In 1910, John Redmond and the other Irish Nationalist MPs once more held the balance of power in the House of Commons. The price of their support for the government was a third Home Rule bill, which this time could not be blocked by the House of Lords. A southern Unionist, Sir Edward Carson, was selected to lead Unionists, and well over 400,000 people in Ulster signed a Covenant expressing their determination to use "all means which may be found necessary" to defeat Home Rule. When the unionist Ulster Volunteer Force smuggled rifles into Larne in 1914, and the nationalist Irish Volunteers smuggled a smaller shipment of rifles into a harbour near Dublin, Ulster seemed to be poised on the brink of civil war. Then, in August 1914, the Great War broke out, and the Home Rule issue was overshadowed by events elsewhere in Europe. The Home Rule bill was given Royal assent, but its operation was suspended until after the end of the war, when it was to be amended to make special provision for Ulster.
After the war, a fourth Home Rule bill, the Government of Ireland Act (1920), proposed two Parliaments: one for Northern Ireland (consisting of counties Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone) and one for Southern Ireland. The southern Parliament never functioned, but King George V opened the Parliament of Northern Ireland in June 1921. Towards the end of 1920, with violence on the increase, a Special Constabulary (including full-time A Specials and part-time B Specials) had already been set up to assist the RIC in Ulster. In April 1922, RIC men and many Specials applied to join the new police force for Northern Ireland called the Royal Ulster Constabulary. As a result of riots and the IRA campaign, 557 people were killed in the north between July 1920 and July 1922.
In Easter 1916, Republicans had led a rising in Dublin which cost 450 lives and resulted in the execution of 15 of their leaders. The Irish Volunteers (soon to be renamed the Irish Republican Army) started a violent campaign for independence in 1919, and the government responded in 1920 by recruiting British ex-servicemen (Auxiliaries and "Black and Tans") to join the RIC in the south. After negotiations in London, a Treaty was agreed in 1921 setting up a Free State in the south, with roughly the same degree of independence as Canada. Many IRA members opposed the terms of the Treaty, and this led to a civil war in the Free State between June 1922 and May 1923. The border between the Free State and Northern Ireland was not finally confirmed until 1925, when the governments agreed not to implement the changes proposed by the Boundary Commission.
During the Second World War from 1939 to 1945, Éire was the only Dominion to stay neutral, even though the British War Cabinet had offered in 1940 to make a statement in favour of a united Ireland in exchange for an end to southern neutrality. Recruitment was considerably lower than during the First World War, with an estimated 38,000 people from Northern Ireland and about 43,000 from Éire joining the British armed forces during the war. Because of southern neutrality, Northern Ireland played an important part in the war, providing bases for ships and aircraft to guard the Atlantic convoys against attacks from German U-boats. Belfast shipyards were the target of German bombs in April and May 1941, but many bombs landed in Belfast's crowded back streets, killing over 1000 people and destroying thousands of homes. When the United States entered the war, thousands of American soldiers were stationed in Northern Ireland, reaching a total of 120,000 before the Normandy landings.
By August 1969, mainly peaceful protest marches had given way to serious street violence, and soldiers were deployed to assist the police. By 1971, the newly formed Provisional IRA was carrying out frequent gun and bomb attacks on the security forces. The internment of IRA suspects failed to stop these attacks, and by the end of 1971 two loyalist groups, the Ulster Volunteer Force (revived in 1966) and the Ulster Defence Association (formed in 1971) had started to attack nationalist civilians in response to IRA attacks. A recent study has found that about 3,600 people have been killed during the "Troubles" between 1969 and 1998, and about 40,000 people injured. Republican terrorist groups were responsible for 2,001 killings, loyalist terrorist groups for 983, and the security forces (army and police) for 382. Since the collapse of the regional government at Stormont in 1972, there have been a number of attempts to find a new political settlement in Northern Ireland. Following ceasefires by the main terrorist groups in 1994 and 1997, an agreement was approved by a referendum in 1998, but serious differences remained between the political parties on the need to decommission illegally-held weapons.
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