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People voluntarily kill, or die, for collective
causes expressed in words that register their
group’s esteem, dignity and honour. Actions
that provoke and rekindle resentment are
catalysts of violence. Group-honour often
provokes more violence than considerations
of material self-interest, or material group-
interest. These propositions govern what
follows. Flatly stated, the IRA of 2005 has
fulfilled its original volunteers’ pledges, and
since its mission is accomplished, consistent
with its constitution, it may, should, and
likely will disband. This internally valid
constitutional dissolution should occur
because the governments of Ireland between
1922 and 1949, and subsequently the
governments of the United Kingdom and
Ireland have jointly removed the
constitutional resentment which created,
and maintained, the IRA’s reason for being.
The IRA’s existence after 1922 expressed
two forms of constitutional resentment:
at the Treaty of 1921 between Great
Britain and Ireland, which provocatively
required the Irish Free State to imbibe the
relics of British constitutionality,
particularly the oath of allegiance to the
Crown by members of Dáil Éireann, and
at the denial of the people of Ireland as a
whole of their right of self-determination,
usurped by the unilateral decision of the
Government of Great Britain to partition
Ireland in 1920.
These related resentments have now been
substantively redressed. The final
implementation of the comprehensive
Belfast/Good Friday Agreement of 1998 can
be seen as the culmination of the IRA’s
mission, though it is not just that.1
Mission Accomplished?
Looking Back at the IRA
Brendan O’Leary
The full implementation, on a progressive and irreversible
basis by the two governments, especially the British
government, of what they have agreed will provide a
political context, in an enduring political process, with
the potential to remove the causes of conflict and in
which Irish republicans and unionists can, as equals,
pursue our respective political objectives peacefully.
In that new context the IRA leadership will initiate a
process that will completely and verifiably put IRA arms
beyond use. We will do it in such a way as to avoid risk
to the public and misappropriation by others and ensure
maximum public confidence. From IRA Statement, 6 May 2000
1 For one detailed
analysis of the
Agreement see
Brendan O’Leary,
‘The Nature of the
Agreement’, New
Left Review, 233
(1999), 66–96.
H-Block 5, B-Wing
9/25, 2003. ©
Donovan Wylie/
Óglaigh na hÉireann
Analysis of the IRA must begin with its first
name, Óglaigh na hÉireann, its title in
Ireland’s official national language, and its
self-description in its official communiqués
signed by ‘P. O’Neill’ on behalf of the Irish
Republican Publicity Bureau.2IRA activists
sometimes refer to the organization as
‘ONH’, the acronym of its Gaelic name.
The etymology of Óglaigh na hÉireann is
significant: laoch means ‘hero, champion,
warrior, soldier’; and óg means ‘young’, and
so óglaigh came to mean ‘vassals’, ‘youths
of military age’, or ‘soldiers’, and finally
‘volunteers’.3Óglaigh na hÉireann therefore
comprises the ‘Volunteers of Ireland’, or
‘The Irish Volunteers’. The Volunteers had
been founded as Óglaigh na hÉireann in
1913, in response to the formation of the
Ulster Volunteer Force, a militia loyal to the
Ulster Unionist Party and determined to
oppose the granting of home rule to Ireland
by the Westminster parliament. Óglaigh na
hÉireann was the idea of the secret Irish
Republican Brotherhood (IRB), otherwise
known as the Fenians, who tried to run it as
a front organization, although it was
formally created by a broad coalition of the
Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Gaelic
Athletic Association (GAA) and Gaelic
League revivalists, i.e. by the major cultural
bodies of the Irish nationalist revival. The
Volunteers divided shortly after the start of
the Great War. The National Volunteers,
following John Redmond, the leader of the
Irish Parliamentary Party, took the majority
into the British army — on the
understanding that Great Britain would
honour its commitment to implement home
rule when the war was over. The minority
retained the founding organization’s title
deeds, and rejected service in another
English war, not least because home rule
had been postponed because of the
resistance of the Ulster Unionists. Óglaigh
na hÉireann organized military training. Its
members were subsequently partly
mobilized, through an IRB conspiracy, in
the launching of the insurrection of Easter
1916 — in which a Republic was
proclaimed in arms, but put down by forces
of the British Crown. At the start of the
insurrection Óglaigh na hÉireann was
renamed (in English), together with the Irish
Citizen Army, as the Irish Republican Army,
and it was as Commandant General of that
army that Pádraig Pearse surrendered.4
It was ‘Irish’ because of its national
identification; ‘Republican’ because militant
Irish nationalists since the late eighteenth
century have opposed British Crown
authority; and an ‘Army’ because only such
an organization is the legitimate defender of
a state or nation.
The Volunteers remained known by their
original English title for a while; and ever
since rank-and-file IRA members have been
known as ‘volunteers’. In October 1917 Sinn
Féin, the political party which had originally
stood for a separate Irish parliament under
the British Crown, was revitalized by an
influx of Volunteers, who elected Eamon de
Valera, the surviving leader of the 1916
insurrection, as the party’s president. Then
‘[u]nder the cover of the meeting, 250
delegates met in an Army Convention in the
GAA grounds, Croke Park. De Valera was
elected President, and Cathal Brugha Chief
of Staff, but the IRB was prominently
represented in the Staff: [Michael] Collins
was Director of Organization’.5The IRA
was now, in principle, subordinated to
political control by a party — which claimed
the right to speak for the nation, although it
was in practice significantly controlled by
Collins, now the President of the Supreme
Council of the IRB. While subordinated to
civilian authority the IRA had established its
internal democracy — a general convention,
and the election of the senior officers. The
IRA subsequently spearheaded Ireland’s War
of Independence between 1919 and 1921, in
conjunction with Sinn Féin, which was
victorious in Ireland in the Westminster
general elections held in 1918 — the first
held under full male suffrage and the
franchise for women over thirty. Sinn Féin
won on an explicit platform of
2 Selections of recent IRA
statements may be found
on Sinn Féin’s web-site:
a_statements. The BBC
has a collection of the
IRA’s statements
68.stm. The University of
Ulster’s CAIN web-site
has a collection of
statements from 1994:
3 Patrick Dineen, ed., An
Irish-English Dictionary:
Being a Thesaurus of the
Words, Phrases and
Idioms of the Modern
Irish Language (Dublin,
1927), 631, 807, 808
4 The name had an
antecedent: J. Bowyer
Bell, The Secret Army:
The IRA (New
Brunswick, NJ, rev. 3rd
edn. 1997), 15n.3, notes
that ‘As early as the
abortive Fenian invasion
of Canada in 1866, a
green flag was used with
the letters IRA.’
5 Bowyer Bell, Secret
Army, 17
‘abstentionism’.6Its MPs would not take
their seats at Westminster but instead would
constitute the deputies of the Irish
Two significant entities today call
themselves Óglaigh na hÉireann because
both claim to be the army of Ireland.
Ireland’s Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in
October 2004 pointedly said, ‘our
Constitution states there can be [only] one
Óglaigh na hÉireann. At the moment there
are two’. One is the official name of the
army of the sovereign, independent and
democratic republic of Ireland that
comprises twenty-six counties of the island,
and is a member-state of the European
Union and the United Nations. This Óglaigh
na hÉireann has never fought a foreign or
defensive war; it serves a state that is not
(yet) a member of NATO; and is typical of
the resource-starved military of a small
European ‘Venus’, best known for
participation in UN peacekeeping missions.
Under the Irish Free State (192237) it was
known only as Óglaigh na hÉireann, and
had no official English name. The other
Óglaigh na hÉireann is the secret army, the
IRA. The two ‘Óglaigh na hÉireann’,
official and unofficial, sprang from the
winners and losers, respectively, of the Irish
Civil War (192223). That war was
precipitated by the implementation of the
Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland,
which led to a division within the ranks of
the IRA, then over 100,000 strong. After
April 1922, there were two armies, one
loyal to the Free State’s provisional
government, the other to the IRA Executive.
Pro-Treaty volunteers joined the army of the
Irish Free State; anti-Treaty volunteers
insisted they constituted the true IRA.
Initial Constitutional Objectives
The reformed anti-Treaty IRAs initial
constitution, drafted in the spring of 1922,
before the onslaught of the Civil War, stated
The Army shall be known as the Irish
Republican Army. It shall be … a purely
volunteer Army ... Its objects shall be:
1. To safeguard the honour and
maintain the independence of the Irish
2. To protect the rights and liberties
common to the people of Ireland.
3. To place its services at the disposal of
an established Republican
Government which faithfully upholds
the above objects.7
Having ‘dumped arms’ — acknowledging
defeat in the Civil War in May 1923 — the
IRA amended its constitution in November
1925 to specify four objectives: guarding the
Republic’s honour and upholding its
sovereignty and unity; establishing and
upholding a legitimate Irish government
with total control over the Republic;
securing and defending citizens’ civil and
religious liberties and their equal rights and
opportunities; and, lastly (a new item),
reviving the Irish language and ‘promoting
the best characteristics of the Irish race’.
Aside from this addition of an ethno-
national agenda, the content was the same
as that of spring 1922.8
It is vital to understand the original three
quoted ‘objects’. The IRA was reformed by
those republicans, a majority of the
Volunteers, who regarded the Treaty signed
by Sinn Féin’s delegates in 1921 as a
fundamental betrayal of ‘the honour and
independence of the Irish Republic’. This
was, among other things, because the Treaty
acknowledged a continuing role for the
British king and his successors as the
(constitutional) monarch of Ireland, gave
Great Britain a right of ratification over the
permanent constitution of the Irish Free
State by requiring that the latter comply
with the Treaty, restricted Ireland’s
international sovereignty, and required the
Free State to make its key naval ports
available to the forces of the Crown. The
failure of the Treaty immediately to reverse
6 For fuller analyses of this
election see John
McGarry and Brendan
O’Leary, Explaining
Northern Ireland:
Broken Images (Oxford,
1995), ch. 1, and
Brendan O’Leary and
John McGarry, The
Politics of Antagonism:
Understanding Northern
Ireland (London, 2nd
edn. 1996), ch. 2.
7 Tim Pat Coogan, The
IRA (New York, 4th
edn. 2002), 3031
8 Constitution of Óglaigh
na hÉireann as Amended
by General Army
Convention, 1415 Nov.
1925, Blythe Papers
ADUCD P24/165 (10),
cited in Richard English,
Armed Struggle: The
History of the IRA
(Oxford and New York,
2003), 4243, 394n.3.
The word ‘race’ was
used the way people
today use ‘ethnic’, so it is
anachronistic — and
false — to interpret the
IRA’s mission as racist;
nationalism and racism
are not equivalents.
the partition of Ireland into two entities,
‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’, which the
Westminster parliament had authorized in
the Government of Ireland Act of 1920
without the consent of a single Irish MP,
was regarded by some, but not all,
opponents of the Treaty as an equally
fundamental betrayal of Ireland’s national
honour, rights, liberties and independence.
‘To protect the rights and liberties common
to the people of Ireland’, meant that the
IRA’s mission was to defend the right of the
people of Ireland to what today we would
call their human rights. It was also a
statement of inclusive civic republican
nationalism for Irish citizens, whatever their
origins, and of their collective right to
national self-determination.
The third object of the IRA, ‘to place its
services at the disposal of an established
Republican Government which faithfully
upholds the above objects’, warrants
detailed parsing. The IRA endorsed
republican — and democratic —
government, and, in principle, the
subordination of the army to an ‘established
Republican Government’, provided that
government faithfully upheld the honour
and independence and the rights and
liberties of the people of Ireland.
‘Established Republican Government’ was
code for the government created by ‘Dáil
Éireann’ — the Assembly of Ireland —
formed by the Sinn Féin members elected to
the Westminster parliament of 1918 who
had then proclaimed Ireland’s own
parliament. Its successor, the Second Dáil,
elected in 1921, had ‘established’ and sworn
its members’ loyalty to the Irish Republic
proclaimed in the rebellion of 1916.
In 1919, Cathal Brugha, Minister of
Defence in the Government created by Dáil
Éireann, had insisted that the IRA take an
oath of loyalty to Dáil Éireann — thereby
formally establishing civilian control of the
military in the new and emergent state, and
attempting to reduce the influence of the
IRB (and Collins) within the IRA. The
Treaty precisely required members of Dáil
Éireann to swear an oath of allegiance to
the British Crown, thereby repudiating the
establishment of the Republic. The
provocative British insistence on this new
oath, requiring deputies to foreswear their
solemn commitments, stuck in the throat of
republicans, many of whom were otherwise
prepared for political compromise, e.g.
Eamon de Valera, the then President of Dáil
Éireann, who had sought for Ireland to have
‘external association’ with, but not
membership of, the British Commonwealth,
and was willing to recognize the British king
as the head of the Commonwealth.
In the perspective of the new IRA’s
constitution, the deputies of Dáil Éireann
who obliged the Treaty by taking the oath,
had done what they had no right to do,
namely disestablish the Republic at British
insistence, and thereby dishonoured the
independence, rights, and liberties of the
people of Ireland.
The Treaty, made under the duress of David
Lloyd George’s threat of ‘immediate and
terrible war’, had been accepted by a bare
majority (3 to 2) of Ireland’s negotiators
(who had then signed en bloc), and by a
bare majority of the cabinet of Dáil Éireann
(4 to 3). The deputies who accepted the
Treaty included the majority of the second
Dáil Éireann, led by Michael Collins (then
President of the IRB), and Arthur Griffith,
the founder of Sinn Féin, who had endorsed
the Treaty as members of the negotiating
team and the cabinet. The deputies of Dáil
Éireann later dissolved themselves into the
new parliament (also called Dáil Éireann) of
the Irish Free State, which had ‘dominion
status’ within the British Empire, with the
British king as head of state. The defeated
minority of deputies became, in the vision of
the new anti-Treaty IRA, the upholders of
Ireland’s honourable independence, the
‘established’ Republic — and they, as the
rump ‘Second Dáil’, provided the legitimate
9 The most comprehensive
and elegant treatment of
the early Sinn Féin is
provided by Michael
Laffan, The Resurrection
of Ireland: The Sinn Féin
Party, 1916–1923
(Cambridge, 1999).
Brian Feeney, Sinn Féin:
A Hundred Turbulent
Years (Dublin, 2002),
161210, provides an
accurate, intelligent and
witty dissection of its
development between
1923 and 1969 (and
democratic authority for the IRA to oppose
the Treaty. After losing the Civil War, the
IRA did not disband, but endured as a
significant organization of trained soldiers
opposed to the Treaty and its consequences,
including the partition of Ireland. The split
within the IRA was mirrored at party level.
Sinn Féin divided: the majority forming
Cumann na nGaedheal (and the first
government of the Irish Free State), while
the minority maintained the title deeds to
Sinn Féin.9Most of the members of
Cumann na nGaedheal would later become,
in the 1930s, members of Fine Gael, the
party that was most committed to the
The majority of the deputies of Sinn Féin
left its ranks in 1926 to join the new Fianna
Fáil party, which was prepared to work the
dominion system while being committed to
removing every obnoxious vestige of the
Treaty from the constitution of independent
Ireland.10 In the meantime the IRA was
pledged, by its revised 1925 constitution,
provided the Republic was fully established,
to acknowledge the authority of such an
emergent entity: ‘The Army Council shall
have the power to delegate its powers to a
government which is actively endeavouring
to function as the de facto government of
the republic …When a government is [thus]
functioning … a General Army Convention
shall be convened to give the allegiance of
Óglaigh na hÉireann to such a
The IRA Between Two Wars in Ireland
The volatile, labyrinthine, public and secret
history of the IRA (or, as some would have
it, of the many IRAs) between 1923 and
1969 cannot be thoroughly traced here. It is
chronicled in a range of journalists’
narratives (Tim Pat Coogan, Peter Taylor,
Patrick Bishop and Eamonn Mallie), in the
memoirs of former IRA volunteers, and
sympathizers (notably Uinseann Mac Eoin),
and in more systematic appraisals by
contemporary historians (J. Bowyer Bell,
Richard English, Brian Hanley and Peter
Hart).12 The story in the standard accounts,
of course, is not one of complete coherence.
