Many non-Irish people ask "What is the difference between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland?".
The Short Answer
- Ireland is a single island, situated next to Britain, but there are two countries on the island
- The Republic of Ireland makes up most of the island
- The Republic of Ireland is an independent sovereign state
- Northern Ireland makes up the northeastern part of the island
- Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Some More Details
- The Republic of Ireland is not part of the United Kingdom
- Along with Northern Ireland, the other countries of the UK are England, Scotland and Wales and some smaller islands
- The Republic of Ireland is usually referred to as Ireland
- When people say Ireland, they usually mean the Republic of Ireland, but sometimes they mean the whole island of Ireland
- Northern Ireland is usually called the North by people living in the south; while Northerners call the Republic the South
- Protestants living in Northern Ireland sometimes refer to their country as Ulster, but Ulster is also a larger province, encompassing Northern Ireland and three counties in the Republic
- Catholics living in Northern Ireland sometimes refer to their country as the Six Counties, and sometimes call the Republic the Free State
There are not much day-to-day differences between one part of the island and the other. The main ones are:
- The currency used in the Republic of Ireland is the Euro, while in Northern Ireland people use the UK currency (sterling)
- In the Republic of Ireland all speed limits on road signs are indicated in kilometres per hour. In Northern Ireland, speed limits are indicated in miles per hour -- watch out for this.
- In Northern Ireland, you will see an (increasingly smaller) number of food or UK retail outlets, such as Sainsburys, that do not have any presence in the Republic of Ireland.
The Good Friday Agreement
The Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement, was signed in April 1998, and was approved by people in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, in a referendum held in May 1998.
The Agreement was a recognition that:
- the majority of the population of Northern Ireland wanted to remain a part of the United Kingdom
- a substantial section of the population of Northern Ireland, and the majority of the people of the island of Ireland, wanted to bring about a united Ireland
The agreement acknowledged that both these viewpoints were equally legitimate.
Northern Ireland is to remain part of the United Kingdom unless or until a majority of the population of
a) Northern Ireland
b) the Republic of Ireland
wants the status of Northern Ireland to change.
If this ever comes about, then both the British and Irish governments are under a binding obligation to change the status of Northern Ireland and, presumably, bring about a united Ireland.