On 28 July , the Provisional IRA declared an end to its campaign and has since decommissioned what is thought to be all of its arsenal. This final act of decommissioning was performed in accordance with the Belfast Agreement of and under the watch of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and two external church witnesses. Many unionists, however, remain sceptical. The International Commission later confirmed that the main loyalist paramilitary groups, the UDA, UVF and the Red Hand Commando, had decommissioned what is thought to be all of their arsenals, witnessed by a former archbishop and a former top civil servant.
Politicians elected to the Assembly at the Assembly election were called together on 15 May under the Northern Ireland Act  for the purpose of electing a First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and choosing the members of an Executive before 25 November as a preliminary step to the restoration of devolved government.
The main political divide in Northern Ireland is between unionists, who wish to see Northern Ireland continue as part of the United Kingdom, and nationalists, who wish to see Northern Ireland unified with the Republic of Ireland, independent from the United Kingdom. These two opposing views are linked to deeper cultural divisions. Unionists are predominantly Ulster Protestant , descendants of mainly Scottish , English, and Huguenot settlers as well as Gaels who converted to one of the Protestant denominations.
Nationalists are overwhelmingly Catholic and descend from the population predating the settlement, with a minority from the Scottish Highlands as well as some converts from Protestantism. Discrimination against nationalists under the Stormont government — gave rise to the civil rights movement in the s. While some unionists argue that discrimination was not just due to religious or political bigotry, but also the result of more complex socio-economic, socio-political and geographical factors,  its existence, and the manner in which nationalist anger at it was handled, were a major contributing factor to the Troubles.
The political unrest went through its most violent phase between and Opinion polls consistently show that the election results are not necessarily an indication of the electorate's stance regarding the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. Most of the population of Northern Ireland are at least nominally Christian, mostly Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations.
For the most part, Protestants feel a strong connection with Great Britain and wish for Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Many Catholics however, generally aspire to a United Ireland or are less certain about how to solve the constitutional question. Protestants have a slight majority in Northern Ireland, according to the latest Northern Ireland Census.
The make-up of the Northern Ireland Assembly reflects the appeals of the various parties within the population. Of the Members of the Legislative Assembly MLAs , 56 are unionists and 40 are nationalists the remaining 12 are classified as "other". Since , Northern Ireland has had devolved government within the United Kingdom, presided over by the Northern Ireland Assembly and a cross-community government the Northern Ireland Executive.
Reserved matters comprise listed policy areas such as civil aviation , units of measurement , and human genetics that Parliament may devolve to the Assembly some time in the future. Excepted matters such as international relations , taxation and elections are never expected to be considered for devolution.
On all other governmental matters, the Executive together with the member Assembly may legislate for and govern Northern Ireland. Additionally, "in recognition of the Irish Government's special interest in Northern Ireland", the Government of Ireland and Government of the United Kingdom co-operate closely on non-devolved matters through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. Elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly are by single transferable vote with five Members of the Legislative Assembly MLAs elected from each of 18 parliamentary constituencies.
In addition, eighteen representatives Members of Parliament, MPs are elected to the lower house of the UK parliament from the same constituencies using the first-past-the-post system.
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However, not all of those elected take their seats. In addition, the upper house of the UK parliament, the House of Lords , currently has some 25 appointed members from Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland itself forms a single constituency for elections to the European Parliament. Additionally, the Republic's government also has the right to "put forward views and proposals" on non-devolved matters in relation to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is a distinct legal jurisdiction , separate from the two other jurisdictions in the United Kingdom England and Wales , and Scotland.
Northern Ireland law developed from Irish law that existed before the partition of Ireland in Northern Ireland is a common law jurisdiction and its common law is similar to that in England and Wales. However, there are important differences in law and procedure between Northern Ireland and England and Wales.
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There is no generally accepted term to describe what Northern Ireland is: province, region, country or something else. Owing in part to the way in which the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland, came into being, there is no legally defined term to describe what Northern Ireland 'is'. There is also no uniform or guiding way to refer to Northern Ireland amongst the agencies of the UK government.
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Unlike England, Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland has no history of being an independent country or of being a nation in its own right. Many commentators prefer to use the term "province", although that is also not without problems. It can arouse irritation, particularly among nationalists, for whom the title province is properly reserved for the traditional province of Ulster, of which Northern Ireland comprises six out of nine counties.
Some authors have described the meaning of this term as being equivocal: referring to Northern Ireland as being a province both of the United Kingdom and of the traditional country of Ireland. Some authors choose this word but note that it is "unsatisfactory". Many people inside and outside Northern Ireland use other names for Northern Ireland, depending on their point of view. Disagreement on names, and the reading of political symbolism into the use or non-use of a word, also attaches itself to some urban centres.