Contradictory dispositions in and actions by
the IRA abounded in the fifty years between
the onset of Ireland’s War of Independence
and the extensive ‘return’ of British troops
to Northern Ireland in 1969. The IRA
apparently did not believe that a majority,
even an Irish majority in the Dáil, had the
right to be wrong on the constitutional
status of Ireland — evidence of
‘vanguardism’ and ‘elitism’. Yet its
successive leaders genuinely sought to lead
(or assist) a popular revolution against three
régimes (in Belfast, Dublin and London). In
the 1920s and 1930s, the IRA commended
parliamentary abstentionism, which for
many became an article of faith as opposed
to a tactic, but one of its Army Council
members was elected to the Northern
Ireland parliament in 1933, and the
organization actively canvassed for Fianna
Fáil (which described itself as ‘The
Republican Party’ in English) in two critical
general elections in 1932 and 1933 — both
of which saw the anti-Treaty party returned
to power. The IRA’s membership was mostly
Catholic in its origins, but the Catholic
clergy and bishops of Ireland regularly
condemned it. The IRA proclaimed a civic
Irish republicanism, true to the heritage of
the eighteenth-century revolutionaries, the
United Irishmen, in which Protestants and
other minorities would have full citizenship
rights. Yet its leaders and members were
often regarded as ‘sectarian’ in practice. The
IRA was described as comprised of highly
localized sectarian militias, defenders of
Northern Irish Catholics, but also as
centralized internationalist left-wing
revolutionaries. In one decade, the 1930s,
the leadership of the IRA went from being
the Comintern’s closest ally in Ireland to
conspiring with Nazi Germany, under Sean
Russell, several years later, before returning
in the 1960s to an accommodation with
10 The Irish title of the new
party, ‘Soldiers of
Destiny’, had been the
slogan of the Irish
Volunteers, and had been
embroidered in their cap
bands: see Feeney, Sinn
Féin, 159.
11 English, Armed Struggle,
12 See Coogan, IRA, Part I;
Patrick Bishop and
Eamonn Mallie, The
Provisional IRA
(London, 1987), 188;
Peter Taylor, Provos: The
IRA and Sinn Féin
(London, revised and
updated edn. 1998),
120; Bowyer Bell, Secret
Army; English, Armed
Struggle, Part I; Brian
Hanley, The IRA,
1926–1936 (Dublin,
2002); Peter Hart, The
I.R.A. and its Enemies:
Violence and Community
in Cork, 1916–1923
(Oxford, 1998) and The
I.R.A. at War,
1916–1923 (Oxford,
2003); Uinseann Mac
Eoin, The IRA in the
Twilight Years:
1923–1948, History and
Politics (Dublin, 1997).
Argenta, the name of
Mac Eoin’s publisher,
signals the author’s
sympathies: it recalls the
ship on which IRA
members were interned
without trial in Northern
Ireland in 1922, on
which see Denise
Kleinrichert, Republican
Internment and the
Prison Ship Argenta,
1922 (Dublin, 2001).
13 From 1933, volunteers
were prohibited from
belonging to the
Communist Party by
General Army Order No.
4: see Bowyer Bell, Secret
Army, 246.
Marxists.13 In the early and mid-1930s, the
IRA ‘denounced partition, yet remained very
much an organization focused on the
overthrow of the southern rather than the
northern state. It trained for warfare, yet
often tried to prevent its members involving
themselves in confrontation with their
Yet despite multiple zigzags, not least in
orientation toward socialist politics in this
fifty-year interval, one can observe a
unifying theme across the IRA’s history
before 1969, namely, the comprehensive
constitutional rejection of British
determination of Ireland’s constitutional
arrangements. Here is a sketch of five
partially overlapping phases, which
correspond to the received history learned
by IRA volunteers.
First, after the glorious defeat and surrender
of 1916, came sudden and surprising
success in guerrilla warfare against the
British. The IRA refers to this moment as
the ‘Tan War’ — after its engagements with
the Black and Tans (uniformed in black and
khaki), emergency reserve police recruited
from Great Britain. Success affirmed for
many the merits of armed struggle,
particularly guerrilla warfare, which had
done more to create a self-governing Ireland
than fifty years of parliamentary pursuit of
home rule.15
The second phase, 192348, opened after
the equally sudden defeat of the bulk of the
IRA in the Civil War over the Treaty. The
IRA was decisively defeated militarily:
significant numbers of volunteers were
killed, injured, or incarcerated. Of those
subsequently released many left the
organization. The IRA’s explicit or tacit
electoral supporters became a minority in
the South.16 It became an anti-system
oppositionist underground army
organization in the Irish Free State — and
was weaker still in Northern Ireland.17
There was a progressive diminution both in
the strength of and the support for the IRA,
even though its membership in the 1930s
has been estimated as high as 30,000.18
Volunteers were intermittently repressed,
subjected to extensive surveillance, interned
without trial, and gradually marginalized,
even though the veterans of the Tan War
retained public admiration in the South.
This loss of support was largely because the
IRA progressively lost its rationale in the
South. Successive political leaders of
political parties in independent Ireland,
under Cumann na nGaedheal, Fianna Fáil,
and later Clann na Poblachta, were to prove
Michael Collins’s perception of the Treaty to
be true: it could be used as a ‘stepping
stone’ to establish Ireland’s formal — and
republican — independence from Great
Britain.19 A Cumann na nGaedheal-led
government confirmed the equality and
independence of all the British dominions in
the Statute of Westminster of 1931. From
1932 Fianna Fáil governments, under the
leadership of de Valera, who had led most
active republicans away from the
abstentionist policies of Sinn Féin and the
IRA, progressively dismantled most of the
objectionable features of the Treaty. They
removed the oath, abolished the post of
governor general, recovered the Treaty
ports, and established Ireland’s external
sovereignty — to the extent that it was able
to remain neutral in World War II (formally
in protest at the maintenance of partition).
The removal of the requirement that
deputies take an oath of allegiance to the
British Crown, according to de Valera,
removed the case for abstentionism in the
South: deputies were now free to argue for
the republican platform without British-
imposed impediments. Ireland freely
established its popularly endorsed
constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann) in
1937 without British interference and
created an elected president as head of state,
and external association with the British
Commonwealth, i.e. a republic in all but
name. Later, a Fine Gael- and Clann na
Poblachta-led coalition government
14 Hanley, IRA, 2627
15 Peter Hart’s The I.R.A.
and Its Enemies and The
I.R.A. at War provide
the most social scientific
treatment of the IRA in
these years. I cannot
discuss my reservations
about this excellent work
16 Drawing extensively on
the papers of Maurice
(Moss) Twomey,
Hanley’s The IRA,
1926–1936 provides an
analysis of the
organization in this
period; the idea that
Ireland experienced a
counter-revolution after
1921 is spiritedly
advanced by John Regan,
The Irish Counter-
Revolution, 1921–36:
Treatyite Politics and
Settlement in
Independent Ireland
(Dublin, 1999).
17 Comprehensive historical
treatments of the IRA in
Northern Ireland
between 1916 and 1969
are yet to be written: Jim
McDermott, Northern
Divisions: The Old IRA
and the Belfast Pogroms
1920–22 (Belfast, 2001)
provides a pioneering
account of divisions
between the pro- and
anti-Treaty IRA in
18 This figure is ‘safely
assumed’ by Coogan,
IRA, 79, but Hanley,
IRA, ch. 1, provides
good reasons for
thinking that the IRA
numbered between
10,000 and 12,000
volunteers in 1932,
before declining after a
significant breakaway by
the politically minded
founders of the
Republican Congress,
and being reduced to
fewer than 4,000
members by 1936.
proclaimed Ireland a Republic in 1949. The
1937 constitution vested sovereignty in the
people of Ireland, made it plain that the
institutions established were a product of
Irish will, and (implicitly) repudiated the
Government of Ireland Act (1920), which
had partitioned Ireland. In Articles 2 and 3
of its constitution, it affirmed that the whole
island of Ireland was ‘national territory’,
and reserved to the Irish parliament the
right to govern all of Ireland, including the
lost six counties. The 1949 declaration that
independent Ireland was a Republic — it
then left the British Commonwealth because
that organization did not then accept
republics — meant that the IRA was left
with no meaningful grievance against
Ireland’s constitutional status. In short, the
constitutional resentment at the Treaty in
sovereign Ireland had been substantively
resolved by 1937, in the view of one former
IRA anti-Treaty man, who had become
Prime Minister, de Valera, and by 1949, by
another former anti-Treaty IRA man, Seán
MacBride, who had become Minister for
External Affairs.
The third phase, 1939–56, saw a strong re-
orientation of the rump IRA, abandoned by
many of its southern leftists, toward
achieving Irish unification. Reversing
partition was the last extant objectionable
feature of the Treaty of 1921, arguably after
1937, and certainly after 1949. This re-
orientation began with a bombing campaign
in England, after a formal declaration of
notice and war, in 193940. The campaign
was a failure and the upshot was the
imprisonment and the near-extinction of the
IRA’s volunteers in both parts of Ireland as
well as of its activists in England.20 The
IRA had to be rebuilt almost from scratch
after World War II.21 The logical corollary
of the orientation toward ending partition
was seen in an Army Convention resolution
of 1948 that there would be no military
action by the IRA in the twenty-six counties
— which should in retrospect be read as the
IRA’s first step toward formal recognition of
what it called the ‘Leinster House
Parliament’. It was followed, shortly, by
General Army Order No. 8, which forbad
volunteers from defending their arms in the
South, or from any defensive actions in the
South. In short, the IRA was no longer at
war with independent Ireland. That armed
struggle had been abandoned.
The fourth phase, the IRA campaign of
1956 to 1962, within Northern Ireland,
launched from both the North and the
South, was intended to liberate the six
counties, and to reunify Ireland using
guerrilla warfare and armed propaganda.
It was preceded by significant evidence of
Northern Irish nationalist discontent with
the Belfast régime, expressed in successive
elections of Sinn Féin candidates. But it was
a small-scale conflict, quickly repressed on
both sides of the border, and ended in a
thorough defeat, publicly acknowledged by
the IRA’s Army Council.22
The comprehensive failure of the IRA’s
armed struggle to liberate the North led to a
fifth phase, between 1962 and 1969, when
an emergent left-wing oriented leadership
tried to take the IRA, South and North,
strongly in the direction of communist
politics, to make ‘reds’ out of ‘greens’. They
were ready to abandon militarism, and to
shift toward recognition of Ireland’s
parliament and the abandonment of
principled abstentionism.
This capsule history is, at first glance, one
of comprehensive military, political, and
strategic failure for the IRA. It went to war
against the government of the Irish Free
State (1922–23), against the government of
Great Britain in 1939, and against the
Northern Ireland government in 1956. It
was defeated in all three instances, and had
acknowledged each defeat, and by the early
1960s appeared to have a rendezvous with a
coroner. Politically most of its members had
been moral conservatives, Jeffersonian
republicans rather than hard-line socialists
19 Seán MacBride, the
leader of Clann na
Poblachta, was a former
Chief of Staff of the IRA,
who achieved a unique
historical status as a
winner of both the Lenin
and Nobel peace prizes.
20 The defeat of the IRA in
Northern Ireland in the
1940s was exemplified in
the execution of Tom
Williams, whom the
Northern Ireland court
identified as the key
figure in a unit that
killed an RUC officer.
One of his reprieved
comrades, Joe Cahill,
later became the first
Chief of Staff of the
Provisional IRA: see Jim
McVeigh, Executed: Tom
Williams and the IRA
(Belfast, 1999) and
Brendan Anderson, Joe
Cahill: A Life in the IRA
(Dublin, 2002).
21 Bowyer Bell, Secret
Army, 252n.1, observes
that ‘The situation was
so bad that the IRA
Intelligence had got
access to a copy of a
secret [Irish] government
publication, Notes on the
IRA, and used the names
to make their early
contacts [for
reconstruction] under the
assumption that if
Special Branch thought a
man was a troublemaker
he would be a good
22 Bowyer Bell, Secret
Army, ch. 1416; Seán
Cronin, Irish
Nationalism: A History
of its Roots and Ideology
(London, 1980), ch. 5
— although socialists had been consistently
the most ideologically-driven of them,
believing their position had been legitimated
by the incorporation of Marxist James
Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army into the IRA
in 1916. By the late 1960s in both parts of
Ireland, and within the Irish diaspora, the
IRA appeared to be a relic, a group of
obsessives disconnected from contemporary
politics. It had never repeated its successful
symbiosis with Sinn Féin of 1919–21, when
a military and democratic political
movement had combined and forced the UK
government to negotiate with Irish
But failure was not the whole story. The
IRA’s founding agenda had been
substantively realized in the South.23 All
southern governments from 1922 had
former senior IRA men in their ministerial
ranks. With the notable exception of Kevin
O’Higgins, most were republicans with
kindred beliefs to those of the IRA.24 They
progressively addressed its constitutional
agenda, which was neither insane nor
unprincipled, even if it was dogmatic, and
even if it refused the right of a majority to
be wrong on the constitutional status of the
state. However, resentment did lead the IRA
into increasingly bizarre ideological
deductions. The deputies of the rump
Second Dáil who had taken the anti-Treaty
side, and who had withdrawn from
participation in the ‘partitionist’ Dáil
Éireann, continued to meet until the late
1930s as if they were the valid parliament
of Ireland. This, in turn, meant that the
IRA’s mandate stemmed from the last all-
Ireland parliament — one that was
increasingly, as time passed,
demographically as well as chronologically
removed from the current preferences of the
people of Ireland, North and South. The
demos from which the IRA derived its
authority was frozen in time, increasingly
virtual. Eventually, the ageing deputies, the
rump Second Dáil, authorized the IRA
Army Council to be the government of
Ireland until the Republic could be re-
established — although in the IRA’s theory
it had never been validly de jure ‘dis-
established’. It was, for example, in its
capacity as the alleged government of the
Irish Republic that the IRA declared war on
Great Britain in January 1939.25 Ideological
derivations of arcane and progressively
dated mandates did not stop with the view
that the IRA was the Government of Ireland
pending (the re-establishment of) the
Republic and a validly constituted Dáil. The
last surviving member of the rump Dáil,
General Tom Maguire, was to live long
enough to be twice asked to decide which
section of the republican movement was the
true inheritor of the mandate of the last
valid Dáil (and thereby the valid
government of the Republic of Ireland). In
1969, he decided that the mandate belonged
with the Provisional IRA, and in 1986 that
it belonged with those who rejected the
decision of Sinn Féin to recognize the
legitimacy of the Dublin parliament. On his
death Maguire handed the baton on to
Michael Flannery.26
This excursus into the repercussions of
republican constitutional ideology might
occasion laughter if the stakes were not so
serious. In considering policy responses to
political violence, it is too customary for
analysts and policy-makers to treat ideology
and normative constitutional doctrine as
masks for other interests or grievances, or as
easily moulded plasticine that can be rapidly
reshaped as and when a movement requires.
Policy-makers tend to focus on either the
incentives or opportunities that encourage
or discourage the use of political violence,
or on the material grievances held to
underpin insurrectionary movements. These
are not pointless dispositions. But
ideologically barricaded organizations may
be best induced to withdraw from violence
if an internally principled path can be found
for their members to abandon their use of
violence. Governments that directly engage
the ideological propositions, and the
23 The most incisive
analysis of de Valera’s
long-term legitimizing of
independent Ireland
through constitutional
republicanism is Bill
Kissane’s Explaining
Irish Democracy
(Dublin, 2002), 165ff.
24 O’Higgins, the
strongman of the
Cumann na nGaedheal
government, seriously
sought to have George V
separately crowned as
King of Ireland,
following thereby the
original ‘dual monarchy’
proposal made by Arthur
Griffith earlier in the
century, and claimed that
‘republicanism’ was a
foreign ideal. Griffith
died in 1922 so we do
not know whether he
would have supported
this reasoning.
25 Its ultimatum addressed
to Lord Halifax is
reproduced in Cronin,
Irish Nationalism,
Appendix XIV.
26 For a ninety-page
statement of calcified
orthodoxy, see Ruairí Ó
Brádaigh, Dílseacht: The
Story of Comdt. General
Tom Maguire and the
Second (All-Ireland) Dáil
(Dublin, 1997).
constitutional norms of such movements,
may have greater success in promoting their
internal transformations. That is one lesson
one can extract from the progressive
termination of the IRA as a serious
subversive threat to the government of the
Irish Free State, and its successor, the
government of the Republic of Ireland. By
progressively eliminating the obnoxious
features of the Treaty, by transforming
Ireland’s constitutional status and laws,
successive Irish governments rendered
outmoded the IRA’s constitutional
objections to the ‘actually existing’ Republic
of Ireland. This assisted in the
demobilization and constitutionalization of
the IRA’s members in the South, and their
withdrawal from the politics of armed
struggle. There is a forgotten logical
counterfactual to this proposition. Had Irish
governments not followed this path, and
had not British governments reconciled
themselves to it, whether by accident or
design, independent Ireland’s Civil War over
the Treaty would have been renewed, and
the IRA would have had greater support for
attempting a coup d’état in the South.
Normative constitutional engagement with
insurgents is not sufficient for making
political settlements and peace, nor is what
might be termed ‘constitutional
appeasement’ always appropriate or
sufficient. The long-run success of Irish
governments in marginalizing the IRA in the
South owed a great deal to the regularly
renewed democratic and majority mandates
of such governments, their successful use of
civil policing, extensive surveillance,
intermittently severe repression under the
rule of law, and the imposition of multiple
hardships which induced many IRA veterans
to leave the organization or to emigrate.
