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The Troubles in Northern Ireland 101: The Long Road to Peace


The Troubles in Northern Ireland represented 30 years of complex intercommunal, paramilitary and state violence that claimed the lives of thousands and saw entire generations born or raised into conflict. Yet many struggle to understand how and why such a conflict could occur so recently in such a small corner of Western Europe. This 101 series will give a broad overview of the origins and history of the Troubles, the conflicting ethno-national identities that fuelled them, and an analysis of the peace process that brought the violence to an end and what that means for Northern Ireland today.

The Troubles in Northern Ireland 101 is divided into seven different chapters:

  1. The Troubles 101: Origins and History

  2. The Troubles 101: Nationalism and Republicanism - "800 Years of Occupation"

  3. The Troubles 101: Unionism and Loyalism - "No Surrender"

  4. The Troubles 101: Northern Ireland in Flames, 1969 – 1979

  5. The Troubles 101: The Long Road to Peace

  6. The Troubles 101: The Good Friday Agreement

  7. The Troubles 101: Northern Ireland After Good Friday - An End to the Troubles?

As shown previously, by the start of the 1980s the Troubles had largely begun to take the form of a simmering low-intensity conflict that was thankfully never again to match the explosive bloodshed of the early-to-mid 1970s. Nevertheless, peace still looked a long way off, with Northern Irish society engaging in daily life amidst the constant background hum of violence and tension. The British Army had sought to wind down its role in favour of the RUC and UDR in a policy of Ulsterisation, with the number of deployed troops down to 11,000 in 1980, from a high of 21,000 in the early 1970s (Connolly & Doyle, 2018). Simultaneously, the PIRA had begun its “Long War” strategy, seeking a lower intensity albeit more targeted armed campaign, a smaller organisational structure of self-sufficient cells, and a greater public role for its Sinn Féin political wing (Jackson, 2005). Meanwhile, the intercommunal divisions, especially between the poorer working-class Loyalist and Republican communities, were as strong as ever.

This chapter will show how these conditions of chronic conflict would evolve to lay the groundwork for negotiations towards the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, by analysing the period from the 1981 Hunger Strike up until the early 1990s. The first section will show how the Hunger Strike of 1981 galvanised the Nationalist community and transformed the Republican movement, leading to its adoption of the “the Ballot Box and the Armalite” strategy seeking a role for Sinn Féin in electoral politics. The next section will show how the 1980s saw a renewal of attempts to formulate political solutions to the Troubles, resulting in changing Nationalist strategies, greater United Kingdom-Republic of Ireland cooperation, and the end of Sinn Féin abstentionism in the Republic and a furious Unionist backlash. There will then be an analysis of the security situation of the 1980s through to the early 1990s, to show how the Republican “Long War” petered out, how the British states “Dirty War” damaged the ability of armed groups to operate, and how a renewed spike in Loyalist violence signified the continuing potential for conflict in an ever more war-weary country.

Figure 1: Morvan, Y. (1981). Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1981. Bobby Sand’s hunger strike – riots against the British army after the death of the catholic hero

1981 Hunger Strikes: Martyrdom and the Revolution of Republicanism

As mentioned in the previous chapter, the British government’s strategy of criminalisation led to the withdrawal of Special Category Status (SCS) for convicted paramilitary prisoners in March 1976. This status had allowed convicted paramilitary members several distinct privileges, that conferred upon them the treatment of political prisoners, akin to Prisoners of War (Mulcahy, 1995). First, they were exempt from wearing prison uniforms and doing prison work. Furthermore, they were placed into prison wings based on paramilitary allegiance, where they continued to operate under military command structures. In this they took orders from their paramilitary superiors, engaged in military drills using wooden rifles, and even conducted lectures on revolutionary politics and guerrilla warfare (Mulcahy, 1995). For Republicans, SCS represented an important symbolic status that legitimised their cause and the armed means with which they pursued it. By removing SCS, the British government instead sought to turn imprisoned paramilitaries into serious criminals rather than soldiers, who had violated the law and attempted to violently impose their will against popular opinion (Hearty, 2017).

No sooner had SCS been removed than Republican prisoners began to organise in protest to secure its return. This began with a blanket protest in which prisoners refused to wear prison uniforms, instead going naked or wrapping themselves in prison blankets, before developing into a dirty protest in which prisoners refused to leave their cells and smeared their faeces on the walls (Mulcahy, 1995). Nevertheless, after four years of dirty protest, the British government showed little sign of conceding the issue, with Republicans increasingly believing the protest was futile. The election of Margaret Thatcher as British Prime Minister in 1979, whose campaign manager and close confidant Airey Neave had been killed by an INLA car bomb less than two months earlier, promised an even tougher line on Northern Irish dissent (Mulcahy, 1995). Accordingly, Republican prisoners turned to a more extreme tactic, albeit one with a strong tradition within Republicanism dating back to the War of Independence and continued into the Troubles, the hunger strike (Sweeney, 2004). Indeed, it was a hunger strike by forty Republican prisoners in 1972 that had helped secure Special Category Status in the first place (Sweeney, 2004). A 1980 hunger strike for the return of SCS in Maze Prison, known as “H-Block”, ended in ambiguous circumstances, with Republican strikers claiming they had won worthwhile concessions that the British authorities later backtracked on (Mulcahy, 1995). This paved the way for a renewed bout of Hunger Strikes in 1981, which would prove a pivotal moment in the Troubles.