The most notable example is whether Northern Ireland's second city should be called "Derry" or "Londonderry". Choice of language and nomenclature in Northern Ireland often reveals the cultural, ethnic and religious identity of the speaker. Those who do not belong to any group but lean towards one side often tend to use the language of that group. Although some news bulletins since the s have opted to avoid all contentious terms and use the official name, Northern Ireland, the term "the North" remains commonly used by broadcast media in the Republic. Northern Ireland was covered by an ice sheet for most of the last ice age and on numerous previous occasions, the legacy of which can be seen in the extensive coverage of drumlins in Counties Fermanagh, Armagh, Antrim and particularly Down.
The largest island of Northern Ireland is Rathlin , off the north Antrim coast. There are substantial uplands in the Sperrin Mountains an extension of the Caledonian mountain belt with extensive gold deposits, granite Mourne Mountains and basalt Antrim Plateau , as well as smaller ranges in South Armagh and along the Fermanagh—Tyrone border.
Belfast's most prominent peak is Cavehill. The volcanic activity which created the Antrim Plateau also formed the eerily geometric pillars of the Giant's Causeway on the north Antrim coast. The Lower and Upper River Bann , River Foyle and River Blackwater form extensive fertile lowlands, with excellent arable land also found in North and East Down, although much of the hill country is marginal and suitable largely for animal husbandry.
The valley of the River Lagan is dominated by Belfast, whose metropolitan area includes over a third of the population of Northern Ireland, with heavy urbanisation and industrialisation along the Lagan Valley and both shores of Belfast Lough. The vast majority of Northern Ireland has a temperate maritime climate , Cfb in the Koeppen climate classification rather wetter in the west than the east, although cloud cover is very common across the region.
The weather is unpredictable at all times of the year, and although the seasons are distinct, they are considerably less pronounced than in interior Europe or the eastern seaboard of North America. Average daytime maximums in Belfast are 6. The highest maximum temperature recorded was Northern Ireland is the least forested part of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and one of the least forested parts of Europe. These counties are no longer used for local government purposes; instead, there are eleven districts of Northern Ireland which have different geographical extents.
These were created in , replacing the twenty-six districts which previously existed. Although counties are no longer used for local governmental purposes, they remain a popular means of describing where places are.
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They are officially used while applying for an Irish passport , which requires one to state one's county of birth. The name of that county then appears in both Irish and English on the passport's information page, as opposed to the town or city of birth on the United Kingdom passport. The Gaelic Athletic Association still uses the counties as its primary means of organisation and fields representative teams of each GAA county.
The original system of car registration numbers largely based on counties still remains in use. In , the telephone numbering system was restructured into an 8 digit scheme with except for Belfast the first digit approximately reflecting the county. With their decline in official use, there is often confusion surrounding towns and cities which lie near county boundaries, such as Belfast and Lisburn , which are split between counties Down and Antrim the majorities of both cities, however, are in Antrim.
Northern Ireland has traditionally had an industrial economy, most notably in shipbuilding, rope manufacture and textiles, but most heavy industry has since been replaced by services, primarily the public sector. Seventy percent of the economy's revenue comes from the service sector. Tourism has been a major growth area since the end of the Troubles. Key tourism attractions include the historic cities of Derry, Belfast and Armagh and the many castles in Northern Ireland.
These large firms are attracted by government subsidies and the skilled workforce in Northern Ireland. The local economy has seen contraction during the Great Recession. In response, the Northern Ireland Assembly has sent trade missions abroad. The Executive wishes to gain taxation powers from London, to align Northern Ireland's corporation tax rate with the unusually low rate of the Republic of Ireland.
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Northern Ireland has underdeveloped transport infrastructure , with most infrastructure concentrated around Greater Belfast, Greater Derry and Craigavon. Passenger railways are operated by Northern Ireland Railways. The only preserved line of this gauge is the Downpatrick and County Down Railway. The cross-border road connecting the ports of Larne in Northern Ireland and Rosslare Harbour in the Republic of Ireland is being upgraded as part of an EU-funded scheme.
The population of Northern Ireland has risen yearly since The population in was 1. The population of Northern Ireland is almost entirely white The largest non-white ethnic groups were Chinese 6, and Indian 6, Black people of various origins made up 0. At the census, In terms of community background i.
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Lisburn Newry. In the census in Northern Ireland respondents gave their national identity as follows. Several studies and surveys carried out between and have indicated that, in general, most Protestants in Northern Ireland see themselves primarily as British, whereas a majority of Roman Catholics regard themselves primarily as Irish. Overall, the Catholic population is somewhat more ethnically diverse than the more homogeneous Protestant population. Meanwhile, A further 4.
Compared to a similar survey carried out in , this shows a fall in the percentage of Protestants identifying as British and Ulster and a rise in those identifying as Northern Irish. These figures were largely unchanged from the results. They are also, with similar exceptions, entitled to be citizens of Ireland. This entitlement was reaffirmed in the Good Friday Agreement between the British and Irish governments, which provides that:.
As a result of the Agreement, the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland was amended.