One must not forget that the
institutionalization of the Irish state,
supported externally by Winston Churchill,
was preceded by the thoroughly brutal —
and frequently lawless — suppression of the
majority of the IRA in the Civil War,
including executive-authorized executions.
Nevertheless, where military nationalist
movements have constitutions that guide
their conduct, and are organized around
coherent constitutional resentment,
constitutional engagement may be a
necessary condition for conflict-resolution.
Having shown how the argument applies to
the IRA in the South, I will later attempt to
show that a similar argument can be used to
interpret the IRA’s willingness to sustain
ceasefires in the 1990s and presently to
consider its own disbandment.
Provisional IRA: Objectives and Nature
The IRA could, and did, object to the
failure of Irish governments to achieve Irish
unification, but its volunteers knew that the
major obstacle to Irish unification lay not
with what they persisted in calling the Free
State. After all, governments of Ireland had
diplomatically campaigned for Irish
unification after 1937. Rather the obstacles
lay with the UK government, and with the
wishes of Ulster unionists, the strongest
beneficiaries and supporters of the Treaty
settlement.27 The Provisional IRA was
created in December 1969 in full knowledge
of these facts, its twin-sister, Provisional
Sinn Féin, shortly afterwards. The new IRA’s
first declaration affirmed its allegiance to
‘the Thirty-two County Irish Republic
proclaimed at Easter 1916, established by
Dáil Éireann in 1919, overthrown by force
of arms in 1922 and suppressed to this day
by the British-imposed Six County and
Twenty-six County partitionist states’, a re-
statement of the IRA’s traditional stance.28
The ‘Provisional’ title served three functions.
It echoed the ‘Provisional Government of
the Irish Republic’ proclaimed in 1916; and,
secondly, it repudiated the ‘Official’ IRA’s
leaders, who had just sought to manoeuvre
the IRA to end political abstentionism, and
had, it was thought, used unconstitutional
means to do so. Thirdly, ‘Provisional’
suggested a temporary designation, pending
27 In the 1950s and 1960s,
judging by their
publications and
statements, Irish
nationalists did not
consider that Ireland’s
progressive unwinding of
the Treaty had
entrenched Ulster
unionists’ wish to remain
part of the United
Kingdom. Denis
Kennedy, in an analysis
of unionist newspapers
191949, argues that it
in fact widened the gulf
between both parts of
Ireland (by which he
means the gulf between
Ulster unionists and Irish
nationalists): see The
Widening Gulf:
Northern Attitudes to
the Independent Irish
State, 19191949
(Belfast, 1988).
28 Bishop and Mallie,
Provisional IRA, 104; Paul
Arthur, ‘Republican
Violence in Northern
Ireland: The Rationale’, in
John Darby, Nicholas
Dodge and A. C.
Hepburn, eds., Political
Violence: Ireland in a
Comparative Perspective
(Belfast, 1990), 48–63 (49)
the reorganization of the IRA. This mission
was proclaimed accomplished in September
1970, but the name ‘Provisional IRA’, and
its derivatives ‘Provos’, ‘Provies’, stuck.
The split between the Provisionals and the
Officials is generally attributed to three
cleavages. The Officials were Marxist, or on
the verge of becoming so; the Provisionals
were more nationalist; and the Officials
preferred to build a political liberation front
to military struggle.29 There is truth in this
characterization. The historian Roy Foster
further maintains that the Officials were
‘woolly radicals dreaming of a national
liberation front’, whereas the Provisionals
are typecast as ‘Defenderists’ and as
‘fundamentalists’.30 The Defenderist motif
is commonplace in accounts of the
Provisional IRA.31 It suggests a lineage
from the clandestine eighteenth-century
agrarian Catholic nativist militia of Ulster
who defended their co-religionists from
Protestant settler vigilantes, the ‘Peep o’ Day
Boys’, organized killers and expellers of
Catholics. It insinuates that the Provisionals
are more sectarian than ideological, and less
committed to the civic citizenship agenda of
Ireland’s first eighteenth-century
republicans, the United Irishmen (who fused
the Defenders into their organization before
the 1798 insurrection). It treats the
Provisionals as atavistic.
The Defenderist motif appears to make
sense because the impetus for the formation
of the Provisional IRA was the
unpreparedness of the IRA, North or South,
for the assaults on Catholics, especially
Belfast Catholics, by Protestant mobs, in
collusion with the Royal Ulster
Constabulary and its auxiliaries, the B
Specials, in August 1969. These assaults,
which led to deaths, injuries, and
expulsions, and the burning out of Bombay
Street, are standardly described as ‘pogroms’
in the memories of post-1969 Provisional
IRA volunteers.32 These assaults were
responses to the then peaceful civil rights
movement, which republicans had helped
organize from 1966 to mobilize against
deep injustices within Northern Ireland,
modelling the protests on the US civil rights
movement.33 The Provisionals were
organized in immediate response to urban
defencelessness, and to remonstrative graffiti
on Belfast walls that declared ‘IRA = I Ran
Away’. But the post-1969 Provisionals were
not atavistic throwbacks. Their new
members were, mostly, urban working-class
activists who saw themselves, initially, as
defenders of their communities against
contemporary loyalists, partisan police and
partisan British troops. Their founding
leaders soon persuaded them that active
offence against the British state was the only
or at least the best way to address the
unreformable polity of Northern Ireland.
To typecast the Provisionals as religious
‘fundamentalists’ is as misleading as reading
them as throwbacks. Their early and their
later members included many self-styled
socialists; and although the Provisionals
have been overwhelmingly Catholic in social
origin they have not, generally, been pious
believers, have not followed the political
advice of their Church’s bishops — or the
Pope — and are less overtly and
traditionally Catholic than the volunteers of
1916 or of the 1920s. There has never been
a serving priest, let alone a bishop, in the
IRA’s Army Council, or, to my knowledge,
among its volunteers.34 The IRA’s
symbolism may be suffused with a Catholic
heritage, as some maintain, but it is the Irish
nation rather than the Roman Catholic
Church which they affirm, and to which
they pledge allegiance. That said, the
Provisionals were founded by ‘republican’
fundamentalists, men who had fought in the
failed 1956–62 campaign, such as Ruairí Ó
Brádaigh, Dáithí Ó Conaill, Seán Mac
Stiofáin, and Joe Cahill, and who believed
in the republican traditions, i.e. in rejecting
the Treaty’s institutions, and undoing
partition by force.35
The Provisionals soon declared themselves
at war with the British army, which had
been deployed in Northern Ireland in 1969
29 Bishop and Mallie,
Provisional IRA, 89–105;
Bowyer Bell, Secret Army,
355–72; Coogan, IRA,
365–84; English, Armed
Struggle, 81–147; Henry
Patterson, The Politics of
Illusion: Republicanism and
Socialism in Modern Ireland
(London, 1989), ch. 4–6 and
James M. Glover, ‘Northern
Ireland: Future Terrorist
Trends’, Ministry of Defence
[United Kingdom],
D/DINI/2003 MOD Form
102: s25/II/82, 2 Nov. 1978,
reprinted in Cronin, Irish
Nationalism, 339-57
30 R. F. Foster, Modern
Ireland: 1600–1972
(London, 1988), 589
31 Kevin Toolis, Rebel Hearts:
Journeys Within the IRA’s
Soul (London, 1995), 28ff.
Toolis writes of the IRA
through investigative and
personalized studies of
‘defenders’, ‘brothers’ [the
Finucanes], ‘informers’,
‘volunteers’, ‘chieftains’
[McGuinness], and
‘martyrs’. In its story-telling
and prose Rebel Hearts is
the best journalistic foray
into the IRA. It is, however,
a social science-free zone,
and its policy proposals are
shallow. But it has the
quality of enduring
literature, and many of its
stories read like realist film
or drama scripts.
32 See the interviews in Robert
White, Provisional Irish
Republicans (Westport, Ct.,
1993), ch. 4.
33 Bob Purdie, ‘Was the Civil
Rights Movement a
Conspiracy?’, Irish Political
Studies, 3 (1988), 33–41;
Politics in the Streets: The
Origins of the Civil Rights
Movement in Northern
Ireland (Belfast, 1990)
34 Fr. Michael Flanagan was
Vice-President of Sinn Féin
(1917–21), and its President
in 1934. He was disciplined
by the Roman Catholic
Church and was the sole
priest in Ireland to support
the Spanish Republic against
General Franco (Cronin,
Irish Nationalism,
279n.140). Fr. Patrick Ryan,
whose extradition to the UK
was refused by the Irish
Courts in 1988, was accused
of being a member of the
in ‘support of the civil power’, apparently in
a peacekeeping role, and to head off a
potential intervention by the Irish
government — which had arranged at least
one clandestine supply of arms to protect
Northern Catholics.36 The new IRA, which
some, wrongly, maintain was brought into
being through the active planning of the
Irish government, argued that only a British
disengagement would resolve the conflicts
on the island, but focused its initial
attention on removing the Stormont
parliament — through which the Ulster
Unionist Party had organized a systematic
system of discrimination for nearly fifty
years.37 In 1970–71, the Provisionals
rapidly surpassed the Officials in militancy
and recruitment amongst Catholic youths;
and from 1969 until 1997, with breaks in
1972, 1974–75, and between 1994 and
1996, this new IRA organized a sustained
insurrection. It has not succeeded in
unifying Ireland, but regards itself as having
removed the majoritarian and tyrannous
Stormont parliament in 1972. It was not
militarily defeated by what is widely
acknowledged as the most capable
European army, nor, after 1976, by an
extremely large, armed, reorganized, and
well-funded police force, the Royal Ulster
Operating mostly within a territory with
just over one million and a half people, and
for most of that time within a support base
of a minority of the minority cultural
Catholic population of approximately
650,000, the IRA’s organizational endurance
was impressive. It survived the efforts of five
UK prime ministers to crush it — Harold
Wilson, Edward Heath, James Callaghan,
Margaret Thatcher, and John Major. The
IRA’s leaders negotiated, directly or
indirectly, with all these prime ministers.
The leader of the UK’s opposition, Harold
Wilson, who was to be prime minister again
between 1974 and 1976, met the IRA in
Dublin in 1971. In 1972, an IRA
negotiating team, including the young Gerry
Adams and Martin McGuinness, met with
Heath’s Deputy Prime Minister, William
Whitelaw, in London. The IRA would later
indirectly negotiate with Wilson’s
government in 1974–75, and with Major’s
between 1990 and 1996. Thatcher must
have authorized Peter Brooke, then
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to
open negotiations about negotiations by
proxy with the IRA in 1989.38 And since
1997 the IRA has been indirectly — directly
on some interpretations — negotiating with
another British prime minister, Tony Blair.
In the same period it has negotiated,
indirectly or directly, with four Irish prime
ministers — Charles Haughey, Albert
Reynolds, John Bruton and Bertie Ahern. In
short, ‘talking to terrorists’ has been
considered a necessary risk by six British
premiers, and at least four recent Irish
What is known about the contemporary
IRA? Transparency cannot be the dominant
trait of an underground army. The names of
the IRA’s Army Council and Executive
leaders, although widely guessed, reported,
and denied, are organizational secrets,
which Ed Moloney claims to know.
Presently many of its serving volunteers
freely supply journalists with extensive
information about intra-IRA debates,
apparently in violation of IRA General
Army Order No. 3, ‘No member … shall
make any statement either verbally or in
writing to the press or mass media without
General Headquarters permission’.39
Most studies of the IRA are dependent upon
authorized interviews.40 There are, of
course, some documentary materials. The
IRA, since its first effective organizer
Michael Collins, has been textual. Its 1979
‘Green Book’ is a manual of lectures on
constitutional commitments and rules for
recruits, and guidance for volunteers facing
interrogation.41 The IRA tries to keep
fastidious records in notebooks and
electronic media. This trait has, of course,
often compromised secrecy. Peter Taylor’s
remarkable account of an interview with
35 Hereafter, unless otherwise
stated, the Provisional IRA
will be treated as the IRA,
and Provisional Sinn Féin
as Sinn Féin because that
is how the volunteers and
members describe their
organizations, and
because, officially, the
Official IRA no longer
exists, having been
disbanded by its party,
the Workers Party, the heir
of the defunct Official
Sinn Féin.
36 James Kelly, Orders for
the Captain? (Dublin,
1971); The Thimble
Riggers: The Dublin
Arms Trials of 1970
(Dublin, 1999)
37 O’Leary and McGarry,
Politics of Antagonism, ch.
38 She almost certainly
authorized indirect
negotiations during the
first batch of hunger
strikes in 1980: see David
Beresford, Ten Men Dead:
The Story of the 1981
Irish Hunger Strike
(London, 1987), 40,
292–93. After the Anglo-
Irish Agreement of 1985
Thatcher and Secretaries
of State Tom King and
Peter Brooke were aware,
and approved of, a
‘pipeline’ to and from
Gerry Adams via priest
Alex Reid: see Ed
Moloney, A Secret History
of the IRA (New York,
2002), 246–60, passim.
39 For example, see the
information in Moloney,
Secret History, passim.
40 See Coogan, IRA; Brendan
O’Brien, The Long War:
The IRA and Sinn Féin
from Armed Struggle to
Peace Talks (Dublin,
updated paperback edn.
1995); Taylor, Provos;
White, Provisional Irish
41 O’Brien, Long War,
Appendix 1; Martin Dillon,
Twenty Five Years of
Ter ro r (London, 1996),
353–84; and see the
commentary in Coogan,
IRA, 544–71.
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh shows that the IRA’s
leaders keep extensive minutes, and that
these minutes are authoritative.42 It is
equally clear that no journalist, let alone
historian, has had access to full copies of
such records, and whether they will
eventually become available, or revelatory,
cannot be known. They are, however, more
likely to be reliable than some of today’s
literature and pulp fiction that goes into
successive editions for the denizens of
airport lounges and the generally male
consumers of books on war and conflict.
For source materials on the IRA serious
analysts are dependent upon the
organization’s formal communiqués;
transcripts of its authorized interviews with
journalists and academics; public police and
court records of volunteers and prisoners;
stolen, lost or leaked British or Irish army,
police, MI5, MI6, and Ministry of Defence
intelligence reports; accounts of conflictual
incidents and victims of incidents; and what
can be gleaned from the memoirs,
autobiographies, and authorized and
unauthorized biographies of the IRA’s
leaders and volunteers, or from the National
Graves Association, which provides a roll
call of the republican war dead.43 There are
also the suspect but potentially informative
accounts of volunteers turned spies or who
have abandoned the cause.44 What follows
is a provisional summary of what is known
about the IRA from a critical but impartial
appraisal of these sources.
Structure: Division of Labour, Recruits, and
Until 1977 the IRA was organized, as it had
been since the Irish Civil War of 1922–23,
as a shadow or underground version of the
British army, complete with officers, staff
and line, and territorial brigades, battalions,
and companies. From 1976–77 it was
reorganized in smaller cellular structures,
active service units (ASUs), each intended to
be specialized (e.g. in sniping, executions,
bombings, robberies), and to comprise a
small number of volunteers. The idea was to
intensify the division of labour, and to
create a more compact organization, less
vulnerable both to volunteers’ surrendering
information and to intelligence losses
through informants.45 In this reformation,
several hundred volunteers, especially many
ex-prisoners, were excluded from the ASUs
as security risks, either because they were
easily monitored security-risks, or because
they were otherwise regarded as unreliable.
Nevertheless, after the change some of the
old nomenclature of battalions and brigades
was preserved — and in Crossmaglen and
Tyrone lip-service was paid to the change.46
Presented in a formal organizational chart
the top tier of the IRA consists of the
Executive (12 members), elected by the
General Army Convention, which did not
meet between 1970 and 1986, because of
the danger of mass arrests. As the agency
responsible for the IRA’s constitution, the
Convention is its sovereign. The Executive
elects and, nominally, holds to account the
Army Council (7 members), the operational
executive chaired by the Chief of Staff. The
General Headquarters of the IRA staff is
organized functionally into ‘offices’: Quarter
Master General, Operations, Engineering,
Intelligence, Finance, Training, Security,
Publicity and Political Education.
Operations are organized by area: England,
Europe, and, since reorganization, two Irish
Commands, ‘Southern’ and ‘Northern’.47
The role of Southern Command is to act as
the supplier and stockist for Northern
Command — and for many operations in
England. Judging by arms, guns,
ammunition, explosive devices, and bomb-
making equipment found by the Garda
Síochána (the Irish police) in the decade
preceding the ceasefires of the 1990s, most
matériel was kept in the border counties, or
in the Greater Dublin region, which makes
logistical sense, although extrapolating from
the location of ‘finds’ may be misleading
because matériel may be more successfully
hidden elsewhere in rural Ireland.
