding the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. Most of the population of Northern Ireland are at least nominally Christian, mostly Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations. Many voters (regardless of religious affiliation) are attracted to unionism's conservative
policies, while other voters are instead attracted to the traditionally leftist Sinn Féin and SDLP and their respective party platforms for democratic socialism
and social democracy
For the most part, Protestants feel a strong connection with Great Britain and wish for Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Many Catholics however, generally aspire to a United Ireland or are less certain about how to solve the constitutional question. Protestants have a slight majority in Northern Ireland, according to the latest Northern Ireland Census. The make-up of the Northern Ireland Assembly
reflects the appeals of the various parties within the population. Of the 90 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs)
, 40 are unionists and 39 are nationalists (the remaining 11 are classified as "other").
Since 1998, Northern Ireland has had devolved
government within the United Kingdom, presided over by the Northern Ireland Assembly
and a cross-community government (the Northern Ireland Executive
). The UK Government and UK Parliament are responsible for reserved and excepted matters
. Reserved matters comprise listed policy areas (such as civil aviation
, units of measurement
, and human genetics
) that Parliament may devolve to the Assembly some time in the future. Excepted matters (such as international relations
, taxation and elections) are never expected to be considered for devolution. On all other governmental matters, the Executive together with the 90-member Assembly may legislate for and govern Northern Ireland. Devolution in Northern Ireland is dependent upon participation by members of the Northern Ireland executive in the North/South Ministerial Council
, which coordinates areas of co-operation (such as agriculture, education and health) between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Additionally, "in recognition of the Irish Government's special interest in Northern Ireland", the Government of Ireland
and Government of the United Kingdom
co-operate closely on non-devolved matters through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference
There is no generally accepted term to describe what Northern Ireland is: province, region, country or something else.
The choice of term can be controversial and can reveal the writer's political preferences.
This has been noted as a problem by several writers on Northern Ireland, with no generally recommended solution.
Owing in part to the way in which the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland, came into being, there is no legally defined term to describe what Northern Ireland 'is'. There is also no uniform or guiding way to refer to Northern Ireland amongst the agencies of the UK government. For example, the websites of the Office of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
and the UK Statistics Authority
describe the United Kingdom as being made up of four countries, one of these being Northern Ireland.
Other pages on the same websites refer to Northern Ireland specifically as a "province" as do publications of the UK Statistics Authority.
The website of the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency also refers to Northern Ireland as being a province
as does the website of the Office of Public Sector Information
and other agencies within Northern Ireland.
Publications of HM Treasury
and the Department of Finance and Personnel of the Northern Ireland Executive,
on the other hand, describe Northern Ireland as being a "region of the UK". The UK's submission to the 2007 United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names
defines the UK as being made up of two countries (England and Scotland), one principality
(Wales) and one province (Northern Ireland).
Unlike England, Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland has no history of being an independent country or of being a nation in its own right.
Some writers describe the United Kingdom as being made up of three countries and one province
or point out the difficulties with calling Northern Ireland a country.
Authors writing specifically about Northern Ireland dismiss the idea that Northern Ireland is a "country" in general terms,
and draw contrasts in this respect with England, Scotland and Wales.
Even for the period covering the first 50 years of Northern Ireland's existence, the term country
is considered inappropriate by some political scientists on the basis that many decisions were still made in London.
The absence of a distinct nation of Northern Ireland, separate within the island of Ireland, is also pointed out as being a problem with using the term
and is in contrast to England, Scotland, and Wales.
Many commentators prefer to use the term "province", although that is also not without problems. It can arouse irritation, particularly among nationalists, for whom the title province is properly reserved for the traditional province of Ulster, of which Northern Ireland comprises six out of nine counties.
The BBC style guide is to refer to Northern Ireland as a province, and use of the term is common in literature and newspaper reports on Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. Some authors have described the meaning of this term as being equivocal: referring to Northern Ireland as being a province both of the United Kingdom and of the traditional country of Ireland.
"Region" is used by several UK government agencies and the European Union. Some authors choose this word but note that it is "unsatisfactory".
Northern Ireland can also be simply described as "part of the UK", including by UK government offices.
