A Millennial’s Insight into Irish Republicanism and the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ by Aindriú Inglis

A Millennial’s Insight into Irish Republicanism and the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’



The inspiration behind this publication came from my Dissertation studies, which I completed at the end of April 2016 in University College Dublin, Ireland. The dissertation focused on specific issues and events during the period of 1968 – 1998 that are widely accepted in academic literature as having transformed the Provisional Movement from an anti state insurgency group with claims to a revolutionary leadership, to a partner in governing a state it once pledged to destroy. I took a rather hard-line approach and asked the question could the Provisional Movement be accused of abandoning Republicanism?

A similar discussion will take place in this publication, but it will take a different format in order to appeal to the more general reader. I will however, give consideration to a different audience in my next publication. Due to the nature of dissertations, they are often rigidly structured and encompass theories and constructs that are alien to those who are unfamiliar to that specific area of study. In my own dissertation, I found that I was bound to these theories and constructs which hampered the fluidity and essence of what I was trying to argue. Writing this eBook enables me to break free from the purely academic political science aspect of the dissertation whilst maintaining its scholarly core but in a much more accessible manner. The eBook also gives me an opportunity to reach out to potential readers who may not have a background in political science or Irish history, but who are eager to learn about a very contentious period in British and Irish history and cultural studies.

The central theme of this publication explores Irish Republicanism during the period of 1968 until 1998 from the perspective of someone who was born only in 1994. Readers should be aware that I will be, for the most part, talking about what is termed the ‘Provisional Movement’ (both Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA) and their transition from a militant revolutionary movement to a democratically elected party both north and south of the Irish border. I understand that this term of ‘Provisional Movement’ is a pejorative one to some Republicans, but in the interest of clarity, I have decided to use it so as to not confuse readers with the other ‘alphabet groups’, a term Gerry Adams used to describe so called dissident Republican organisations[1]. Readers should note that groups like the INLA, the RIRA, the CIRA and the Official IRA have all played important roles in ‘waging war’ against the British state. Even in 2017, the ‘Struggle’ continues with certain Republican groups but I would argue that their capability, and influence is miniscule.

When asked why this line of work interests me, I usually attribute it to my hometown of Dundalk in Co. Louth. Dundalk is a place with a strong Irish Republican tradition and heritage. It can trace its Republican roots back to the 1798 United Irishmen Rebellion, but like most Irish Republican revolts, they failed miserably (O’Sullivan, 1998: 165). Dundalk has also seen a fair share of conflict throughout the years due to its proximity to the border with Northern Ireland and was nicknamed ‘El Paso’ by BBC reporter Max Hastings in his 1972 reportage due to its apparent lawlessness. The year of 2011, saw the election of one of Ireland’s most divisive political figures; Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin and TD (member of parliament) for Louth. He retained his seat in 2016 and was elected along side his running mate, Imelda Munster.

There is plenty of evidence from former Comrades like Delores Price and Brendan “The Dark” Hughes[2] suggesting Adams was heavily involved in IRA activity but it is an allegation that he continues to publicly deny. It is used consistently as a political stick to beat him with but time and time again Adams seems to come out unscathed. Nonetheless, Adams is also credited for the standing down of the Provisional IRA and directing the Provisional Movement to peaceful means with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. However, with the peace process and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, ‘the internal dynamics of mainstream Irish Republicanism have been altered out of recognition’ (Frampton, 2009: 1). For Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA volunteer, The Good Friday Agreement consigned Irish Republicans to administer British rule in Ireland and their acceptance of decommissioning their arsenal has served to delegitimize and criminalise the previous Republican struggle (McIntyre, 2008: 9).

From decades of research on revolutionary movements, a great deal is known about the conditions and dynamics of mobilisation, but less is known about how contentious actors demobilise and what this means for the movement, its supporters and society in general (Tarrow and Tilly, 2007: 97 and Giugni, 1998: xii). Rucht argues by becoming a player in the conventional political process, revolutionary organisations lose their initial character as challengers to the status quo and the forces in power (Rucht, 1999: 153). For Tarrow, these same forces of power, along with the dominance of capitalism were able to domesticate and institutionalise those involved in ‘contentious politics’ (Tarrow, 1994: 9). The phenomena defined as abandonment, defection, decline or defeat has been little explored in sociological literature (Della Porta, 2013: 264). The idea of ‘abandonment’, whether that be in the form of violence or a belief system can be either voluntary or forced and depends on whether an ‘individual or organisation makes a choice or is constrained to adopt a certain behaviour’ (Della Porta, 2013: 264). The theory and literature behind the concept of revolutionary movements argues once the movement enters the realm of constitutional politics, the essence of the struggle becomes diluted, as the new political formation must abide by the rules and regulations of the parliament.