Before and after reorganization the IRA
42 Taylor, Provos, 181
43 For police and court records,
see Kieran McEvoy,
Paramilitary Imprisonment
in Northern Ireland:
Resistance, Management and
Release (Oxford, 2001); for a
key intelligence report, see
Glover, ‘Northern Ireland:
Future Terrorist Trends’. For
accounts of victims, see
David McKittrick, Seamus
Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris
Thornton, Lost Lives: The
Stories of the Men, Women
and Children Who Died as a
Result of the Northern
Ireland Troubles (Edinburgh,
2001); Malcolm Sutton, Bear
in Mind the Dead: An Index
of Deaths from the Conflict
in Ireland, 1969–1993
(Belfast, 1994). For
autobiographical and
biographical accounts of
republican figures, see Gerry
Adams, Falls Memories
(Dingle, 1983); Cage Eleven
(Dingle, 1990); Before the
Dawn (London, 1996); An
Irish Voice (Dingle, 1997);
An Irish Journal (Dingle,
2001); A Farther Shore:
Ireland’s Long Road to Peace
(New York, 2003);
Anderson, Joe Cahill; Liam
Clarke and Kathryn
Johnston, Martin
McGuinness: From Guns to
Government (Edinburgh,
2003); Seán Mac Stiofáin,
Memoirs of a Revolutionary
(London, 1975); Laurence
McKeown, Out of Time:
Irish Republican Prisoners,
Long Kesh 1972-2000
(Belfast, 2001); Shane Paul
O’Doherty, The Volunteer: A
Former IRA Man’s True
Story (London, 1993); Bobby
Sands, The Diary of Bobby
Sands (Dublin, 1981); Prison
Poems (Dublin, 1981); One
Day in My Life (Cork,
1982); David Sharrock and
Mark Devenport, Man of
War, Man of Peace? The
Unauthorised Biography of
Gerry Adams (London,
1997). There is also Danny
Morrison’s prison journal,
Then the Walls Came Down:
A Prison Journal (Cork,
1999), which I have not
sought to establish a pyramidical command
and control organization, like a functioning
army. But, of necessity, the IRA has been
extensively decentralized, reliant on the
initiatives and flair of its semi-autonomous
The Army Council and the GHQ were
engaged in oversight, not command.
Operational matters were often
controlled by those close to the target.
Intelligence was apt to arrive rather than
be sought. GHQ spent a great deal of
time balancing demands and seeking
resources rather than in directing a war.
All the strategic decisions had been
made. Most tactical decisions were
shaped by opportunity and
vulnerabilities. Initiative was seldom
punished … in reality the IRA ran on a
consensus achieved largely unconsciously
… Operational freedom often meant
blunders, innocent people killed,
incompetents sent in harm’s way, bombs
detonated when quiet was needed; but
there was every indication that tight
control from the centre would hardly
have changed matters.48
Two more elements of IRA organization
require comment: its security and its
finances. The IRA has its own internal
security, colloquially known as the ‘nutting
squad’, whose mission is to interrogate,
court martial, and, where deemed necessary,
to execute suspected spies or informants.49
It also organizes vigilante justice through
punishment squads of auxiliaries, a lower
tier of generally lower calibre volunteers,
who are not members of the ASUs, although
they can graduate to them.50 The
administration of ‘punishment beatings’,
what I call policing without prisons, may
take the form of brutal beatings of limbs
with baseball bats or iron bars, or of ‘knee-
cappings’ with gunshots. This is one of the
most politically and morally sensitive
subjects for the IRA’s supporters and
apologists. It is clear from interviews that
republican leaders would be delighted to be
divested of any association with the system
— even though one standard analysis is that
the IRA’s leaders support punishment
beatings to entrench their local power. The
punishment-beating system, which has its
counterpart among loyalists, has been both
a demand and a supply problem for the
IRA. Rough justice is demanded for alleged
offenders and petty criminals within
nationalist working-class communities,
especially where the IRA is dominant, and
where calling on the services of the police,
especially the unreformed RUC, has been
unimaginable — not least because police
officers have often been unwilling to
provide standard security where they fear
that they might be set-up and shot. IRA
leaders in Belfast felt it necessary to meet
some of this demand — and at least some of
its auxiliaries have performed punishment
beatings with sadistic enthusiasm. The
supply problem has been occasioned when
the IRA has a surplus of potential
volunteers who might otherwise either join
other republican organizations, or dilute the
calibre of the core organization. Organizing
the surplus in auxiliaries and punishment
squads solves some of this problem. The
system is one of the grisliest by-products of
the absence of legitimate state institutions.51
The last item in considering organization is
the IRA’s finances. These are, of course, not
‘known’, but are subject to extensive
speculation. Journalists regularly report
Irish police and RUC estimates as
authoritative, but they cannot be, at least
not without confirmation from the IRA’s
internal ‘accountants’ and ‘auditors’.52
Albeit dated, the most interesting
evaluation, precisely because it was not
intended for publication, remains that of the
stolen report of Brigadier James Glover of
1978.53 It estimated IRA annual income at
UK£950,000, and expenditure at £780,000,
i.e. with an annual surplus of £170,000,
17.9 per cent, available for arms,
ammunition and explosives.54 Glover
estimated expenditure as devoted, in
descending order of importance, to four
44 Martin McGartland, Fifty
Dead Men Walking (London,
1997) and Dead Man
Running: The True Story of a
Secret Agent’s Escape from
the IRA and MI5
(Edinburgh, 1998); Eamon
Collins (with McGovern),
Killing Rage (London, 1997);
Sean O’Callaghan, The
Informer (London, 1998).
Collins’s book seems to me
the most interesting, honest,
revealing and least self-
serving of the apostate
45 John Horgan and Max
Taylor, ‘The Provisional Irish
Republican Army: Command
and Functional Structure’,
Terrorism and Political
Violence, 9 (1997), 1–32.
Details of the reorganization,
spelled out in a ‘Staff
Report’, allegedly thought
through by Gerry Adams and
others when interned in Long
Kesh, became known when
IRA Chief of Staff Seamus
Twomey was arrested in
December 1977. The changes
may have been implemented
when Martin McGuinness
was Chief of Staff
(1978–82): see O’Brien,
Long War, 107ff; see also
Coogan, IRA, 464–74.
46 Collins, Killing Rage, 83
47 According to Moloney, Secret
History, 573, the operational
units in Northern Command
are formally organized
around Belfast and six other
areas (Derry, Donegal/
Fermanagh, Tyrone and
Monaghan, Armagh (North
and South), and Down), and
each has ASUs operating
under Brigades; in slight
contrast, O’Brien, Long War,
105, 110, maintains the
Northern Command is
organized over all of the six
counties of Northern Ireland
and the five adjacent border
counties of the Republic
(Louth, Monaghan, Cavan,
Leitrim and Donegal), and
has Belfast, Derry, Donegal,
Tyrone/Monaghan and
Armagh as the Brigade areas.
48 Bowyer Bell, Secret Army,
items: volunteers’ pay, travel and transport
costs, propaganda, and prisoner support.
He considered the IRA had four principal
sources of income, in descending order of
importance: theft and robbery in Ireland,
racketeering in Ireland, overseas donations,
and the Green Cross (a prisoners’ aid
organization). ‘Overseas donations’ were
estimated at £120,000, i.e. 12.7 per cent of
revenues, and were not expected to rise.55
Glover assumed that the IRA’s commercial
undertakings were marred by ‘dishonesty
and incompetence’, and poor sources of
revenue, other than its black taxi service. He
listed no domestic Irish donations at all,
which seems incredible. His estimated
outlay per volunteer assumed that a £20 per
week supplement was paid to 250
volunteers drawing UK unemployment
benefit, and that a further 60 were paid £40
per week (implying a part- or fully- paid
cadre of just over 300 volunteers). More
recent estimates of the IRA’s annual income
range from US$10 million to the figure of
£10 million usually cited by contemporary
police sources to journalists.56 These figures
imply a significant growth of revenues since
the mid-1970s, even allowing for inflation.
Sources of income, contra Glover’s
expectations, have included commercial
undertakings — social clubs, service and
hospitality centres also serving as money-
laundering operations — as well as
extortion, armed robberies, and, no doubt,
domestic donations. Kidnapping, as Glover
makes clear, has been regarded as counter-
productive, and unauthorized, although it
took place in the 1970s. If one compares
Glover’s report with subsequent estimates of
the IRA’s income and expenditures, in my
view three judgements cannot be avoided.
First, running the IRA is a relatively cheap
operation, primarily dependent upon the
donated time and sacrifices of its
volunteers.57 Secondly, the IRA
demonstrates the power of the weak. It does
not need large expenditures to have
dramatic and powerful impacts. Small
numbers of determined militants can build
and use relatively cheap ‘home-made’ or
improvised explosives (fertilizers and mortar
bombs), install bespoke sleeper-devices with
devastating effects, and own, maintain and
use relatively cheap guns. Thirdly, the low
estimates of the IRA’s financial surplus, and
of resources available per volunteer, strongly
suggest that ‘rent-seeking’ or ‘greed-based’
accounts of its maintenance lack empirical
foundation — Glover acknowledged that
‘we cannot accurately judge the extent to
which they line their own pockets’.58 In
short, the focus of policy-makers on closing
down or squeezing the IRA’s finances, while
a necessary and predictable response, was
never likely to be pivotal in affecting its
Who volunteered to join the IRA? Here
there is fair degree of consensus. First of all,
most volunteers have been young males,
although there are female members, and
there is a long-standing women’s republican
organization, Cumann na mBan. Secondly,
the founding membership of the
Provisionals was from families with long
ties to the IRA, dating back to the 1920s,
and in some cases back to the Fenians of the
1860s.59 This core provided the nucleus
around which the IRA had survived after
the 1940s. (Familial socialization, of course,
is not pervasive: many males with such
relatives did not become volunteers.)
Thirdly, IRA recruits are nearly all young
males, of Catholic origin, who are mostly
from working class, small farmer or lower
middle-class occupations. The list of the
occupations of ninety-five IRA prisoners,
imprisoned for more than three years in
Belfast Prison between 1956 and 1960, is
revealing.60 It included just one
businessman. Construction workers,
farmers, clerks, and industrial apprentices
predominated. They were neither
prosperous professionals, nor ‘lumpen-
proleterians’. Twenty years later the Glover
Report (1978) stated: ‘Our evidence of the
calibre of rank and file [IRA] terrorists does
not support the view that they are mindless
hooligans drawn from the unemployed and
the unemployable.’61 Two surveys of
49 The IRA’s internal rules of
court martial procedure are
documented in Coogan, IRA,
Appendix II. Collins’s Killing
Rage describes his
participation in these internal
50 Collins, Killing Rage, 84
51 A clear-headed appraisal of
vigilantism and punishment-
beatings is found in Andrew
Silke, ‘Rebel’s Dilemma: The
Changing Relationship
between the IRA, Sinn Féin
and Paramilitary Vigilantism
in Northern Ireland’,
Terrorism and Political
Violence, 11, 1 (Spring 1999),
55–93. Unlike standard
critics he shows how much it
is a response to local
demands. Silke correctly
argued that only with major
police reform will the IRA
and Sinn Féin be able to
terminate their involvement
in the system, but in my view
was too pessimistic in
assuming that both
organizations are
‘irretrievably’ committed to
52 Many of these are
summarized in Horgan and
Taylor, ‘The Provisional Irish
Republican Army,’ Table 1.
53 Glover, ‘Northern Ireland:
Future Terrorist Trends’,
published in Republican
News and reprinted in
Cronin, Irish Nationalism,
54 Cronin, Irish Nationalism,
344. Hereafter, unless
otherwise indicated, all
references to pounds are to
pounds sterling.
55 Foster, Modern Ireland, 590,
writes of the Provisionals that
‘American money, local
support and the army’s
record in house-to-house
searches established them
firmly in the urban ghettos’.
This implicit order of ranking
is not consistent with the
evidence. It would have been
more accurate to write that
local support for defence
against loyalist and police
attacks, the British army’s
record of repression, and
donations from Ireland and
America, firmly established
the Provisional IRA in many
nationalist dominated areas.
56 Scott Anderson, ‘Making a
Killing: The High Cost of
Peace in Northern Ireland’,
Harpers Magazine, 288, 1725
(Feb. 1994), 4554
republican offenders coming before the
courts found that the data ‘beyond
reasonable doubt’ established that the bulk
of them were young men and women
‘without criminal records in the ordinary
sense, though some have been involved in
public disorders [but] in this respect and in
their records of employment and
unemployment they are reasonably
representative of the working class
community of which they form a substantial
part [and] do not fit the stereotype of
criminality which the authorities have from
time to time attempted to attach to them’.62
IRA recruits are therefore not criminals,
gangsters or mafiosi, despite the
aforementioned auxiliaries involved in
punishment squads. The gangster motif, as
the former IRA volunteer Patrick Magee,
known as ‘the Brighton bomber’, shows in
an intelligent published doctoral thesis is the
most stale cliché in the popular or pulp
fiction generated by the conflict.63 It is also
a theme highlighted in British press and
broadcasting reportage, and cartoons.
Journalist Scott Anderson wrote under the
heading ‘Making a Killing’ to popularize the
gangster idea in the US.64 It is more
startling to find the contention reproduced
by a thoughtful liberal intellectual, my
friend, Michael Ignatieff, who has lived in
the UK and reported on Northern Ireland.
His The Lesser Evil maintains ‘there will
always be a gap between those who take the
political goals of a terrorist campaign
seriously and those who are drawn to the
cause because it offers glamour, violence,
money and power. It is anyone’s guess how
many actual believers in the dream of a
united Ireland there are in the ranks of the
IRA. But it is a fair bet to suppose that
many recruits join up because they want to
benefit from the IRA’s profitable protection
rackets’. He footnotes Taylor’s Provos and
Coogan’s The IRA, without pagination,
before continuing, ‘The IRA bears as much
relation to the Mafia as it does to an
insurrectionary cell or a radical political
party and the motivations that draw young
people into the movement are often as
criminal as they are political ... The criminal
allure of terrorist groups and the cynicism
of those who join them are additional
reasons why it is a mistake to conciliate or
appease a group like the IRA with political
There is no serious empirical warrant for
these views, certainly not in the books of
Coogan and Taylor. ‘Believing in the dream
of a united Ireland’ is not an impartial
characterization, and while this belief may
not be the primary motivation for all
members to join, affirmation of the goal is a
condition of membership. Ignatieff’s
assumed knowledge of volunteers’ private
inner desires is just speculation, and he
appears unaware that experience of state
repression or of attacks by loyalists is the
most widespread shared feature of post-
1969 IRA recruits.66 These considerations
undermine the ‘criminal’ characterization of
the IRA’s volunteers. Robert White’s
interviews, and statements by republican
leaders, show convincingly that surges in
applications to join the IRA are directly
linked to political events, rather than to
‘rent-seeking’ opportunities. Attacks on the
civil rights movement, loyalist mobs
burning-out Catholics from their homes in
Belfast, the Falls Road curfew by the British
army, internment without trial, Bloody
Sunday, and the British government’s
response to the hunger strikes of 1980–81,
were more potent sources of recruitment
than the meagre material ‘rewards’ facing
volunteers. The evidence is in fact strongly
against the criminal motivation thesis.67
IRA ‘surpluses’ do not enrich its leaders,
and if they did, this would be a major UK
media theme. Gerry Adams has doubtless
become prosperous, after the peace process,
but from his published writings. There is no
evidence that he was enriched through his
IRA or Sinn Féin roles. IRA members do
not personally profit from takings; if they
do, they are excluded from the organization,
punished or suffer moral disapproval. This
can be seen in the critical accounts of
57 See also Robert White,
‘Commitment, Efficacy and
Personal Sacrifice among
Irish Republicans’, Journal
of Political and Military
Sociology, 16 (1988), 7790.
58 Cronin, Irish Nationalism,
59 White, Provisional Irish
Republicans, passim
60 Cronin, Irish Nationalism,
Appendix XVI; the list was
compiled by Eamon
Timoney, one of the
61 Cronin, Irish Nationalism,
342; Coogan, IRA, 468
62 Kevin Boyle, Tom Hadden,
and Paddy Hillyard, Ten
Years on in Northern Ireland
(London, 1980), 19; see also
Kevin Boyle, R. Chesney,
and Tom Hadden, ‘Who Are
the Terrorists?’, in Fortnight,
7 May 1976 and New
Society, 6 May 1976. Ex-
IRA Volunteers Gerry
Adams, The Politics of Irish
Freedom (Dingle, 1986),
6768, and Patrick Magee,
Gangsters or Guerrillas?