Many people inside and outside Northern Ireland use other names for Northern Ireland, depending on their point of view. Disagreement on names, and the reading of political symbolism into the use or non-use of a word, also attaches itself to some urban centres. The most notable example is whether Northern Ireland's second largest city should be called "Derry" or "Londonderry"
Choice of language and nomenclature
in Northern Ireland often reveals the cultural, ethnic and religious identity of the speaker. Those who do not belong to any group but lean towards one side often tend to use the language of that group. Supporters of unionism in the British media (notably The Daily Telegraph
and the Daily Express
) regularly call Northern Ireland "Ulster".
Many media outlets in the Republic use "North of Ireland", or simply "the North".
The "Six Counties" is used less often. The New York Times
has also used "the North".
Although some news bulletins since the 1990s have opted to avoid all contentious terms and use the official name, Northern Ireland, the term "the North" remains commonly used by broadcast media in the Republic.
Unionist mural in Belfast
- Ulster, strictly speaking, refers to the province of Ulster, of which six of nine historical counties are in Northern Ireland. The term "Ulster" is widely used by unionists and the British press as shorthand for Northern Ireland, and is also favoured by Ulster nationalists. In the past, calls have been made for Northern Ireland's name to be changed to Ulster. This proposal was formally considered by the Government of Northern Ireland in 1937 and by the UK Government in 1949 but no change was made.
- The Province refers to the historic Irish province of Ulster but today is used by some as shorthand for Northern Ireland. The BBC, in its editorial guidance for Reporting the United Kingdom, states that "the Province" is an appropriate secondary synonym for Northern Ireland, while "Ulster" is not. It also suggests that "people of Northern Ireland" is preferred to "British" or "Irish", and the term "mainland" should be avoided in reference to Great Britain in relation to Northern Ireland.
- North of Ireland – used to avoid using the name given by the British-enacted Government of Ireland Act 1920.
- The Six Counties (na Sé Chontae) – the Republic of Ireland is similarly described as the Twenty-Six Counties. Some of the users of these terms contend that using the official name of the region would imply acceptance of the legitimacy of the Government of Ireland Act.
- The Occupied Six Counties – used by some republicans. The Republic, whose legitimacy is similarly not recognised by republicans opposed to the Belfast Agreement, is described as the "Free State", referring to the Irish Free State, which gained independence (as a Dominion) in 1922.
- British-Occupied Ireland – Similar in tone to the Occupied Six Counties, this term is used by more dogmatic republicans, such as Republican Sinn Féin, who still hold that the Second Dáil was the last legitimate government of Ireland and that all governments since have been foreign-imposed usurpations of Irish national self-determination.
or "Norniron" – is an informal and affectionate
local nickname used to refer to Northern Ireland, derived from the pronunciation of the words "Northern Ireland" in an exaggerated Ulster accent (particularly one from the greater Belfast area). The phrase is seen as a lighthearted way to refer to Northern Ireland, based as it is on regional pronunciation. It often refers to the Northern Ireland national football team
Geography and climate
ESA Sentinel-2 image of Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland was covered by an ice sheet
for most of the last ice age
and on numerous previous occasions, the legacy of which can be seen in the extensive coverage of drumlins
in Counties Fermanagh, Armagh, Antrim and particularly Down.
The centrepiece of Northern Ireland's geography is Lough Neagh
, at 151 square miles (391 km2
) the largest freshwater lake both on the island of Ireland and in the British Isles
. A second extensive lake system is centred on Lower and Upper Lough Erne
in Fermanagh. The largest island of Northern Ireland is Rathlin
, off the north Antrim coast. Strangford Lough
is the largest inlet in the British Isles, covering 150 km2
(58 sq mi).
The Lower and Upper River Bann
, River Foyle
and River Blackwater
form extensive fertile lowlands, with excellent arable land
also found in North and East Down, although much of the hill country is marginal and suitable largely for animal husbandry.