The debate surrounding how the Provisional Movement came to its position of electoral power varies. Whilst I used over 50 sources in putting my case forward, there were 3 books that I found invaluable to my studies and I would recommend them to any readers who find this publication interesting. They will also take centre stage here. Anthony McIntyre’s Good Friday and the Death of Irish Republicanism takes aim at certain aspects of the Provisional Movement whilst also ridiculing the path being followed by Sinn Féin[3]. Kevin Bean’s The Politics of New Sinn Féin maps the ideological shifts that have occurred within the ‘new’ Sinn Féin party since the 1980’s. Marco Giugni et al From Contention to Democracy provides a mechanism that explains the incorporation of revolutionary movements into political structures. I should also mention an interesting article by Brendan O’Leary – Mission Accomplished? Looking Back at The IRA. O’Leary puts some cogent arguments forward suggesting that the Provisional Movement can claim a victory as ‘a united Ireland has been achieved through the Agreement (Good Friday Agreement), but not a unitary Ireland, rather an Ireland united by institutions of the Agreement’ (O’Leary, 2005: 244). But, before we get into the detail of transition, transformation and abandonment, I believe it is necessary to give some background information on how the Provisional Movement came to the fore.

Irish Republicanism has been notorious for its internal divisions and feuds, but one unifying belief has been that it is part of a broader Republican mainstream founded on ideas of the popular sovereignty of free, equal and self governing individuals (Patterson, 2009: 147). Republicanism in Ireland dates as far back to the 18th century. It has had a turbulent and rather bloody history on the island of Ireland. The War of Independence, the signing of the 1921 Anglo Irish Treaty and the bitter civil war that followed suit resulted in many Irish Republicans mistrusting conventional politics, something that still resonates with a minority of Republicans to this day[4]. Republicans, who remained true to the first Dáil (Irish parliament) and the IRA, held a set of beliefs and principles that distinguished them from those supporting the new Free State (26 county state minus the 6 counties of Northern Ireland) and the creation of Northern Ireland. Firstly, they rejected normal constitutional politics. The then IRA viewed itself as the true government of Ireland, temporarily overthrown by Britain who failed to acknowledge Irish sovereignty expressed in the All Ireland election of 1918. Thus, those who had adhered to the first Dáil saw Stormont (Northern Irish Parliament in Belfast) and Leinster House (where the Dáil sits in Dublin) as partitionist parliaments (partition refers to the division of Ireland and the creation of the Northern Irish state, controlled by Britain). Armed struggle was deemed as legitimate and any deviation from its use was strategic rather than principled. Electoralism (contesting elections) was a tactic, which had to be accompanied by abstention from any parliament that claimed jurisdiction over any part of Ireland, as the claims of such parliaments were illegitimate.

Come 1969, the so called ‘Official’ IRA split on the issue of formulating a national liberation front, which would run in tandem with other revolutionary movements and would require the dropping of abstentionism. The new Provisional Movement, received the backing of Tom Maguire, a former Commandant General of the IRA and the last surviving member of the 1922 Dáil. (Bishop and Mallie, 1987: 104). Maguire, in 1970, judged that it was the Provisional Army Council that retained the deeds to the Republican tradition and declared that the ‘Official’ IRA had ‘neither the right nor the authority to pass a resolution to end abstentionism’ (Bishop and Mallie, 1987: 105). However, when Maguire declared 16 years later that the move to abandon abstentionism in the South ran counter to Republican teaching, the Provisional leadership chose to overlook his judgement. It was now the case that the ‘ambitious subjectivity of the historical Republican project was replaced by a much narrower set of aims that redefined revolutionary transformation in the gradualist language of transition’ (Bean, 2007: 180).

Those remaining in the Provisional Movement after a further split in 1986 talked about an era of pragmatism and were enthusiastic about the dual role of politics and armed struggle. After the infamous Hunger Strikes of 1981, the leadership realised that there was a yearning for politics and a support base that was ready to be embraced[5]. Despite this, the Armalite and ballot box approach was not sustainable and pragmatism soon turned into reformism in many cases. The revolutionary, Republican movement of the Provisionals soon morphed into the institutionalised political party of ‘New Sinn Féin’, a transformation that Ruairí Ó’Brádaigh, the former president of Sinn Féin warned about in the 1986 Ard Fheis (the annual meeting of members). Ó’Brádaigh believed that recognising Leinster house would lead the movement down a constitutional path as opposed to a revolutionary one.