Representations of Irish
Republicans in ‘Troubles
Fiction’ (Belfast, 2001), 16,
both approvingly cite the
Glover Report, and the
Boyle, Hadden and Hillyard
(1980) appraisal, as
independent assessments of
the non-criminal nature of
IRA recruits.
63 Magee, Gangsters or
Guerrillas?,passim. The
1984 bombing of the
Grand Hotel Brighton, the
site of a Conservative Party
conference, killed five
people, injured senior
Conservative Norman
Tebbit, seriously disabled
his wife, and came close to
killing Margaret Thatcher.
Magee received five life
sentences for the bombing.
He served fourteen years
before being released under
the terms of the Good
Friday Agreement.
64 Anderson, ‘Making a
65 Michael Ignatieff, ‘The
Temptations of Nihilism’,
in The Lesser Evil: Political
Ethics in an Age of Terror
(Princeton, 2003), 122
McGartland (1997) and Collins (1997).
Volunteers in ASUs rely on minimal
support, as do those ‘on the run’; and the
auxiliaries’ role is to punish petty criminals,
not to lead them — though, of course, some
may behave contrary to the organization’s
norms. Earning respect from local peers
rather than profits is a better explanation of
membership of vigilante and punishment
squads.68 The IRA’s resources, however
dubiously or criminally obtained, are
overwhelmingly channelled back into
mission-related activities. The IRA recruited
those willing to risk their lives or long jail
sentences for what they warned would likely
be a dangerous and short career. In short,
group-oriented, non-pecuniary and non-
egoistic motivations have been key, both to
recruitment and retention. The costs of
membership have been high: the risks of
death or of long-run imprisonment plain,
and the costs have also been borne by
family and loved ones, even if support is
provided to the families of imprisoned
volunteers. Famously, IRA volunteers have
been resistant to prison management
techniques that ‘ordinary criminals’
generally accept without organized protest
or rancour.69 This is not to say that all IRA
recruits epitomize austere republican virtue,
merely to affirm that personal criminal
opportunism amongst volunteers is
punished. The IRA, famously, does not ‘do
drugs’, and has attempted to ‘close down’ a
rival republican organization, the INLA,
when it started this mode of ‘self-financing’.
Northern Ireland, by contrast with the rest
of the UK and Ireland, as many have
observed, has been politically rather than
criminally violent.70
Ignatieff and others have the direction of
causality wrong. Defeated violent nationalist
organizations may become mafias, but they
do not originate as such, nor will they have
extensive legitimacy if they become such.
One priority of the Irish peace process is to
ensure the rehabilitation of former
republican paramilitaries — and, to date,
rates of recidivism, political or criminal,
among ex-IRA prisoners have been
strikingly low, and further evidence against
the criminal motivation thesis. The IRA, the
INLA and the Continuity and the Real IRAs
may come to resemble mafias in the course
of their respective dissolutions, but this will
constitute the corruption of their missions,
not their starting motivations. Indeed one
may argue that the policy implications of
the criminality thesis have been tested to
destruction in Northern Ireland.71 The
hunger strikes of 1980–81, which led to the
revitalization of support for both the IRA
and Sinn Féin, were a demand for
recognition as political prisoners and not as
criminals. The authorities faced the obvious
problem that most of those incarcerated
were incarcerated under ‘scheduled
offences’, i.e. under special procedures for
politically motivated special offences.
Precisely because the IRA was a political
agency, it needed to be treated politically as
well as legally (though plainly any
politically violent agency in a liberal
democratic state violates the criminal law).
Had Ignatieff’s counsel been followed — i.e.
not to conciliate or appease the IRA with
political concessions — then there would
never have been a Good Friday Agreement
in 1998, and perhaps another 1,000 people
would have died since 1994 because of a
false theory of motivation.
Fourthly, there is no sustained evidence that
the IRA’s recruits are psychologically
abnormal. Studies have been made
comparing the murderers committing
political as opposed to non-political killings
in Northern Ireland. They confirm this
appraisal (e.g. Lyons and Harbinson 1986),
and thereby support the general finding in
research on political violence and terrorism
that ethno-national terrorists are ‘normal’,
i.e. representative of their social bases.72
Yeatsian-tinged psychological portraits of
Irish republicans nevertheless abound in the
literature. Patrick Bishop and Eamonn
Mallie title the Prologue to their The
Provisional IRA, ‘Fanatic Hearts’, after
Yeats’s lines, ‘Out of Ireland have we come /
66 Robert White, ‘From
Peaceful Protest to
Guerrilla War —
Micromobilization of the
Provisional Irish
Republican Army’,
American Journal of
Sociology, 94 (1989),
1277–302; White,
Provisional Irish
Republicans, passim.
Collins’s Killing Rage
provides the fullest
narrative of his movement
into the IRA — it includes
the mistreatment of his
mother and the beating up
and false arrest of his
father, his brother and
himself by British
paratroopers, knowledge
of left-wing ideology and
exposure to a left-wing
(English) academic,
disillusionment with the
prospects of reform and
power-sharing, and the
impact of the campaign
for political status by
republican prisoners. ‘I
was full of a heady
mixture of anti-
imperialism, anger,
sympathy and self-
importance’ (23); greed
played no role, and he
despised volunteers and
auxiliaries who engaged in
petty theft.
67 Reviewed further in
McGarry and O’Leary,
Explaining Northern
Ireland, ch. 6–7.
68 Frank Burton, The Politics
of Legitimacy: Struggles in
a Belfast Community
(London, 1979); Silke,
‘Rebel’s Dilemma’.
69 See McEvoy, Paramilitary
70 Ken Heskin, ‘Societal
Disintegration in Northern
Ireland — A Five Year
Update’, Economic and
Social Review, 16, 3
(1985), 187–99
Great hatred, little room / Maimed us at the
start / I carry from my mother’s womb / A
fanatic heart.’ It is good poetry; it is not
social psychology. Kevin Toolis claims to
have journeyed ‘within the IRA’s soul’ —
fine words, but not convincing science.
Bishop and Mallie see IRA violence as an
inevitable psychological product of
partition: ‘Even if the leadership were to
abandon violence, another violent
organization would spring up in its place.
As long as Ireland is divided, violent
republicanism will be an ineradicable
tradition.’73 This is an extreme psycho-
political claim that will be tested when the
IRA disbands.
Fifthly, there is agreement that the spatial
origin of IRA recruits has changed. In the
1956–62 campaign significant numbers of
southerners were involved. Today it is
agreed that, except, of course, in Southern
Command, northerners predominate, at all
ranks — although there are still significant
numbers of volunteers from or living in the
southern border counties. The IRA’s
evolution is, in part, the story of it being
taken over by northerners, i.e. those with
most to complain about the long-term
repercussions of the Treaty of 1921.
Sixthly, IRA volunteers are Irish nationalist,
in identity, and as a result of experience.
They did not all grow up in Irish nationalist
households, and, indeed, there have been a
small number of Irish Protestant and
English-born volunteers, but most are Irish
nationalists, by birth, or culture and
learning. They believe that Great Britain
denied the Irish people its right to self-
determination when it partitioned Ireland,
and that Northern Ireland is an artificial
entity which cannot function as a
democracy, and, until recently, have believed
it is unreformable, i.e. Catholics or
nationalists cannot be treated as the equals
of Protestants and unionists within the UK.
The IRA’s nationalist character bears
emphasis because it is so often portrayed in
international media as religiously motivated.
It is vital to preserve the distinction between
nationalist agents who use political violence
(whether in democratic or undemocratic
settings) and the salvationist violence of
apocalyptic religious fundamentalists (like
Al-Qaeda). The distinction is not just
important for analytical accuracy.
Nationalists prepared to use force may be
repressed (but rarely fully), or negotiated
with (successfully or otherwise), or both. By
contrast, cosmopolitan religious
fundamentalists can be thoroughly repressed
in some circumstances, because they are
likely to be territorially infrequent and
isolated, but they cannot be negotiated with
as long as they retain their beliefs. It is an
error, into which Ignatieff slips, to conflate
liberal opposition to nationalist violence
with liberal opposition to apocalyptic
religious fundamentalism.
A last word about the IRA’s recruits since
1969 is required on numbers. We do not
have the IRA’s personnel records.
Widespread uncertainty is suggested by the
fact that in the major books on the IRA
none has ‘numbers’ in its index — some do
not have indexes.74 It is standard to
estimate between 300 and 500 volunteers in
ASUs, a measure of the ‘stock’ of militant
activists that probably derives from leaks of
the IRA’s own organizational planning
changes of 1976–77, which informed the
Glover Report. It seems reasonable to
assume approximately an equivalent
number of ‘cadets’ in training, and in the
auxiliaries, at any one time, suggesting an
annual stock of ASUs and reserves and
auxiliaries of about 900. As for total flow,
Martin McGuinness, a former Chief of
Staff, is widely cited as having suggested
that over 10,000 people have been in and
through the IRA’s ranks since 1969. One
journalist, Eamonn Mallie, reports that the
IRA told him that between ‘eight and ten
thousand’ of its personnel had been
imprisoned before 1987.75 The gap between
estimates of current stock and total flow
make sense when one recognizes the high
attrition rate of volunteers, through death,
71 See also Brendan O’Leary,
‘The Labour Government
and Northern Ireland,
1974–79’ in John
McGarry and Brendan
O’Leary, The Northern
Ireland Conflict:
Engagements (Oxford,
2004), 194–216.
72 H. Lyons and H.
Harbinson, ‘A
Comparison of Political
and Non-Political
Murderers in Northern
Ireland, 1974–84’,
Medicine, Science and the
Law, 26 (1986) 193–98;
Clark R. McCauley,
‘Terrorism Research and
Public Policy: An
Overview’, Terrorism and
Political Violence, 3, 1
(1991), 126–44; Andrew P.
Silke, ‘Cheshire-Cat Logic:
The Recurring Theme of
Terrorist Abnormality in
Psychological Research’,
Psychology, Crime and
Law, 4 (1998), 51–69;
Andrew P. Silke, ed.,
Terrorists, Victims and
Society: Psychological
Perspectives on Terrorism
and Its Consequences
(London, 2003), ch. 1–2
73 Bishop and Mallie,
Provisional IRA, 5
74 For example, see Moloney,
Secret History.
75 Bishop and Mallie,
Provisional IRA, 1;
Mallie is identified as the
interviewer and Bishop
as the author.
injury, incarceration, flight — or
resignation. The IRA is not like ‘Hotel
California’ — one can leave. Most volunteers
are expected to retire after having served a
sentence. A formal check on the 10,000
estimate of the total flow is the stock and
flow of the prison population. The average
daily number of prisoners in Northern
Ireland’s jails in 1969 was approximately
600; by 1979 it had reached nearly 3,000 —
a figure that excluded IRA volunteers in jails
in Great Britain and Ireland, but included
loyalist prisoners. From 1985 until 1997 the
Northern Ireland prison population stabilized
at around 2,000 as a daily average.76 The
cited estimate of a total flow of IRA
volunteers of 10,000 is therefore credible
(especially given that a significant number
may never have been incarcerated). It
suggests that an extraordinarily high
proportion of Northern Irish working-class
Catholic males who matured after 1969 have
been through IRA ranks.
Tactics, Strategy, Costs of Conflict
Between 1919 and 1921 the IRA improvised
to create a standard template in modern
violent politics, inventing contemporary
guerrilla warfare, flying columns that
avoided facing the imperial power in the
field of formal war, and modes of resistance
and rejection which attacked the state’s
sovereignty and its core functionaries,
especially its police and intelligence
agencies, but in conjunction with a wider
democratic movement, of which the most
important component was a political party,
Sinn Féin. This party’s name, standardly
translated as ‘Our Selves’, can also be
translated as ‘Ourselves Alone’, or even as
‘Self-Determination’, according to Bill
Kissane. Sinn Féin, backed by the IRA’s
cutting edge, established a parallel state,
creating what is nowadays known, after
Trotsky, as a situation of ‘dual power’. The
forte of the IRA, orchestrated by Collins,
was killing policemen and intelligence
officers — which broke the imperial state’s
surveillance and control capabilities. It
ensured that the IRA was far more effective
than all previous Irish insurrectionary
movements; it showed how a war of the flea
could confound an imperial elephant,
provided that the elephant felt restrained
from destroying the habitat of the flea.
The contemporary IRA also innovated.
It invented new modes of urban guerrilla
warfare, donating the ‘car-bomb’ to the
known repertoires of political violence.
Political murders, assassinations, tit-for-tat
shootings, and ‘human bombs’ made the
IRA infamous, as did ‘tarring-and-
feathering’ and kneecappings. It was
arguably less effective in killing senior
military, police and intelligence officers than
the old IRA. It failed to assist its party in
creating dual power or a parallel state —
unless one counts the vigilante system. It
also showed greater political and moral
weakness than its predecessor by its
expanded conception of legitimate targets —
including non-uniformed off-duty police and
soldiers, retired police and soldiers, and
workers in organizations supplying non-
military services to the army and the police.
(But, as Glover noted, it generally has not
attacked the families of police and soldiers.)
The IRA is not proud of its techniques of
disciplining its own membership and its
community, but it has undoubtedly been
resourceful. The IRA’s campaign has been
conducted in Northern Ireland, Great
Britain, and in places as far apart as
Gibraltar and British military bases in
Germany, leading to the deaths of
approximately 200 people outside the main
‘war theatre’. Fund-raising and weapons
running were organized in places as distinct
as Carter’s and Reagan’s USA and Colonel
Gaddaffi’s Libya.77 It tied down tens of
thousands of UK soldiers for three decades,
imposed immense economic damage on the
region, and on the UK exchequer,
assassinated key members of the British
political élite, including Lord Louis
Mountbatten, a member of the royal family,
76 McEvoy, Paramilitary
Imprisonment, 16
77 Jack Holland, The
American Connection:
US Guns, Money and
Influence in Northern
Ireland (Dublin, 1989),
27–113; Moloney, Secret
History, 1–33
and twice came within a whisker of blowing
up the UK Prime Minister and Cabinet. The
bulk of the IRA’s violence, of course, was
organized within Northern Ireland, where it
was spatially concentrated, notably in
Belfast. Allowing for the ceasefires, the
IRA’s thirty-year campaign is one of the
longest nationalist insurgencies in the post-
war world, certainly the most enduring in
the established liberal democracies.
The Provisional IRA developed a fearsome
capability and reputation. Between 1969
and 1994 it was responsible for more
deaths, over 1,750, than any other agency
in the conflict.78 It out-killed all other
republican organizations; all ‘loyalist’ (i.e.
pro-régime) paramilitaries combined; and all
loyalist and all other republican
paramilitaries combined. It significantly out-
killed the individual and combined official
forces of the UK: the British army, the Royal
Ulster Constabulary, the B Specials — and
their successors, the Ulster Defence
Regiment and the Royal Irish Regiment.
According to Lost Lives, by David
McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney
and Chris Thornton, the (Provisional) IRA
was responsible for 48.5 per cent of the
over 3,600 deaths arising from the conflict
between 1966 and 2001. By contrast, the
IRA lost nearly 300 of its volunteers, 8 per
cent of the total victims. Richard English,
using the same data-source, maintains that
civilians formed the largest single category
of IRA victims (642), followed by the
British forces (456), the RUC (273), the
Ulster Defence Regiment or Royal Irish
Regiment (182), republicans (162), loyalists
(28), prison officers (23) and others (12).79
His conclusion depends upon disaggregating
the security forces and aggregating civilians.
A different way to frame the same data, as I
have done in Figure 1, is to observe that
967 of the IRA’s victims were military,
police, prison officers, or loyalist
paramilitaries — i.e. the IRA killed more of
its self-defined targets than civilians. But
that still means only just over 54 per cent of
its victims fell within its official legitimate
targets, roughly one in two. In any military
appraisal of its war, this must constitute the
strongest indictment.
The IRA’s violence made Northern Ireland
the most politically violent region in the
European Community (later the Union). The
numbers killed between 1969 and 1990
exceeded those killed as a result of political
violence in all other EC countries put
together. In 1973–82 violence in Northern
Ireland alone placed the UK at the top of a
league table of nineteen western European
states in deaths from political violence and
political assassinations.80 The absolute
death toll naturally pales in contrast with
the major civil, colonial, and ethnic wars of
the post-war authoritarian world. The
78 See Figure 1, and O’Leary
and McGarry, Politics of
Antagonism, ch. 1, and
Brendan O’Leary and
John McGarry, The
Politics of Antagonism:
Understanding Northern
Ireland (London, 3rd
edn. forthcoming).