The valley of the River Lagan
is dominated by Belfast, whose metropolitan area includes over a third of the population of Northern Ireland, with heavy urbanisation and industrialisation along the Lagan Valley and both shores of Belfast Lough
The vast majority of Northern Ireland has a temperate maritime climate
in the Köppen climate classification
) rather wetter in the west than the east, although cloud cover is very common across the region. The weather is unpredictable at all times of the year, and although the seasons are distinct, they are considerably less pronounced than in interior Europe or the eastern seaboard of North America. Average daytime maximums in Belfast are 6.5 °C (43.7 °F) in January and 17.5 °C (63.5 °F) in July. The highest maximum temperature recorded was 30.8 °C (87.4 °F) at Knockarevan, near Garrison, County Fermanagh
on 30 June 1976 and at Belfast on 12 July 1983.
The lowest minimum temperature recorded was −18.7 °C (−1.7 °F) at Castlederg
, County Tyrone
on 23 December 2010.
Northern Ireland is the least forested part of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and one of the least forested parts of Europe.
Until the end of the Middle Ages
, the land was heavily forested with native trees such as oak
and Scots pine
Today, only 8% of Northern Ireland is woodland, and most of this is non-native coniferplantations
These counties are no longer used for local government purposes; instead, there are eleven districts of Northern Ireland
which have different geographical extents. These were created in 2015, replacing the twenty-six districts which previously existed.
Although counties are no longer used for local governmental purposes, they remain a popular means of describing where places are. They are officially used while applying for an Irish passport
, which requires one to state one's county of birth. The name of that county then appears in both Irish and English on the passport's information page, as opposed to the town or city of birth on the United Kingdom passport. The Gaelic Athletic Association
still uses the counties as its primary means of organisation and fields representative teams of each GAA county
. The original system of car registration numbers
largely based on counties still remains in use. In 2000, the telephone numbering system
was restructured into an 8 digit scheme with (except for Belfast) the first digit approximately reflecting the county.
The county boundaries still appear on Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Maps and the Philip's Street Atlases, among others. With their decline in official use, there is often confusion surrounding towns and cities which lie near county boundaries, such as Belfast and Lisburn
, which are split between counties Down and Antrim (the majorities of both cities, however, are in Antrim).
In March 2018, The Sunday Times
published its list of Best Places to Live in Britain, including the following places in Northern Ireland: Ballyhackamore
near Belfast (overall best for Northern Ireland), Holywood, County Down, Newcastle, County Down, Portrush, County Antrim, Strangford, County Down.
Cities and major towns
Northern Ireland has traditionally had an industrial economy, most notably in shipbuilding, rope manufacture and textiles, but most heavy industry has since been replaced by services, primarily the public sector.
Seventy percent of the economy's revenue comes from the service sector. Apart from the public sector, another important service sector is tourism, which rose to account for over 1% of the economy's revenue in 2004. Tourism has been a major growth area since the end of the Troubles. Key tourism attractions include the historic cities of Derry, Belfast and Armagh
and the many castles in Northern Ireland. These large firms are attracted by government subsidies and the skilled workforce in Northern Ireland.
The local economy has seen contraction during the Great Recession
. In response, the Northern Ireland Assembly has sent trade missions abroad. The Executive wishes to gain taxation powers from London, to align Northern Ireland's corporation tax
rate with the unusually low rate of the Republic of Ireland.
As in all of the UK, the economy of Northern Ireland was negatively impacted by the lockdowns and travel restrictions necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic
. The tourism and hospitality industry was particularly hard hit. These sectors "have been mandated to close since 26 December 2020, with a very limited number of exceptions" and many restrictions were continuing into April 2021.
Hotels and other accommodations, for example, "closed apart from only for work-related stays".
Some restrictions were expected to be loosened in mid April but tourism was expected to remain very limited.
Major seaports at Larne
carry passengers and freight between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Main motorways are:
- M1 connecting Belfast to the south and west, ending in Dungannon
- M2 connecting Belfast to the north. An unconnected section of the M2 also by-passes Ballymena
Additional short motorway spurs include:
The cross-border road connecting the ports of Larne
in Northern Ireland and Rosslare Harbour
in the Republic of Ireland is being upgraded as part of an EU-funded scheme. European route E01
runs from Larne through the island of Ireland, Spain and Portugal to Seville
2011 census: differences in proportions of those who are, or were brought up, either Catholic or Protestant/Other Christians
The population of Northern Ireland has risen yearly since 1978. The population in 2011 was 1.8 million, having grown 7.5% over the previous decade
from just under 1.7 million in 2001. This constitutes just under 3% of the population of the UK (62 million) and just over 28% of the population of the island of Ireland (6.3 million).
