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Great Britain and Northern Ireland: The Depressing Place in the Kingdom

Great Britain has had problems with Northern Ireland for 102 years. But people prefer to keep quiet about it in public – like after an explosion in London in 2004.

People jump over the fence of a cemetery that also has an Irish flag on it

On the sidelines of a protest against the Good Friday Agreement in Londonderry in April Photo: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

In 2004, a major explosion occurred in one of London’s prime residential areas. No one was injured, but the neighborhood was in turmoil. The target of the attack was most likely a prominent politician who had played a role in the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland. The next day, not a word about the incident appeared in the press.

The government had issued a Defense and Security Media Advisory Notice (DSMA) to the media, a “recommendation” not to report on it for national security reasons. DSMAs are a British specialty. It is not known how frequently they are ordered and how often they are followed by the press.

In the past, there have been repeated scandals when their abuse became known: in the Wikileaks case or when an attempt was made to cover up incompetence in 2008 (a high-ranking official had left a laptop containing classified information on the train).

In the 2004 housing explosion, however, there was a better reason for the DSMA: Prime Minister Tony Blair had negotiated the Good Friday Agreement for Northern Ireland six years earlier. However, members of the New IRA had no desire to retire; they were vying for attention. The announcement of an explosion in the middle of London would have fulfilled their wishes and meant a setback for the peace process. For this reason, it was decided that the explosion simply had not occurred.

Documentaries about troubles in the 1970s

Northern Ireland has been a simmering problem for 102 years. If you asked the average Briton how they feel about Northern Ireland, they would first say that they have never been there (“depressing place”) and that they have now had enough of documentaries about the Troubles of the 1970s. Few people care that Northern Ireland has had no government since February 2022. The 1.8 million inhabitants are governed from London anyway, where an entire ministry is responsible for them.

All of this costs a fortune, but no British party wants to unite Ireland with Northern Ireland: for the Tories, that would be a concession to Ireland and thus to the EU. And Labor fears that if Northern Ireland leaves, Wales and Scotland will want to follow. In Scotland in particular, Labor secured a small electoral victory against the Scottish nationalists this month. This could be important in the 2024 general election.

Being a journalist or a police officer is traditionally a dangerous career choice here

The problems in Northern Ireland are therefore preferred to be ignored by everyone. The Protestant Orangemen march undaunted and their Catholic opponents do not sleep. In 2019 the Journalist Lyra McKee shot “accidentally” by the New IRA. The detective investigating her case was shot in 2023.

Northern Ireland Police data leak in 2023

In August there was a massive data leak in the Northern Irish police – the names and units of 10,000 police officers were suddenly online for three hours. Some of them had not told their acquaintances that they worked for the police out of fear of social ostracism. Being a journalist or police officer in Northern Ireland is traditionally a dangerous career choice.

From a purely demographic point of view, it would be obvious if Northern Ireland and Ireland were finally united: there are now more Catholics than Protestants living in Northern Ireland. But the Crown also doesn’t want to lose Northern Ireland under any circumstances. King Charles III shares the strong sense of ownership of his ancestor Queen Victoria. She thought little of the Irish and vehemently opposed Irish self-government in the 19th century. Her motto for all kinds of possessions was always: “Don’t give away what you have.”

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