79 English, Armed Struggle,
80 E. Zimmermann,
‘Political Unrest in
Western Europe’,
Western European
Politics, 12 (1989),
179–96, cited in O’Leary
and McGarry, Politics of
Antagonism, ch. 1
UK Security Forces
Prison Service/GB Police)
IRA & Other Republicans
Garda/Irish Army
0 200 400 600 800 1000
Source: adapted from McKittrick et al. (2001, updated)
British authorities have not suppressed the
population which explicitly or tacitly
supports the IRA in the manner experienced
by Algerian Muslims, the Kurds of Iraq,
Kashmiri Muslims, Palestinian Muslims and
Christians, South African blacks, or Sri
Lankan Tamils. The British authorities
treated incarcerated IRA prisoners relatively
mildly by contrast with what was meted out
in Latin American, African, or South Asian
jails. Yet these observations can mislead.
Nearly all wars and civil wars between 1945
and 1990 were exacerbated by superpower
rivalries, or by regional powers and
neighbouring states. These factors did not
operate in Northern Ireland — which
proves how deep ethno-national conflict can
become in geopolitically isolated regions.
The US government deplored violence in
Northern Ireland and sought to prevent
unofficial support from Irish-Americans, in
the form of guns and money, from reaching
the IRA. The ‘special relationship’ with the
UK consistently proved more important for
American geopolitical interests during the
Cold War than the ethnic sentiments of
some Irish-Americans. The Soviet Union,
by contrast, used the Northern Ireland
experience to embarrass the UK, e.g. in
reference to the jailing of innocent Irish
people in Great Britain, like the Guildford
Four, the Birmingham Six, and the Maguire
Seven, but played no role in fomenting the
conflict. The two states with most at stake,
the UK and Ireland, despite multiple
disagreements, generally sought to co-
operate to contain the conflict. The IRA did
not champion and were not championed by
Ireland — although the British regarded
Ireland as the IRA’s ‘safe haven’. Loyalist
paramilitaries embarrassed British
politicians — and such support as they
received from the security forces (so far)
appears to have been unauthorized by
ministers. The sole third-party state that
sought to inflame the conflict, Libya, was
neither a regional power nor a neighbour.
Its supplying of arms in 1974–75, and again
in 1988, was retaliation for American and
British actions against the régime of Colonel
Gaddaffi. The conflict of the last thirty
years has therefore been extremely intense
given that it took place in a small region, in
the presence of moderately amicable
relations between the relevant neighbouring
states, and regional powers, and in the
absence of operational superpower rivalries.
In duration, the present conflict easily
outranks all others in twentieth-century
Ireland, and only the Irish Civil War exceeds
it in intensity.
How did people die? In assassinations (a
plurality of all deaths); in gun-battles,
crossfire, through snipers’ bullets, and in
ambushes; in explosions or from anti-
personnel devices; and a small proportion
died in riots or affrays. Over half of
republican killings, mostly by the IRA, took
place during gun-battles/crossfire, sniping
incidents, ambushes, or through explosives
and anti-personnel devices; by contrast most
loyalist killings were assassinations.81 But a
third of deaths caused by republicans were
assassinations. There were, in effect, two
wars. First, a war of national, ethnic, and
communal assassination, executed by IRA
volunteers, loyalist paramilitaries and by
some UK security personnel. There was also
a guerrilla and counterinsurgency war, with
riots and affrays, especially in the early
years, enhancing the numbers killed. In
aggregate, paramilitary killings of civilians
outnumbered those killed in the guerrilla
war between republican paramilitaries and
the security forces. The number of civilians
killed through targeting, or through
‘collateral damage’, by republicans,
loyalists, and the UK security forces
amounted to approximately half of the total
number killed. The paramilitary ‘defenders’
of the two major communities had
dramatically fewer casualties than the
civilians they claimed to be defending. The
IRA failed to make and present the war as a
clean fight between Irish republicans and
the British state; the British state failed to
make and present the conflict as just a
dispute between two unreasonable
communities, but had some success in doing
81 See O’Leary and
McGarry, Politics of
Antagonism (3rd edn.).
so; loyalists helped veto a British
The annual death tolls and responsibilities
for them are in Figures 2 and 3. The high
death toll in the early years is explained by
three factors. The first was the ‘loyalist
backlash’, both proactive and retaliatory,
against civil rights demonstrations in the
late 1960s, and then against the IRA’s war.
The British government’s decision to abolish
the Northern Ireland parliament in 1972,
and its efforts between 1973 and 1976 to
establish a power-sharing government with
all-Ireland institutions increased loyalist
fears. Very high numbers of Catholic
civilians were victims of sectarian
assassinations by loyalists between 1971
and 1975. The intention was to deter
Catholics from supporting the IRA, but
because loyalists did not have reliable
information on IRA volunteers,
‘representative’ killing of randomly selected
Catholic civilians, identified by their first
names, surnames, or residences,
predominated. The second factor was the
decision by the IRA to launch its war,
employing classical guerrilla techniques
against UK army and police personnel.
But it also extensively engaged in large-scale
bombings of commercial targets, such as
factories and shopping centres. Guerrilla
warfare produced large numbers of
casualties among inexperienced police and
soldiers, while commercial bombings led to
significant numbers of civilian deaths,
especially in Belfast; Martin McGuinness,
by repute, organized the urban bombing of
Derry with far less collateral damage. The
third factor was the repressive — and
counter-productive — policy of internment
without trial of suspected terrorists, which
lasted between 1971 and 1975. Initially
targeted (inaccurately) exclusively at
republicans the policy produced widespread
resentment throughout the Catholic
population, acted as a recruiting agency for
the IRA, and added fuel to the fire.
Explanations for the fall-off in deaths after
1976 complement this analysis. Loyalists
reduced their killings of Catholics, both
absolutely and as a share of the total death
toll, because their fears of a British
withdrawal had diminished — and were not
revived until the Anglo-Irish Agreement of
1985. Loyalists were arrested and jailed,
and their organizations became more
factionalized, corrupt, and directionless. The
IRA changed its organization, and strategy,
in ways that reduced the annual death toll.
No Religion
Source: adapted from McKittrick et al. (2001, updated)
Many of its volunteers had been jailed; and
in response the ASUs were developed. After
1976 the IRA primarily aimed to attack
‘military’ and ‘police’ targets, and until the
early 1990s reduced its urban commercial
bombing which had threatened to
undermine its support. The IRA became
responsible for a lower annual death toll,
but a higher share of the total death toll.
Furthermore, more effective surveillance and
intelligence among the security forces
reduced the levels of violence. The
authorities abandoned internment in
1975–76. A battery of new containment
techniques was employed. Up to 30,000
personnel patrolled the countryside and city-
streets, establishing armed ‘check-points’.
Forts and observation posts with the latest
surveillance technologies were established in
the heart of nationalist districts, including in
school premises. House searching and
civilian screening took place on a massive
scale, backed up by computerized databases
on over one quarter of the population.
Armoured vehicles, bomb-disposal robots,
and ‘jelly-sniffers’ were used to protect
security force personnel. Entire ‘town-
centres’ were cordoned off, and everybody
entering such areas subjected to rigorous
searching. Emergency legislation weakened
civil liberties and facilitated the
apprehension and sentencing of suspected
paramilitaries. Finally, all experienced
‘learning curves’. In 1970, the IRA had to
make an average of 191 attacks to kill a
single member of the security forces; by
1984, 18 were sufficient.82 The security
forces became more vigilant to defend
themselves. They also, formally, became
more restrained: in the early 1970s they
were permitted to shoot at identified petrol-
bombers but now are supposed to use
‘minimum force’ weaponry, like plastic
bullets. The return to ‘police primacy’ in
1977 was associated with a reduced level of
killings. Armed police are more restrained
than soldiers trained to kill in combat.
Personal and collective surveillance and
security management by ordinary citizens
also increased. They travelled warily in
‘shatter-zones’ or ‘frontiers’, or avoided
them altogether; and migration from ‘mixed
areas’ to ethnically segregated residences in
the 1970s reduced the opportunities for
‘soft’ or ‘easy’ killings. The time-series show
a dramatic falling-off in the number of
deaths sustained by the British army —
excluding the locally recruited regiments.
The local security forces (UDR, RIR, RUC
and RUC Reserve) suffered an increasing
proportion of the deaths sustained by the
security forces. This was the predictable
product of ‘Ulsterization’, the UK’s post
1975 policy-preference for local security
forces — which reduced the UK’s
vulnerability to the loss of British-recruited
82 W. D. Flackes and Sidney
Elliott, Northern Ireland: A
Political Directory, 196888
(Belfast, 1989), 394
Total killed by: Republican paramilitaries
Total killed by: Loyalist paramilitaries
Total killed by: UK security forces
Source: adapted from McKittrick et al. (2001, updated;excludes killings by others/civilians/not known)
troops, but increased its dependency upon
local Protestants who were less likely to be
impartial. It also occasioned a switch in the
targets chosen by the IRA: it was easier to
kill local security force members, at their
homes, or off-duty, than to kill soldiers in
fortified barracks or in armoured vehicles.
Who suffered most in the conflict? Who was
most sectarian among the paramilitaries?
These questions are not amenable to easy
empirical treatment. Estimates of numbers
of victims are available, under various
labels. Since each choice of label affects
numbers, all appraisals are contested.83 It is
extremely difficult to code motivations, or
even the primary motivations of the killers.
Taking civilians alone, the largest single
category of victims has been Catholic, and
since Protestant civilians outnumber
Catholic civilians by approximately 3 to 2,
Catholic civilians suffered more deaths,
absolutely and relatively, than Protestant
civilians. Appraisal cannot rest there.
Catholic civilians were the primary targets
of loyalist paramilitaries, and the security
forces were the primary targets of the IRA,
but these facts obscure an important
consideration. The local security forces were
recruited primarily from Protestants. A
simple comparison of Catholic and
Protestant civilian death-rates therefore
obscures the victims suffered by the
Protestant community. That said, the nearly
300 dead mostly Catholic IRA volunteers
almost directly match the over 300 mostly
Protestant dead police in the RUC and its
reserves. The dead in the B Specials, UDR
and RIR also nearly match the other
republican dead. The data and
interpretation of Sutton (1994), presented in
Figure 4, with slight adjustments, suggest
that IRA violence has been primarily
strategic, aimed at its official legitimate
targets, rather than sectarian, i.e. the
deliberate killing of Protestant civilians: he
classifies 12.4 per cent of IRA killings as
sectarian, and a very high proportion of
these occurred in 1975–76. This viewpoint
is supported in the sophisticated analyses of
O’Duffy (1995) and White (1997). The IRA
killed far more members of the security
forces than Protestant civilians, partially
fulfilling its mission of fighting ‘a war of
national liberation’. But, that does not
definitively settle the question of IRA
‘sectarianism’ — even if one codes the IRA
as less sectarian than loyalists, as the death-
evidence warrants. Protestants interpret and
will interpret the targeting and killings of
Protestant members of the local security
forces as sectarian. White points out that
the small proportions of Catholic members
of the security forces killed matched their
numbers in these forces (which suggests no
special effort on the part of the IRA to
target Protestant members of the security
forces), but such killings are simply coded as
sectarian by unionists, loyalists and their
sympathizers.84 The IRA unquestionably
carried out some overt and intended killings
of uninvolved Protestant civilians — as
opposed to killing such persons through
‘collateral damage’. These actions were
defended by IRA volunteers as necessary
acts of deterrence against loyalist killings of
Catholic civilians, especially in south
Armagh, or shamefacedly acknowledged —
or simply denied.
Violence extended far beyond killings. Data
on injuries sustained as well as the annual
number of explosions, the number of bombs
neutralized, the scale of findings of
explosives and firearms, the number of
shooting incidents, the use of rubber and
plastic bullets, the number of armed
robberies, and the money taken in armed
robberies are available. They show the same
patterns as the death toll data: very high
levels of violent activity in the years
1971–76 with subsequent ‘normalization’.
Close to one in fifty of the population
suffered serious injuries. Available data do
not include the mental injuries suffered by
those kidnapped; held hostage in their
homes during ‘stake-outs’; arrested when
guilty of no crime; or otherwise maltreated.
Nor do they measure the distress caused by
intimidation, being the friend or relative of
83 Compare the evaluations
of Brendan O’Duffy,
‘Violence in Northern
Ireland: Sectarian or
Ethno-National?’, Ethnic
and Racial Studies, 18, 4
(1995), 740–72, and
Robert White, ‘The Irish
Republican Army: An
Assessment of
Sectarianism’, Terrorism
and Political Violence, 9, 1
(1997), 20–55, with those
of Steve Bruce, ‘Victim
Selection in Ethnic
Conflict: Motives and
Attitudes in Irish
Republicanism’, Terrorism
and Political Violence, 9, 1
(1997), 56–71.
84 For example, see Bruce,
‘Victim Selection’.
a victim or being a witness to violent
deaths, injuries, and other episodes.
The IRA’s campaign, as intended, resulted in
heavy financial burdens on the UK
exchequer. It also placed costs on Ireland’s
exchequer: the extra security costs ensuing
from the crisis between the years 1969 and
1982 were estimated at over IR£1,050
million. For the same period additional
expenditure on security incurred by the UK
government was estimated at UK£4,150
million. One 1985 audit estimated that the
annual direct costs of violence of the
conflict incurred ran at £1,194 million — a
figure that excluded the indirect economic
costs of lost output and employment arising
from the political crisis.85 Providing security
in Northern Ireland in the fiscal year
1990–91 cost just under £1 billion — more
than three times the per capita UK average,
and certain costs were not apparently
calculated, e.g. those entailed in tightening
security at military bases in Great Britain
and Germany, intelligence-gathering and
surveillance in Great Britain, and protecting
the political and civil establishments. Other
economic costs included the stress on and
infrastructural damage to the public
services: health and welfare and housing
administration, public utilities, and the
penal services. Telephone exchanges, post
offices, railway networks, bus garages, gas
depots, power stations and reservoirs were
bombed or robbed and their staffs
intimidated. Frauds against public-sector
organizations ran into millions of pounds.
Compensation payments to victims of
violence or owners of destroyed properties
ran much higher. Claims for compensation
exceeded 13,000 cases per annum.
Protection rackets affected the profitability
of many private-sector organizations; as did
the requirements imposed by insurance
companies upon shops and offices. The
insurance costs of private transport rose to
reflect the high numbers of vehicle thefts,
hijackings, and car-bombings. The
incredibly high proportion of the population
involved in security led economist Bob
Rowthorn to describe the Northern Ireland
economy as a ‘workhouse’, in which most
were employed in controlling or servicing
one another.86 The most obvious economic
costs are the least measurable: the
‘opportunity-costs’ of three decades of
conflict, in lost investment, output, and
productive employment.
The human-rights costs and the impact on
liberal democratic institutions must also be
counted. The legal authorities of Northern
Ireland, Great Britain, and Ireland were
granted formidable emergency powers. The
ratios of arrests to charges, and of charges
to convictions, were relatively high,
suggesting large-scale screening, and
systematic deprivation of many innocent
85 Irish Information Partnership
data, cited in O’Leary and
McGarry, Politics of
Antagonism, ch. 1
86 Bob Rowthorn and Naomi
Wayne, Northern Ireland:
The Political Economy of
Conflict (Oxford, 1988),
0200 400 600 800 1000
British Forces
Unintentional Civilians in NI
Others (incl. Punishment Killings & Intra-Republican Feuds)
Alleged Informers
VIPs and Civilians in GB
Civilians Working for British Forces
Loyalist Military Activists
Loyalist Political Activists
Legal Officials
Source: adapted from Sutton (1994: 196–201)
citizens of their liberty. Departures from
traditional legal procedures become normal:
no-jury courts were used because jury-trials
were not safe from perverse verdicts or the
intimidation of jurors and witnesses.
Confessions became admissible as the sole
basis for conviction on charges of having
committed scheduled offences — including
confessions subsequently retracted. In 1988
the UK government abandoned the
traditional common law ‘right of silence’ —
courts and prosecutors were entitled to
draw inferences from the silence of suspects.
Delays of several years became routine in
holding inquests on persons killed by the
security forces. Belief in the impartiality of
British justice was severely damaged. The
most notorious cases of wrongful
imprisonment demonstrated police-
fabrication of evidence against innocent
Irish people; incompetent or malevolent
forensic practices; judicial wishful thinking
and partisanship; and ethnic bias in media
reporting. The conflict impaired other key
institutions. Certain sections of the British
intelligence services ran amok in the 1970s.
Believing that the authorities were ‘giving in
to terrorism’, they plotted directly against
the elected Labour government, and spread
false rumours.87 Collusion with loyalist
paramilitaries also occurred on a significant
scale from the late 1980s. The media were
censored in both jurisdictions.