The population of Northern Ireland is almost entirely white
In 2011, 88.8% of the population were born in Northern Ireland, with 4.5% born elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and 2.9% born in the Republic of Ireland. 4.3% were born elsewhere; triple the amount there were in 2001.
Most are from Eastern Europe. The largest non-white ethnic groups were Chinese
(6,300) and Indian
(6,200). Black people
of various origins made up 0.2% of the 2011 population and people of mixed ethnicity made up 0.2%.
At the 2011 census, 41.5% of the population identified as Protestant/non-Roman Catholic Christian, 41% as Roman Catholic
, and 0.8% as non-Christian, while 17% identified with no religion or did not state one. The biggest of the Protestant/non-Roman Catholic Christian denominations were the Presbyterian Church
(19%), the Church of Ireland
(14%) and the Methodist Church
(3%). In terms of community background (i.e. religion or religion brought up in), 48% of the population came from a Protestant background, 45% from a Catholic background, 0.9% from non-Christian backgrounds, and 5.6% from non-religious backgrounds.
Citizenship and identity
Map of predominant national identity in the 2011 census
In the 2011 census in Northern Ireland respondents gave their national identity as follows.
Several studies and surveys carried out between 1971 and 2006 have indicated that, in general, most Protestants in Northern Ireland see themselves primarily as British, whereas a majority of Roman Catholics regard themselves primarily as Irish.
This does not, however, account for the complex identities within Northern Ireland
, given that many of the population regard themselves as "Ulster" or "Northern Irish", either as a primary or secondary identity. Overall, the Catholic population is somewhat more ethnically diverse than the more homogeneous Protestant population. 83.1% of Protestants identified as "British" or with a British ethnic group (English, Scottish, or Welsh) in the 2011 Census, whereas only 3.9% identified as "Irish". Meanwhile, 13.7% of Catholics identified as "British" or with a British ethnic group. A further 4.4% identified as "all other", which are largely immigrants, for example from Poland
A 2008 survey found that 57% of Protestants described themselves as British, while 32% identified as Northern Irish, 6% as Ulster and 4% as Irish. Compared to a similar survey carried out in 1998, this shows a fall in the percentage of Protestants identifying as British and Ulster and a rise in those identifying as Northern Irish. The 2008 survey found that 61% of Catholics described themselves as Irish, with 25% identifying as Northern Irish, 8% as British and 1% as Ulster. These figures were largely unchanged from the 1998 results.
...it is the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly [the two governments] confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.
Map of most commonly held passport
As a result of the Agreement, the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland
was amended. The current wording provides that people born in Northern Ireland are entitled to be Irish citizens on the same basis as people from any other part of the island.
Neither government, however, extends its citizenship to all persons born in Northern Ireland. Both governments exclude some people born in Northern Ireland, in particular persons born without one parent who is a British or Irish citizen. The Irish restriction was given effect by the twenty-seventh amendment to the Irish Constitution
in 2004. The position in UK nationality law is that most of those born in Northern Ireland are UK nationals, whether or not they so choose. Renunciation of British citizenship requires the payment of a fee, currently £372.
In the 2011 census
in Northern Ireland respondents stated that they held the following passports.
The British government
in 2001 ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
. Irish (in Northern Ireland) was specified under Part III of the Charter, with a range of specific undertakings in relation to education, translation of statutes, interaction with public authorities, the use of placenames, media access, support for cultural activities and other matters. A lower level of recognition was accorded to Ulster Scots, under Part II of the Charter.
The dialect of English spoken in Northern Ireland shows influence from the lowland Scots language
There are supposedly some minute differences in pronunciation between Protestants and Catholics, for instance; the name of the letter h
, which Protestants tend to pronounce as "aitch", as in British English
, and Catholics tend to pronounce as "haitch", as in Hiberno-English
However, geography is a much more important determinant of dialect than religious background.