With the signing of the McBride principles along with the Mitchell principles, the Provisional movement lost much of its identity and it became clear that they would fall significantly short of what many had killed and died for[6] [7]. Moreover, the acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement calls into question the usefulness and the purpose of the IRA post 1974. For McIntyre, the British state has repeated its Sunningdale declaration of intent to remain in the north until a majority asks it to do otherwise: it has made it clear that the Unionist veto shall remain in place and has strengthened the partitionist ethos underlying the veto by having it enshrined in the revised southern constitution (McIntyre, 2008: 1). For mainstream Republicans, the Good Friday Agreement is seen as a transitory agreement that will lead to a united Ireland. Despite all this, the recent Brexit vote will ask serious questions of the Good Friday Agreement, its institutions and Republicans of all persuasions. The uncertainty and lack of political foresight could prove to be detrimental to a process that has brought peace to the island for nearly 20 years. Furthermore, the Good Friday Agreement achieved its legitimacy through the EU, which enshrined the provisions of open borders and the free movement of people, a feature that many people on the island of Ireland have become accustomed to and a cornerstone for EU citizenship. Considering the Brexit vote focused primarily on British immigration issues, I find it hard to comprehend how the concept of a soft, seamless and frictionless border will operate. I firmly believe we will see the resurrection of border checks and controls, which will undoubtedly be disastrous for border counties economically, with the potential of security issues also.

Although unlikely, there is a possibility that the union of Great Britain as we know it may cease to exist with the SNP preparing for another independence vote and the problem of Northern Ireland’s border with an EU nation. Sinn Féin hedged their bets well calling for a remain vote and then calling for a border poll in the immediate aftermath of the vote but it really is too early to predict what the outcome will be despite the fact that the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, expects to enact article 50 as early as March 2017. I hope that by the time you are reading this piece, the uncertainties surrounding Brexit will be somewhat clearer and my predictions of a hard border will be proven incorrect.


[1] Gerry Adams, born on 6th October 1948 is an Irish Republican politician who has been the president of Sinn Féin since 1983 and a Teachta Dála for Louth since 2011. He has also been elected to the Northern Ireland parliament and Westminster in London. Under his reign, Sinn Féin changed its traditional policy of abstentionism towards the so called ‘partitionist parliaments of Leinster House in Dublin and Stormont in Belfast. This was a fundamental change in tact, which enabled the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, bringing an end to a 30-year war. The policy of abstentionism remains intact for Westminster. To this day, Adams is accused of IRA membership, operating on the IRA Army Council and questioned on various atrocities, which occurred during the Troubles. He continuously denies being a member of the IRA. Despite his ambiguous past, Adams is particularly popular with younger generations and is renowned for his ‘selfie’ capabilities and his rather obscure twitter account. Adams has published numerous books and autobiographies, which may be of interest to readers. There are countless independent publications and online documentaries that discuss the figure and standing of Gerry Adams also.

[2] Those interested in learning more about Brendan Hughes and what he had to say about his time in the IRA and Gerry Adams in particular should read Ed Moloney – Voices From the Grave.

[3] For an alternative Republican voice, check out some of the websites Anthony is involved in – http://thepensivequill.am and http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81.

[4] Diarmaid Ferriter goes into fantastic detail describing this period of history in his book titled The Transformation of Ireland 1900 – 2000.

[5] There were many mass protests and marches in solidarity with the hunger strikers both north and south of the border. It suggested to the leadership that there was an opportunity to convert this mobilisation into seats in parliament.

[6] The Mac Bride Principles consist of 9 fair employment principles. They are a corporate code of conduct for US companies doing business in Northern Ireland. They have become the congressional standard for all US aid to, or for economic dealings with Northern Ireland. They were promoted by Fr. Sean McManus and the National Irish Caucus, John Finucanne and the American Irish Political Education Committee and were drafted by Nobel Laureate Séan McBride and were launched in 1984.

[7] The Mitchell Principles, named after US Senator George Mitchell, were 6 ground rules by the Irish and British governments and political parties in Northern Ireland regarding participation in talks on the future of the region. All future negotiators had to affirm their commitment to (1) the democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving conflict (2) the total disarmament of paramilitary organisations (3) agree that such disarmament must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an independent commission (4) renounce for themselves and to oppose any effort by others, to use force, or threaten to use force, to influence the course or outcome of all party negotiations (5) agree by the terms of any agreement reached in all party negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome which they may disagree (6) urge punishment beatings and killings stop and take effective steps to prevent such actions. The signing of these Principles led to resignations from the party with a particular focus on the Sinn Féin branch in Dundalk, Co. Louth.

*This is the first chapter of an ebook publication with a launch date on Amazon of 20.3.2017.

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