The Troubles (Irish: Na Triobloidi) is the most common term for the ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland that spilled over at various times into the Republic of Ireland, England and mainland Europe. The duration of the Troubles is conventionally dated from the late 1960s and considered by many to have ended with the Belfast "Good Friday" Agreement of 1998. However, sporadic violence has continued since then.
The key issues at stake in The Troubles were the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the relationship between its mainly Protestant unionist community and its mainly Catholic nationalist community. Unionists and loyalists generally want Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom while Irish nationalists and republicans generally want it to leave the United Kingdom and join a united Ireland. The Troubles involved republican and loyalist paramilitaries, the security forces of the United Kingdom and of the Republic of Ireland, and politicians and political activists.
"The Troubles" refers to the three decades of violence between elements of Northern Ireland's nationalist community (mainly self-identified as Irish and/or Roman Catholic) and its unionist community (mainly self-identified as British and/or Protestant). Use of the term "the Troubles" has been raised at Northern Ireland Assembly level, as some considered this period of conflict to have been a war. The conflict was the result of discrimination against the Nationalist/Catholic minority by the Unionist/Protestant majority and the question of Northern Ireland's status within the United Kingdom. The violence was characterised by the armed campaigns of Irish republican and Ulster loyalist paramilitary groups. These included the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) campaign of 1969–1997, intended to end British rule in Northern Ireland and to reunite Ireland politically and thus create a 32-county Irish Republic; and of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), formed in 1966 in response to the perceived erosion of both the British character of, and unionist domination of, Northern Ireland. The state security forces—the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)—were also involved in the violence.
The British government's view was 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. Irish republicans, however, regarded the state forces as forces of occupation and combatants in the conflict, noting collusion between the state forces and the loyalist paramilitaries. The "Ballast" investigation by the Police Ombudsman has confirmed that British forces—and in particular the RUC—did on several occasions collude with loyalist paramilitaries, were involved in murder, and furthermore did obstruct the course of justice when claims of collusion and murder were investigated. The extent of collusion is still hotly disputed. Unionists claim that reports of collusion were either false or highly exaggerated and that there were also instances of collusion between the authorities of the Republic of Ireland and republican paramilitaries.
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 therein.
The Troubles were brought to an uneasy end by a peace process that included the declaration of ceasefires by most paramilitary organisations, the complete decommissioning of the IRA's weapons, the reform of the police, and the corresponding withdrawal of the British Army from the streets and 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"). The agreement reiterated the long-held British position, which successive Irish governments have not fully acknowledged, that Northern Ireland would remain within the United Kingdom, unless a majority of Northern Irish vote otherwise.
On the other hand, the British government recognised for the first time 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 both nationalists and republicans. It also established a devolved power-sharing government within Northern Ireland (which had been suspended from 14 October 2002 until 8 May 2007), wherein the government must consist of both unionist and nationalist parties.
Though the number of active participants in the Troubles was relatively small, the Troubles touched the lives of many in Northern Ireland on a daily basis, while occasionally spreading to the Republic of Ireland and England.