Percentage of people aged 3+ claiming to have some ability in Irish in the 2011 census
The Irish language (Irish
: an Ghaeilge
), or Gaelic
, is a native language of Ireland.
It was spoken predominantly throughout what is now Northern Ireland before the Ulster Plantations
in the 17th century and most place names in Northern Ireland are anglicised
versions of a Gaelic name. Today, the language is often associated with Irish nationalism (and thus with Catholics). However, in the 19th century, the language was seen as a common heritage, with Ulster Protestants playing a leading role in the Gaelic revival
In the 2011 census, 11% of the population of Northern Ireland claimed "some knowledge of Irish"
and 3.7% reported being able to "speak, read, write and understand" Irish.
In another survey, from 1999, 1% of respondents said they spoke it as their main language at home.
The dialect spoken in Northern Ireland, Ulster Irish, has two main types, East Ulster Irish and Donegal Irish (or West Ulster Irish),
is the one closest to Scottish Gaelic
(which developed into a separate language from Irish Gaelic in the 17th century). Some words and phrases are shared with Scots Gaelic, and the dialects of east Ulster – those of Rathlin Island
and the Glens of Antrim
– were very similar to the dialect of Argyll
, the part of Scotland nearest to Ireland. And those dialects of Armagh and Down were also very similar to the dialects of Galloway.
Use of the Irish language in Northern Ireland today is politically sensitive. The erection by some district councils
of bilingual street names in both English and Irish,
invariably in predominantly nationalist districts, is resisted by unionists who claim that it creates a "chill factor" and thus harms community relationships. Efforts by members of the Northern Ireland Assembly
to legislate for some official uses of the language have failed to achieve the required cross-community support, and the UK government has declined to legislate. There has recently been an increase in interest in the language among unionists in East Belfast.
Percentage of people aged 3+ claiming to have some ability in Ulster Scots in the 2011 census
Ulster Scots comprises varieties of the Scots language
spoken in Northern Ireland. For a native English speaker, "[Ulster Scots] is comparatively accessible, and even at its most intense can be understood fairly easily with the help of a glossary."
Along with the Irish language, the Good Friday Agreement recognised the dialect as part of Northern Ireland's unique culture and the St Andrews Agreement
recognised the need to "enhance and develop the Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture".
Approximately 2% of the population claim to speak Ulster Scots.
However, the number speaking it as their main language in their home is negligible,
with only 0.9% of 2011 census respondents claiming to be able to speak, read, write and understand Ulster-Scots. 8.1% professed to have "some ability" however.
Irish Sign Language (ISL) has some influence from the French family of sign language, which includes American Sign Language
(ASL). NISL takes a large component from the British family of sign language (which also includes Auslan
) with many borrowings from ASL. It is described as being related to Irish Sign Language at the syntactic
level while much of the lexicon
is based on British Sign Language
As of March 2004 the British Government
recognises only British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language as the official sign languages used in Northern Ireland.
Since the end of the Troubles, Northern Ireland has witnessed rising numbers of tourists. Attractions include cultural festivals, musical and artistic traditions, countryside and geographical sites of interest, public houses
, welcoming hospitality and sports (especially golf and fishing). Since 1987 public houses
have been allowed to open on Sundays, despite some opposition.
The logo for the Northern Ireland assembly is based on the flower of the flax
Northern Ireland comprises a patchwork of communities whose national loyalties are represented in some areas by flags flown from flagpoles or lamp posts. The Union Jack
and the former Northern Ireland flag
are flown in many loyalist areas, and the Tricolour, adopted by republicans as the flag of Ireland
is flown in some republican areas. Even kerbstones
in some areas are painted red-white-blue or green-white-orange, depending on whether local people express unionist/loyalist or nationalist/republican sympathies.
The official flag is that of the state having sovereignty over the territory, i.e. the Union Flag.
The former Northern Ireland flag, also known as the "Ulster Banner
" or "Red Hand Flag", is a banner derived from the coat of arms of the Government of Northern Ireland
until 1972. Since 1972, it has had no official status. The Union Flag and the Ulster Banner are used exclusively by unionists. UK flags policy states that in Northern Ireland, "The Ulster flag and the Cross of St Patrick
have no official status and, under the Flags Regulations, are not permitted to be flown from Government Buildings."