What was the IRA’s strategy, and how could
it justify such costs? Appraisals of its
strategy are rare.88 The simplest answer is
that had no single strategy, but multiple
strategies. In the first phase of conflict,
1970–75, the IRA expected a short war, a
replication of what had happened in
1919–21, in which the British government
would be forced to negotiate its withdrawal
from the remainder of Ireland. It
overestimated its capacity to hurt the UK
state, underestimated the costs that loyalists
and the security forces could impose on its
volunteers, neglected the rooted
determination of the majority unionist
population within Northern Ireland to
oppose a compulsory united Ireland, and
overvalued southern support for an
offensive — as opposed to a defensive —
IRA. The IRA played a role in the
overthrow of Stormont, but over-reached in
thinking it could produce a quick British
disengagement, and lacked any overt
evidence of a popular mandate. It was also
completely unsuccessful in negotiations —
and out-manoeuvred in 1975. In the second
phase of conflict the IRA’s leadership
foresaw and organized for a long war of
attrition. It was capable of maintaining
itself, but underestimated the extent to
which it could be contained within
Northern Ireland. Taking the war to Great
Britain and Europe involved spectacular
activities, but these could not be as
logistically sustained as those in Northern
Ireland. The IRA initially lacked a
convincing political strategy to match its
military activities. A new and apparently
more effective strategy emerged almost by
accident, in 1980–81, when the impact of
the republican hunger strikes on public
opinion created opportunities for Sinn Féin
to emerge as an electorally significant
political party in the North.89 To continue
the novel electoral momentum and search
for broader allies the republican movement
was obliged to reconsider abstentionism,
first within local government in the North,
and then toward Leinster House in the
South. It endorsed change, and modified its
constitution. That led to the first significant
split in the movement — though not within
the IRA. Older pre-1969 southerners in
protest formed Republican Sinn Féin. The
strategy of combining the ballot box and the
Armalite, as Danny Morrison described it,
superficially resembled the Sinn Féin and
IRA alliance of 1918–21, but with a major
difference: the lack of a majority mandate
within the North, not even among the
Northern nationalist population, or among
the nationalist population in Ireland as a
whole. The IRA was persuaded to accept
the end of abstentionism by Sinn Féin in the
belief that the army would not be run down
— and hard-liners were temporarily
87 Peter Wright, Spycatcher:
The Candid
Autobiography of a
Senior Intelligence
Officer (New York,
1987) and Paul Foot,
Who Framed Colin
Wallace? (London, 1989)
88 Michael L. R. Smith,
Fighting for Ireland? The
Military Strategy of the
Irish Republican
Movement (London,
1995) is an unusual
Clausewitzian treatment,
which I examined as a
PhD dissertation.
89 On the blanket protest
and hunger strikes, see
Tim Pat Coogan, On the
Blanket: The H Block
Story (Dublin, 1980),
Beresford, Ten Men
Dead and Liam Clarke,
Broadening the
Battlefield: The H-Blocks
and the Rise of Sinn Féin
(Dublin, 1987).
sweetened by the prospect of major arms
supplies from Libya. Sinn Féin, the IRA’s
party, because originally it was little more
than that, then placed limits on the IRA. It
gained greater autonomy, and sometimes its
needs had to be placed first. Bobby Sands
and his colleagues had died on hunger strike
‘to broaden the battlefield’, and had
succeeded beyond their expectations. Sands’s
hunger strike, his victory in a parliamentary
by-election, and his death, followed by the
deaths of nine other prisoners, cemented the
political status of the IRA, but would end up
limiting its military actions, and subjecting it
to electoral discipline.90 The party gathered
one in three northern nationalist votes on a
platform of supporting its army, the IRA,
but to grow later on, it had to distance itself,
or place constraints on its army. In the
interests of electoral gains, reinforced by
their materialization, Sinn Féin has,
therefore, slowly displaced the IRA as
republicans’ preferred organizational means
of struggle, and not without dissent within
the ranks of the volunteers — and the
creation of two small break-away
organizations, the Continuity and Real
IRAs.91 The party now has many members,
probably an overwhelming majority, with no
record of service as volunteers; and many of
these are now prominent parliamentarians.
Combining the ballot box and the Armalite,
contrary to what Morrison thought at the
time, proved unsustainable. Success with one
undermined use of the other. From being the
inspirer of the party, the army became a
constraint. The IRA’s decision to organize a
ceasefire in 1994, and later to renew it, had
one primary beneficiary: Sinn Féin. The
party doubled its vote share in the North
within a decade, recently winning four seats
in the Westminster parliament, five in Dáil
Éireann, and becoming, just, the largest
nationalist party in the (suspended)
Northern Ireland Assembly — and it has had
one of its former Chiefs of Staff serve as a
Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive.
How did this transformation happen? One:
the IRA was not winning its long war to
compel the UK state to disengage, even if it
was not losing, and even if it could plant
devastating bombs in the City of London.
No victory on the ‘battlefield’ meant that
there could be no victory at the negotiating
table. Two: demographic transformations
pointed to the possibility of a Northern
nationalist majority that could create a
constitutional path to end partition — and
to a currently large enough nationalist bloc
to leverage a power-sharing settlement given
existing UK policy commitments to the Irish
government. Three: republicans began
properly to assess the full recalcitrance of
unionists and loyalists toward the idea of a
unitary Ireland, and the possible
development of indifference toward
reunification in the newly prosperous
Ireland. Four: political agents inside and
outside the republican movement persuaded
sufficient IRA leaders, volunteers and
prisoners that a peace process, building up a
wider alliance of nationalists, was the best
way to advance the IRA’s objectives, even if
that meant the IRA’s disbandment before the
attainment of a unitary Ireland. Key sections
of the IRA leadership eventually determined
on a peace process without express
assurances that their declared war-objectives
would be met through negotiations, and
called a ‘complete cessation’ of military
operations in August 1994, after a careful
and protracted process of negotiation
among Irish nationalists, and then between
the UK and Irish governments, had
produced the Joint Declaration for Peace of
December 1993. The divided IRA resumed
military operations by a majority vote of its
Army Council in February 1996 in protest
at the Conservative government’s
unwillingness to engage with Sinn Féin, but
formally declared a ceasefire again in 1997.
The full complexity of this transformation,
its necessary ambiguities, and consequences,
is beginning to emerge in a range of studies
and publications, and we will likely not
know the full details of intra-IRA
manoeuvres and disputes for some time.92
Given space constraints I will use just two
texts to complement my earlier argument on
90 See the discussion of the
hunger strikes in Padraig
O’Malley, Biting at the
Grave: The Irish Hunger
Strikes and the Politics of
Despair (Belfast, 1990),
critically reviewed in
Brendan O’Leary, ‘Review
[of O’Malley 1990]’ Irish
Political Studies, 6
(1991), 118–22.
91 See Feeney, Sinn Féin.
92 Important here are
Feeney, Sinn Féin;
English, Armed Struggle;
Eamonn Mallie and
David McKittrick, The
Fight for Peace: The
Secret Story Behind the
Irish Peace Process
(London, 1996);
McGarry and O’Leary,
Explaining Northern
Ireland, ch. 10; McGarry
and O’Leary, Northern
Ireland Conflict; Anthony
McIntyre, ‘Modern Irish
Republicanism: The
Product of British State
Strategies’, Irish Political
Studies, 10 (1995),
97–122; Moloney, Secret
History; Brian Rowan,
Behind the Lines: The
Story of the IRA and
Loyalist Ceasefires
(Belfast, 1995).
the old IRA, those of Richard English and
Ed Moloney. English, a unionist with roots
in Northern Ireland, and a professor at
Queen’s University, Belfast, has written a
dispassionate evaluation in Armed Struggle.
In his concluding chapter, he identifies seven
arguments that motivated the IRA. First, its
resurgence ‘began primarily in response to
defensive need’, providing ‘muscular
defence’ in 1969–70 for oppressed
nationalists in Belfast and Derry against a
partisan RUC and loyalist sectarian mobs.
Second, there was deep-rooted unfairness
toward the nationalist minority in Northern
Ireland, where the Ulster Unionist Party
ruled without interruption from the
formation of the régime until 1972, and
which created, thereby, the social base of
the IRA. Third, and relatedly, there was the
cause of Irish national self-determination —
to which he arguably pays insufficient
attention. Fourth, the IRA regarded
Northern Ireland as ‘unreformable’. The
treatment of the civil rights demonstrations
of the 1960s confirmed this belief, as had
the introduction of internment without trial
between 1971 and 1975, and events such as
the Falls Road curfew of 1970 and Bloody
Sunday in 1972. Fifth, IRA volunteers
defined the conflict as a national liberation
struggle, and for over two decades stressed
socialist as well as republican commitments.
Sixth, they saw unionists as ‘a residue of
British colonialism in Ireland’. Lastly, they
regarded themselves as, and often succeeded
in behaving as, non-sectarian republicans
committed to creating a common
democratic state for all of Ireland. One of
the many merits of English’s book is that he
evaluates these arguments seriously, and
shows that these convictions were sincerely
held, and were sane.
Naturally, he addresses the deficiencies and
disputable elements in the IRA’s arguments,
dealing seriatim with the IRA’s frequently
offensive role, and its contribution to
serious injustice in Northern Ireland and
elsewhere, both through actions and
provocations. He adds minor (unionist)
qualifications to the picture of a
discriminatory unionist régime before 1972;
observes that Ulster Unionists have a case
for self-determination and regarding
Northern Ireland as legitimate; argues for
the empirical (and normative) importance of
the autonomous dispositions of unionists
and loyalists, who often resisted the policies
of Westminster and Whitehall; and stresses
the counterproductive nature of the IRA’s
violence in stiffening unionist resistance to
Irish reunification, and in inhibiting a
political settlement; and, not least,
emphasizes the IRA’s intermittent descent
into sectarian killings. But, English
scrupulously acquits the IRA of sole
responsibility for the conflict of the past
thirty years, distributing blame across a
range of political groups, and on British and
unionist policies and dispositions without
which the IRA’s actions or persistence would
have made little sense. None of his writing
avoids the elemental emotions and tragedies
involved in IRA actions and their
repercussions for both the organization’s
target-victims and its members. He forgets
neither the ‘Fanonist rage’ of some
volunteers, nor the local status and petty
power sometimes achieved through being in
‘the ’RA’, but refuses to overemphasize the
tabloid components of the IRA, which he
treats as neither corrupt nor as ruthlessly
efficient as it would have liked to have been.
From this measured study we may conclude
that the IRA has failed militarily to drive
the British state out of Ireland, and to
achieve a united Ireland in the immediate
future. If Ireland is to be reunified in future,
it will be through ballot boxes and
institutionalized negotiations.
But what English misses is the constitutional
path through which the IRA must disband
itself, if it is to dissolve itself in good order.
That requires its volunteers not only to
believe that military means cannot win their
objectives, and are therefore best replaced
through democratic — and consociational
— politics, but to do so consistent with
their own constitution, to which they are
pledged, or else face the danger of further
splits and the departure of their matériel
into the hands of irreconcilables. Thanks to
Ed Moloney’s A Secret History of the IRA,
the current IRA constitution, as amended in
1986, and again in 1996, is a matter of
public record. It has five objects,
recognizable successors to the founding
aims, namely, ‘to guard the honour and
uphold the sovereignty and unity of the Irish
Republic as declared by the First Dáil’; ‘to
support the establishment of an Irish
Socialist Republic based on the 1916
Proclamation’; ‘to support the establishment
of, and uphold, a lawful government in sole
and absolute control of the Thirty-two
County Irish Republic as constituted by the
First Dáil’; ‘to secure and defend civil and
religious liberties and equal rights and equal
opportunities for all citizens’; and ‘to
promote the revival of the Irish language as
the everyday language of the people’ (Art. 3.
1–5). Until these objects are achieved the
organizational integrity and cohesion of the
IRA, and its military capabilities must be
maintained (Art. 8. 5.1–2); and ‘until a
settlement has been agreed, leading to a
united Ireland’ the IRA must retain its arms
(Art. 8. 5.5).93 So, the question presently
before all is this: how may the IRA
constitutionally disband itself if the
sovereignty and unity of the Irish Republic,
‘as declared by the First Dáil’, has not been
Before answering this question let me sweep
aside some side-issues. Let us assume that
socialism on the basis of the 1916
proclamation, civil and religious liberties,
equal rights and opportunities for all, and
promoting the Irish language, do not require
the existence or use of the IRA’s arms — a
proposition with which the current Irish
prime minister, who has declared himself a
socialist, would certainly affirm. Note,
secondly, that it is now the First — not the
Second — Dáil’s mandate (for an
autonomous Ireland that would exercise its
self-determination) that is defended by the
IRA. It is this constitutional change that has
enabled the IRA not to oppose Sinn Féin’s
participation in elections to and membership
of Leinster House.
One way the IRA’s constitutional self-
transformation may go in future would be
to argue that since the Belfast/Good Friday
Agreement of 1998, endorsed by the people
of Ireland, North and South, and now on
the verge of full implementation, the
partition of Ireland presently rests on a
decision of the people of Ireland, as do the
power-sharing institutions, agencies and
policies embedded in that Agreement. In
short, the Agreement is the necessary act of
Irish national self-determination that repairs
the constitutional wound of 1920. That was
certainly how constitutional nationalists,
North and South, defended the Agreement,
and in instructing its voters to endorse it in
the two referendums, Sinn Féin became
complicit with that argument. The
Agreement recognizes (present) partition as
an Irish, not a British decision, and
recognizes Ireland’s right to achieve
(re-)unification through consent in both
jurisdictions. It also, of course, establishes
consociational institutions within Northern
Ireland and cross-border all-Ireland
arrangements that may legitimately be
construed as harbingers of a federal
Ireland.94 Once the Agreement is on the
verge of being fully implemented, notably
with the withdrawal of British troops to
barracks, comprehensive police reform,
major changes in the administration of
justice, and with the Northern Ireland
(Suspension) Act of 2000 removed from the
UK’s statute book, then it becomes possible
to argue two things. One is to say that ‘a
settlement leading to a united Ireland’,
without any British external interference
over Irish self-determination, has already
been accomplished. A united Ireland has
been achieved through the Agreement, but
not a unitary Ireland, rather an Ireland
united by the institutions of the Agreement.
The people of Ireland, North and South,
93 Moloney, Secret History,
Appendix 3
94 See O’Leary, ‘The Nature
of the British-Irish
have the right of national self-
determination, but also the right to choose
how to exercise national self-determination,
and if that involves having one territorial
unit with revisable linkages to the United
Kingdom, that need not be a denial of the
underlying principle. This would probably
be too much for most republicans to
stomach — it may seem lawyerly, or
specious, although it has its attractions.
Secondly, and probably more persuasive to
most republicans, it is possible to argue that
‘a settlement has been agreed [and
implemented] leading to a united Ireland’,
even though the latter has not (yet) occurred
— ‘leading to a united Ireland’ is not the
same as the ‘attainment of a united Ireland’.
Either of these arguments permit republican
volunteers in good conscience to amend the
IRA’s constitution to say that the object of
the First Dáil has been met — which would
then authorize the ratification of
decommissioning by an Army Convention
(required by Art. 8. 5.5), and the subsequent
disbanding of an organization which had
met its constitutional mission.
A united Ireland need not necessarily be a
unitary Ireland; and a sovereign Ireland may
take many forms, including a divided form,
through a federation or confederation, or
through two units within a European
confederation. Moreover, a Northern Ireland
Assembly — and legal system, and even UK
parliament — which does not require oaths
of allegiance to the Crown on the part of
ministers is surely in some respects like a
Dáil Éireann which has no such requirement.
The new Northern Assembly and North-
South Ministerial Council create forums in
which all the objects of the IRA may be
pursued without recourse to arms, and with
some prospects of success (although the
chances of the Irish language must be less
than those of a unitary state). Arguments of
this nature may have occurred — or be
anticipated — if the IRA is, as is clear,
willing comprehensively to decommission its
weapons. We shall find out.
If such an internal constitutional
transformation occurs the IRA will not have
failed politically to the degree that it failed
militarily. The IRA, in action or on
ceasefire, made it necessary for a political
settlement to address the denial of Ireland’s
right to self-determination in 1920 — and,
for that matter, to undertake the radical
police reform that has been negotiated since
1998, as well as range of other anti-
discrimination measures that might not
otherwise have materialized. The IRA did
not fight for power-sharing in a Stormont
parliament, nor did it design those
institutions, nor did it initially endorse the
Good Friday Agreement. But its existence,
and the skilled trading of its capacities for
constitutional and political concessions,
obliged others to create comprehensive
power-sharing institutions in and across
Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain
all of which are consistent with the core
idea of Irish national self-determination. In
that idea the ‘Irish’ include both Irish
nationalists and Irish unionists who identify
with Great Britain. In that idea self-
determination may take a concurrent as well
as a unitary form. The IRA may in good
faith amend its constitution to accomplish
its own dissolution in a manner that the
majority of the ghosts of the First Dáil
would approve, although the vote might be
too close to call among the ghosts of the
rump Second Dáil.
