The seed of the conflict was planted in 1921 when the Anglo-Irish Treaty granted most of the island of Ireland autonomy from Britain, but maintained British rule over six northern counties with a large Protestant population.
In the late 1960s, tensions between Catholic Republicans and members of the pro-British Unionist majority spilled over into riots. British troops were deployed on the streets.
The Irish Republican Army (IRA), originally the name given to a militia that fought for Irish independence in the early part of the century, re-emerged. From 1972 onwards the splinter Provisional IRA took over the mantle of the armed struggle against British rule.
In all, more than 3,600 people died in the conflict, including more than 1,000 members of the British security forces, and more than 36,000 were injured.
In a joint Anglo-Irish declaration in 1993, Britain said it would not block an end to British rule in Northern Ireland if a majority wanted it, and offered Sinn Fein a seat at peace talks if the IRA renounced violence. Talks followed.
The Good Friday Agreement, signed in April 1998, created a power-sharing assembly and government for Northern Ireland.
Disagreements over disarmament and the establishment of a new police service for the province brought suspensions, but devolved rule was definitively restored in 2007 when Protestant Unionist leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness were sworn in as first minister and deputy first minister.
The current crisis
In January 2017, McGuinness resigned in protest over First Minister Arlene Foster’s handling of a botched green energy scheme that left the administration facing an overspend bill of around £500 million (Dh2.2 billion). The executive falls a week later and a snap election is called.
McGuinness announces he will not stand for re-election. Michelle O’Neill is named the new leader of Sinn Fein at Stormont.
In March 2017, Sinn Fein made major gains in the snap Assembly election, cutting what was a 10-seat gap from the DUP to a solitary seat. The long-standing unionist majority within the Assembly goes.
McGuinness died on March. Talks continue, but are suspended for the June 2017 UK general election. There, DUP emerging as kingmaker for British Prime Minister Theresa May’s minority government.
Last Monday, May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announce they are travelling to Stormont on what is the 400th day of the crisis amid growing expectation a deal could be close. No deal is possible, and the talks collapsed fully on Wednesday.
— By Mick O’ Reilly Foreign Correspondent, and agencies