Northern Irish murals
have become well-known features of Northern Ireland, depicting past and present events and documenting peace and cultural diversity. Almost 2,000 murals have been documented in Northern Ireland since the 1970s.
In Northern Ireland, sport is popular and important in the lives of many people. Sports tend to be organised on an all-Ireland
basis, with a single team for the whole island.
The most notable exception is association football, which has separate governing bodies for each jurisdiction.
is a particularly popular sport during the summer months, with the main meetings of the season attracting some of the largest crowds to any outdoor sporting event in the whole of Ireland
Two of the three major international road race meetings are held in Northern Ireland, these being the North West 200
and the Ulster Grand Prix
. In addition racing on purpose built circuits take place at Kirkistown
and Bishop's Court,
whilst smaller road race meetings are held such as the Cookstown 100
, the Armoy Road Races
and the Tandragee 100
all of which form part of the Irish National Road Race Championships
and which have produced some of the greatest motorcycle racers in the history of the sport, notably Joey Dunlop
Although Northern Ireland lacks an international automobile racecourse, two Northern Irish drivers have finished inside the top two of Formula One
, with John Watson
achieving the feat in 1982
and Eddie Irvine
doing the same in 1999
. The largest course and the only MSA
-licensed track for UK-wide competition is Kirkistown
The Ireland A rugby league team compete annually in the Amateur Four Nations competition (since 2002) and the St Patrick's Day Challenge (since 1995).
In 2007, after the closure of UCW (Ulster Championship Wrestling) which was a wrestling promotion, PWU formed, standing for Pro Wrestling Ulster. The wrestling promotion features championships, former WWE superstars
and local independent wrestlers. Events and IPPV's throughout Northern Ireland.
Unlike most areas of the United Kingdom, in the last year of primary school, many children sit entrance examinations for grammar schools
, which attempt to ensure a balance in enrolment between pupils of Protestant, Roman Catholic and other faiths (or none), are becoming increasingly popular, although Northern Ireland still has a primarily de facto
religiously segregated education system. In the primary school sector, 40 schools (8.9% of the total number) are integrated schools and 32 (7.2% of the total number) are Irish language-medium schools
356 species of marine algae
have been recorded in the north-east of Ireland. As Counties Londonderry, Antrim and Down are the only three counties of Northern Ireland with a shoreline this will apply to all Northern Ireland. 77 species are considered rare having been recorded rarely.
Media and communications
has a division called BBC Northern Ireland
with headquarters in Belfast and operates BBC One Northern Ireland
and BBC Two Northern Ireland
. As well as broadcasting standard UK-wide programmes, BBC NI produces local content, including a news break-out called BBC Newsline
. The ITV
franchise in Northern Ireland is UTV
. The state-owned Channel 4
and the privately owned Channel 5
also broadcast in Northern Ireland. Access is available to satellite and cable services.
All Northern Ireland viewers must obtain a UK TV licence to watch live television transmissions.
, the national broadcaster of the Republic of Ireland, is available over the air to most parts of Northern Ireland via reception overspill
and via satellite and cable. Since the digital TV switchover, RTÉ One
and the Irish-language channel TG4
, are now available over the air on the UK's Freeview system from transmitters within Northern Ireland.
Although they are transmitted in standard definition, a Freeview HD box or television is required for reception.
As well as the standard UK-wide radio stations from the BBC, Northern Ireland is home to many local radio stations, such as Cool FM
, and Q102.9
. The BBC has two regional radio stations which broadcast in Northern Ireland, BBC Radio Ulster
and BBC Radio Foyle
Northern Ireland uses the same telecommunications and postal services as the rest of the United Kingdom at standard domestic rates and there are no mobile roaming charges between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
People in Northern Ireland who live close to the border with the Republic of Ireland may inadvertently switch over to the Irish mobile networks, causing international roaming fees to be applied.