This essay was completed toward the end of
2004. Three events since have led readers of
my draft to ask whether I wish to modify or
update my views. They are, first, the failure of
the two governments to oversee a renewal of
the Agreement of 1998 with the active consent
of the DUP and Sinn Féin. The second is a
major bank robbery in Belfast which the Police
Service of Northern Ireland rapidly blamed on
the IRA. It persisted in this claim, despite
vehement denials by both Sinn Féin and the
IRA, and was joined in its accusation by the
two governments and the Independent
Monitoring Commission, which additionally
alleged Sinn Féin’s involvement. The
accusations prompted the IRA to withdraw all
past offers it has put on the negotiating table,
but not its cease-fire. The story of the robbery
has, to date, climaxed with the arrest in the
South of Sinn Féin members, ‘suspected’ IRA
members, and one suspected ‘dissident
republican’ according to the head of Ireland’s
police. The third event is the murder of Robert
McCartney in the North, which eventually led
the IRA to deny its involvement, to describe
such murders as contrary to its principles, and
to encourage those with knowledge to do as
the victim’s family wants, which means
informing the police.
These events do not require any revision of
the analysis given above. They are reminders
that history records few tidy end-games to
conflicts. It is worth emphasizing that Sinn
Féin and the DUP had reached an
astonishing level of agreement. The gap
separating them was narrow — the precise
form of publicity to accompany the
verification of decommissioning. It was also
huge because it involved group-honour,
emphasized above. The IRA and Sinn Féin
sought to avoid humiliation; they believed
that was precisely
the DUP’s price-tag on the prospective
bargain. As matters have unfolded different
humiliations awaited republicans. The
interpretation of the bank robbery still
requires some caution. It is not yet known
whether it was the action of unauthorized IRA
operatives, or of conspirators within the IRA
opposed to the peace process. It seems
incredible that it would have been authorized
by the IRA’s Army Council. At the very least
the unfolding evidence suggests a loss of
control within the IRA that has damaged and
embarrassed Sinn Féin’s leaders. Neither the
IRA nor Sinn Féin is a monolith, and it would
be no surprise to find some Sinn Féin figures
handling the IRA’s finances. The argument
presented above was that the IRA has been
an instrumentally rational nationalist
paramilitary organization, politically rather
than criminally motivated, and, with the right
political management, on the verge of
dissolution. That argument withstands
scrutiny despite these events. Group-honour is
essential both to understanding the IRA’s
longevity, and how it must be managed, and
the bank robbery and the murder have
magnified its importance. One can and should
condemn crimes without rushing to brand an
organization’s leaders as guilty without a trial.
To step on a group’s honour may arouse anger
rather than reason. The IRA’s dissolution
should be sought, but with sufficient care to
prevent the type of fragmentation associated
with ETA in the Basque country. Sinn Féin
will need to cleanse itself, both because that is
right and to avoid electoral damage, but it is
always more difficult to reform when shamed.
These events have rendered resolution far
more awkward, coming as they do in the run-
up to elections in both parts of Ireland and in
Britain. They have postponed the resolution
which this essay foresaw; they have not
terminated that prospect.
Thanks are owed to the late Marianne Heiberg, to Sharon Burke, Bill Kissane, John McGarry, Brendan
O’Duffy, Stephan Stoeler, and to people whom I cannot name.
... A non-combatant is usually used as a synonym for civilian, but what of cases where combatants are "off-duty", or civilians are armed or contributing in a significant way to combat operations. In Northern Ireland there is no consensus on many of the key issues relating to the conflict, including who counts as a "legitimate target", what counts as "sectarianism", and even who counts as a "victim" (see Bruce 1997, Drake 1998, O'Duffy 1995, O'Leary 2005, White 1997, Bloomfield 1998. We adopt a conservative definition of "civilian" here that obviously excludes combatants (members of state security forces, including army, police, and other security agencies, members of republican armed groups, and members of loyalist armed groups), whether on or off duty, but also excludes former paramilitaries, alleged informers, ex-security forces personnel, and armed group-associated politicians. ...
... Our contribution here is twofold. Firstly, a number of studies have argued that ideological differences are important factors in decoding the patterns of violence in this conflict; others have disputed this; and some studies have not been immune to ideological biases themselves (see Bruce 1997;Drake 1998;O'Duffy 1995;O'Leary 2005;White 1997). However, their research designs -centered on broad qualitative explorations and bivariate correlations that do not systematically account for potential confounders -are in effect descriptive rather than explanatory: they do not allow assessment of the independent effects of different factors. ...
... In this article, we have theorized and empirically examined the role of group ideology in explaining patterns of civilian victimization across belligerents. Employing an original micro-level dataset that allows sub-national and armed group-level statistical analysis, we found that the ideologies of armed groups in Northern Ireland's civil war consistently predicted their targeting patterns, in line with some previous qualitative accounts on armed blocs or specific paramilitary organizations (O'Duffy 1995;O'Leary 2005;White 1997). These results survive a battery of robustness checks. ...
Full-text available
Why do some groups fighting in civil wars target civilians more than others? We propose an explanation that challenges the current focus on material and organizational factors and instead brings back and emphasizes the role of ideology. We argue that the ideological frameworks of armed groups, whether state or non-state, condition their decisions about targeting, in some cases setting normative constraints on action even if such choice involves higher costs and risks. We examine these hypotheses using a mixed-method approach that combines a statistical analysis of a newly constructed disaggregated data set on all fatalities in Northern Ireland’s conflict between 1969 and 2005 with a comparative historical study of the interaction between key ideologies and the armed groups that adopted them.
... O'Leary attempts to solve this apparent contradictory dichotomy with regards to the partition of Ireland by arguing convincingly that it had both colonial and ethnonational dimensions (2007b: 900). It should be stressed that unionism was a driving ideological force in Ireland but also in Britain, where the Tories (unlike the liberals or the Labour party) enthusiastically embraced it (Fanning, 1985;O'Leary, 2007a). ...
... That effectively meant that one of the two IRA grievances -Ireland not being fully independent -was no longer valid and, therefore, only one remained: partition. In parallel, that same year, the IRA issued a resolution which explicitly forbad its militants from taking any military action -even of a defensive nature-against the Southern institutions, de facto recognising the legitimacy of the Irish state (Bowyer Bell, 1997;O'Leary, 2007a). Provided that partition was the one and only cause left it is not surprising that the IRA reoriented its operation towards the institutional embodiment of partition: Northern Ireland. ...
Full-text available
Critics of partition argue that it contributes to the perpetuation, rather than the amelioration, of territorial conflict. This paper engages with the theoretical debates on partition, focusing on the particular and illustrative case of Ireland. The island has been partitioned into two polities for a century. Opposition to the partition of Ireland has existed from the outset to the contemporary Brexit context. The argument is that while hostility to partition has experienced different forms, namely, political and violent and different degrees of intensity, there is a historical continuum of contestation against partition in Ireland. While the territorial issue was calmed by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, Brexit has reanimated the border question, providing political momentum for those who aim to challenge the territorial status quo.
... 13 Kalyvas 2006: 6;Cederman and Gleditsch 2009. 14 For a variety of views, see Bruce 1997;Drake 1998;O'Duffy 1995;O'Leary 2005;White 1997. qualitative explorations and bivariate correlations that do not systematically account for potential confounders -are in effect descriptive rather than explanatory: they do not allow assessing the independent effects of different factors. ...
... The motivation of individual PIRA members has been well covered by both investigative journalists and academics (English, 2016;O'Doherty, 1998;O'Leary, 2007). While a complete assessment is well beyond the scope of this paper, it is the case that the evidence presents a number of findings particularly relevant to economists. ...
Full-text available
We examine the history of the organization of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and assess whether Republican terrorism reflected the possession of valuable group-specific human capital within the terrorist cell. The analysis is motivated by economic models of the formation of specialized groups. We also note the public-goods co-ordination problem facing terrorist groups, given their inability to use mainstream enforcement mechanisms. Of particular interest are four well-defined historical examples of factionalism within the IRA. The history of Irish republicanism is consistent with the prediction that increasing the opportunities for cell members outside of life in the organization, particularly through amnesty, destabilizes the organization but leaves a hardcore of remaining terrorists. The gap between terrorist characteristics and those belonging to members of wider society is more gradated than predicted.
... The last two paragraphs were a call to arms and a promise to continue to do so until a free national government was in place. This last condition would be one of the major considerations in the cessation of hostilities and decommissioning of arms by the Irish Republican Army following the Good Friday Agreement in 1997 (O'Leary 2005). ...
Having been in the 2000s far from the spotlight of the news, European separatism is gradually returning to the information fi eld, which is partly due to the alerting reports from Scotland and Catalonia. The paper attempts to answer the following questions: what is the nature of the ethnoregional separatism in the EU, how does disintegrational agenda cohabit with the European integration dynamics, and what are the prospects for European separatism. The review of the theoretical framework within which ethnic and regionalist separatism exists is followed by the analysis of the empirics gained from diff erent European regions claiming independence or autonomy, such as Scotland, Catalonia, Flanders, Brittany, and many others, in 2000–2021. The author attempts to demythologize the widespread misconception about separatism as a potentially deadly threat to the EU nation-states or the European unity. The research is situated within the constructivist view towards ethnicity and the symbolic practices employed by the separatists; this paradigm is complemented by the institutional approach to the EU governing bodies and practices. The author comes to the following conclusions: currently, disintegrative projects within the EU nation-states cannot be successful, because of the position of the EU and the member states, and due to the uncertainties in the ethnic regions themselves (however, Scotland makes for an important exception, because of Brexit). Most separatist cases in the EU are either of instrumental or of a pure autonomist nature and do not enjoy any support from the integrational grouping that is not ready for the troubles the “internal extension” might cause. Moreover, if in the late 20th century, a discernible trend for decentralization and devolution was present, now the pendulum took the reversed direction, or at least remains unmoving; the author observes the trend for recentralization or at least for the freezing of the current fragile balance.
Over three decades, the Provisional Irish Republican Army waged a campaign of violence that claimed the lives of some two thousand people. This article explores the moral framework by which the IRA sought to legitimate its campaign—how it was derived and how it functioned. On the one hand, the IRA relied on a legalist set of political principles, grounded in a particular reading of Irish history. An interlinked, yet discrete strand of legitimation stressed the iniquities of the Northern Irish state as experienced by Catholic nationalists, especially in the period 1968–1972. These parallel threads were interwoven to build a powerful argument that justified a resort to what the IRA termed its “armed struggle.” Yet the IRA recognized that the parameters for war were set not simply by reference to ideology but also by a reading of what might be acceptable to those identified as “the people” or “the community.” Violence was subject to an undeclared process of negotiation with multiple audiences, which served to constitute the boundaries of the permissible. Often, these red lines were revealed only at the point of transgression, but they were no less important for being intangible. An examination of the moral parameters for IRA violence provides a new perspective on the group, helping to explain IRA resilience but also its ultimate weakness and decline.
Breaching the Civil Order - edited by Jeffrey C. Alexander December 2019
This article examines the evolution of the British Government’s position regarding the question of the sovereignty over Northern Ireland from the post-Partition era until the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, as well as the gradual adjustment of the strategy of the Irish republican movement on this question, which eventually led to the end of the IRA’s armed campaign. The analysis of the evolution of British legislation in relation to the status of Northern Ireland, the commitments that the British Government acquired through the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Sunningdale Agreement, and the Downing Street Declaration and the evolution of the strategy of the Republican movement in each of these moments show that the issue of Irish sovereignty, which has returned to the forefront of the political debate within the framework of the Brexit negotiations and the UK-Irish border, played a key role in the political settlement reached twenty years ago.
This chapter looks at the politics of the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and argues that the faltering attempts to establish devolution in Northern Ireland were a product of the ways in which contemporary political developments are saturated with the politics of the past. This chapter explores how the legacies of the conflict continued to influence post-Agreement politics in the North. The underlying question is the extent to which it is possible to speak of peace and transition in a society that is still characterised by sectarian division at the social and geographic levels and political entrenchment and polarisation at the level of elite politics. The chapter examines the episodic attempts to establish a power-sharing government at Stormont and the similarly sporadic attempts by the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Assembly to establish mechanisms for dealing with the legacies of the Troubles. Although these mechanisms have created financial and medical assistance for victims, the debate over the meaning of the conflict reveals an underlying trend concerning the ability of the past to influence the present. Thus, while governmental initiatives may appear to deal with the past in a piecemeal fashion, in fact, the divisions over power-sharing and the meaning of the Troubles simply reflect the fact that the contributory causes of the conflict — namely, antagonistic policy objectives and different, communally-based experiences of the violence — continue to shape contemporary politics.
Full-text available
Using an encounter from Alice In Wonderland as a metaphor, this article examines the long-running attempt to apply a psychopathology label to terrorists. The disorders of greatest interest to researchers (antisocial, narcissistic and paranoid personality disorders), are described in order to highlight their attraction for theorists. A review of evidence follows. The critique finds that the findings supporting the pathology model are rare and generally of poor quality. In contrast, the evidence suggesting terrorist normality is both more plentiful and of better quality. However, in response to a failure to find any major psychopathology, a trend has emerged which asserts that terrorists possess many of the traits of pathological personalities but do not possess the actual clinical disorders. This development has effectively tainted terrorists with a pathology aura, without offering any way to easily test or refute the accusations.
Out of Time: Irish Republican Prisoners, Long Kesh
  • Laurence Mckeown
Laurence McKeown, Out of Time: Irish Republican Prisoners, Long Kesh 1972-2000 (Belfast, 2001);
Explaining Northern Ireland, ch. 10 Northern Ireland ConflictModern Irish Republicanism: The Product of British State Strategies', Irish Political Studies
  • O 'leary Mcgarry
  • O Mcgarry
  • Leary
McGarry and O'Leary, Explaining Northern Ireland, ch. 10; McGarry and O'Leary, Northern Ireland Conflict; Anthony McIntyre, 'Modern Irish Republicanism: The Product of British State Strategies', Irish Political Studies, 10 (1995), 97–122; Moloney, Secret History; Brian Rowan, Behind the Lines: The Story of the IRA and Loyalist Ceasefires (Belfast, 1995).
1; Mallie is identified as the interviewer and Bishop as the author. 90 See the discussion of the hunger strikes in Padraig O'Malley, Biting at the Grave: The Irish Hunger Strikes and the Politics of Despair (Belfast, 1990), critically reviewed in Brendan O'Leary, 'Review [of O'Malley
  • Bishop
  • Mallie
  • Ira Provisional
75 Bishop and Mallie, Provisional IRA, 1; Mallie is identified as the interviewer and Bishop as the author. 90 See the discussion of the hunger strikes in Padraig O'Malley, Biting at the Grave: The Irish Hunger Strikes and the Politics of Despair (Belfast, 1990), critically reviewed in Brendan O'Leary, 'Review [of O'Malley 1990]' Irish Political Studies, 6 (1991), 118–22.
  • Joe Anderson
  • Liam Cahill
  • Kathryn Clarke
  • Martin Johnston
  • Mcguinness
Anderson, Joe Cahill; Liam Clarke and Kathryn Johnston, Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government (Edinburgh, 2003);
92 Important here are Feeney Sinn Féin; English, Armed Struggle; Eamonn Mallie and David McKittrick, The Fight for Peace: The Secret Story Behind the Irish Peace Process
  • See Feeney
  • Sinn Féin
91 See Feeney, Sinn Féin. 92 Important here are Feeney, Sinn Féin; English, Armed Struggle; Eamonn Mallie and David McKittrick, The Fight for Peace: The Secret Story Behind the Irish Peace Process (London, 1996);
); A Farther Shore: Ireland's Long Road to Peace
  • An Irish
An Irish Journal (Dingle, 2001); A Farther Shore: Ireland's Long Road to Peace (New York, 2003);
There is also Danny Morrison's prison journal, Then the Walls Came Down: A Prison Journal (Cork, 1999), which I have not read. and Northern Ireland The Northern Ireland Conflict: Consociational Engagements
  • David Sharrock
  • Mark Devenport John Mcgarry
  • Brendan O Leary
David Sharrock and Mark Devenport, Man of War, Man of Peace? The Unauthorised Biography of Gerry Adams (London, 1997). There is also Danny Morrison's prison journal, Then the Walls Came Down: A Prison Journal (Cork, 1999), which I have not read. and Northern Ireland, 1974–79' in John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary, The Northern Ireland Conflict: Consociational Engagements (Oxford, 2004), 194–216. 72 H. Lyons and H. Harbinson, 'A Comparison of Political and Non-Political Murderers in Northern Ireland, 1974–84', Medicine, Science and the Law, 26 (1986) 193–98;
  • Mac Seán
  • Stiofáin
Seán Mac Stiofáin, Memoirs of a Revolutionary (London, 1975);