|Facts & Figures|
Status: Part of United Kingdom
First Minister: (suspended Oct.
Land area: 5,452 sq mi (14,121 sq km)
Population (1998 est.): 1,688,600
Capital and largest city (2003 est.):
Belfast, 484,800 (metro. area), 246,200 (city proper)
Monetary unit: British pound sterling
Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, Roman
Major sources and definitions
More Facts & Figures
Northern Ireland is composed of 26 districts, derived from the boroughs
of Belfast and Londonderry and the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down,
Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone. Together they are commonly called
Ulster, though the territory does not include the entire ancient province
of Ulster. It is slightly larger than Connecticut.
Northern Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom, but under
the terms of the Government of Ireland Act in 1920, it had a
semiautonomous government. In 1972, however, after three years of
sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics that resulted in more
than 400 dead and thousands injured, Britain suspended the Ulster
parliament. The Ulster counties were governed directly from London after
an attempt to return certain powers to an elected assembly in Belfast.
As a result of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, a new coalition
government was formed on Dec. 2, 1999, with the British government
formally transferring governing power to the Northern Irish parliament.
David Trimble, Protestant leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and
winner of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize, became first minister. The
government has been suspended four times since then; it has remained
suspended since Oct. 14, 2002.
Ulster was part of Catholic Ireland until the reign of Elizabeth I
(1558–1603) when, after suppressing three Irish rebellions, the
Crown confiscated lands in Ireland and settled the Scots Presbyterians in
Ulster. Another rebellion in 1641–1651, brutally crushed by Oliver
Cromwell, resulted in the settlement of Anglican Englishmen in Ulster.
Subsequent political policy favoring Protestants and disadvantaging
Catholics encouraged further Protestant settlement in Northern
Northern Ireland did not separate from the South until William
Gladstone presented, in 1886, his proposal for home rule in Ireland. The
Protestants in the North feared domination by the Catholic majority.
Industry, moreover, was concentrated in the North and dependent on the
British market. When World War I began, civil war threatened between the
regions. Northern Ireland, however, did not become a political entity
until the six counties accepted the Home Rule Bill of 1920. This set up a
semiautonomous parliament in Belfast and a Crown-appointed governor
advised by a cabinet of the prime minister and 8 ministers, as well as a
12-member representation in the House of Commons in London.