Calls from landlines in Northern Ireland to numbers in the Republic of Ireland are charged at the same rate as those to numbers in Great Britain, while landline numbers in Northern Ireland can similarly be called from the Republic of Ireland at domestic rates, using the 048
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- ^ Examples of usage of this term include Radio Ulster, Ulster Orchestra and RUC; political parties such as the Ulster Unionist Party'; paramilitary organisations including the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Volunteer Force; and political campaigns such as "Ulster Says No" and "Save Ulster from Sodomy".
- ^ Parliamentary Reports of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, Volume 20 (1937) and The Times, 6 January 1949; C.M. 1(49) – UK Cabinet meeting held on 12 January 1949. C.M. 1(49). – See also Alternative names for Northern Ireland
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- ^ How much do you know about 'Norn Iron'?, British Embassy Ashgabat
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Many Nationalists use the name County Derry.
Wikipedia policy is to use Londonderry for the county and Derry for the city. The name usage does not indicate an endorsement for either community's opinions.
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- ^ a b c d Part of Belfast metropolitan area
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- ^ a b c Census 2011
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- ^ Breen, R., Devine, P. and Dowds, L. (editors), 1996: ISBN 0-86281-593-2. Chapter 2 'Who Wants a United Ireland? Constitutional Preferences among Catholics and Protestants' by Richard Breen (1996), in, Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland: The Fifth Report Retrieved 24 August 2006; Summary: In 1989—1994, 79% Protestants replied "British" or "Ulster", 60% of Catholics replied "Irish."
- ^ Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, 1999; Module:Community Relations, Variable:NINATID Summary:72% of Protestants replied "British". 68% of Catholics replied "Irish".
- ^ Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey. Module:Community Relations. Variable:BRITISH. Summary: 78% of Protestants replied "Strongly British."
- ^ Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, 1999; Module:Community Relations, Variable:IRISH Summary: 77% of Catholics replied "Strongly Irish."
- ^ Institute of Governance, 2006 "National identities in the UK: do they matter?" Briefing No. 16, January 2006; Retrieved from "IoG_Briefing" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 August 2006. (211 KB) on 24 August 2006. Extract: "Three-quarters of Northern Ireland's Protestants regard themselves as British, but only 12 percent of Northern Ireland's Catholics do so. Conversely, a majority of Catholics (65%) regard themselves as Irish, whilst very few Protestants (5%) do likewise. Very few Catholics (1%) compared to Protestants (19%) claim an Ulster identity but a Northern Irish identity is shared in broadly equal measure across religious traditions."Details from attitude surveys are in Demographics and politics of Northern Ireland.
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- ^ The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (No. 759 (N.I. 5))
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- ^ Northern Ireland LIFE & TIMES Survey: Do you yourself speak Ulster-Scots?
- ^ Janzen, Terry (2005). Topics in Signed Language Interpreting: Theory And Practice. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 256 & 265. ISBN 978-90-272-1669-4. OCLC 60742155. Retrieved 22 June 2008.
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- ^ Alan O'Day, ed. (1987), Reactions To Irish Nationalism, 1865–1914, London: Hambledon Press, With the Rising of 1916 a break took place in national symbolism which was most visibly manifested in the national flag and the anthem which the young Irish nation accepted. The demise of the Parliamentary Party stands in direct parallel to the just as rapidly diminishing power of its symbols. The green flag and 'God save Ireland' began to be discredited as symbols of constitutional nationalism and, instead, the symbols of revolutionary nationalism gained popularity as the majority of the Irish people identified itself with the political aims of the Easter revolutionaries. The use of symbols made apparent that the occurrences of 1916 initiated a new epoch in Irish history much in the same as the Union of 1801 and the Famine of 1845–8 did.
Both the national flag and the national anthem of present-day Ireland drive origins directly from the Rising. At first it still appeared as if the revolutionaries would take over the old symbols because on the roof of their headquarters, the Dublin General Post Office, a green flag with the harp was hoisted next to the republican tricolour although with the inscription 'Irish Republic'. Even 'Got save Ireland' was sung by the revolutionaries during Easter week. But after the failure of the Rising and the subsequent executions of the leading revolutionaries the tricolour and 'The Soldier's Song' became more and more popular as symbols of the rebellion.
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- ^ a b How do other sports in the island cope with the situation? The Herald, 3 April 2008
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