Figure 2: Dear, R. (1981). Bobby Sands's funeral procession, Associated Press

Bobby Sands, the PIRA negotiator for the 1980 Hunger Strike, led the new Hunger Strike on 1st March 1981, with further Republican prisoners from both PIRA and INLA to begin their hunger strikes at regular intervals thereafter (Mulcahy, 1995). Thatcher was adamant there would be no concessions, stating “There is no such thing as a political murder, political bombing, or political violence. There is only criminal murder, criminal bombing, and criminal violence” (Mulcahy, 1995, p. 449). At first, the strike gained little publicity. However after the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone died, Sands was nominated to stand for election as a Member of Parliament in the constituency on an “Anti H-Block” ticket, greatly increasing the exposure of the strike. The Nationalist community, including those opposed to Paramilitary violence, was broadly sympathetic to the suffering of the strikers and what they considered their reasonable demands (Kearney, 1981). Consequently, the SDLP stood down their MP in that constituency so as not to split the Nationalist vote, with Bobby Sands going on to become elected as Britain’s youngest MP on 9th April 1981, giving the case international attention (Mulcahy, 1995). Nevertheless, the British government still refused to concede, and Bobby Sands starved to death on 5th May after 66 days of refusing food. Another hunger striker was nominated and elected to Bobby Sands’s now vacated parliamentary seat, with two more Republican prisoners also elected to the Irish Dáil Eireann on Anti H-Block tickets. Sands would be the first of ten Republican hunger strikers to starve to death before the strike was called off, with no concessions regarding Special Category Status forthcoming (Mulcahy, 1995).

The death of Bobby Sands and other strikers had a massively energising effect on the Nationalist community, regardless of their support for Republicanism. Tens of thousands joined the funeral marches of the strikers, whose coffins were escorted by paramilitary members in full military uniform with the firing of rifle salutes (Mulcahy, 1995). Many in the Unionist community and much of the wider British public considered this a victory for the hard-line British government’s position of not conceding to Republican paramilitarism (Sweeney, 2004). Indeed, few British governments had been more popular with Unionists than during the Hunger Strikes, representing one of the few times that British policy matched the uncompromising demands of hard-line Unionism (Shannon, 2016). Yet for the Nationalist community, both in the North and the Republic of Ireland, and indeed much of the international media, the deaths of the strikers signified the supreme callousness of the British position, leading to widespread fury in the face of the horrendous suffering that the hunger strike entailed (Sweeney, 2004). The international attention also thrust the conflict back into the spotlight for the mainstream Irish-American Lobby, which mobilised to increase pressure on the US government to find a solution to the Troubles (Mansergh, 2018). Unionists believed this almost universal backing of Nationalists in the North and Republic of Ireland for the paramilitary prisoners showed that, when push came to shove, Irish Nationalists of all stripes would back Republican paramilitarism. Meanwhile, Nationalists saw in Unionists a complete lack of regard for the lives and human suffering of Catholic Nationalists (Sweeney, 2004). Inter-communal polarisation greatly increased, with renewed bouts of rioting throughout the Hunger Strike.

Figure 3: Marlow, P. (1981). Riots following Bobby Sands’ death after a 66-day hunger strike

For Republicans, these events, especially the election of multiple Hunger Strikers to parliamentary seats, led to a re-evaluation of the role of Sinn Féin in the struggle. The PIRA “Long War” had called for Sinn Féin to take a more prominent position, which now manifested itself in “the Ballot Box and the Armalite” strategy (Mulcahy, 1995). This would see Sinn Féin reverse its policy of not standing in Northern Irish and Irish elections, as instead they would stand on abstentionist tickets at the ballot box to illustrate public support for armed Republican goals. Simultaneously, the PIRA armed campaign, signified by the Armalite rifle and now boosted by fresh Nationalist recruits galvanised by the Hunger Strike, would continue to try to persuade the British government of the costly futility of remaining in Northern Ireland (Mulcahy, 1995). Although the Hunger Strikers had failed in their intended goal of winning Special Category Status, their deaths as martyrs had unintentionally given a huge boost to the Republican cause and led to a major re-evaluation of Republican political strategy in the process (Sweeney, 2004).

Renewed Hopes for Political Settlement and the Fury of Unionism

The Hunger Strikes had shaken the Northern Irish political landscape and provided Northern Ireland’s political parties with a renewed sense of purpose. Whilst Sinn Féin saw an opportunity to make a mark on the electoral landscape, the SDLP and their allies in the Republic of Ireland’s Fianna Fáil party had recognised the threat of the Nationalist community turning away from moderate Nationalism and towards Republicanism and violence (Mansergh, 2018). This would require them to put forward an alternative strategy for achieving constitutional change through peaceful means. Simultaneously the UUP, as representatives of the Unionist establishment, recognised the threat of losing their electoral support to bombastic Loyalist Ian Paisley’s upstart DUP with their continual demands for a tougher line on security and against concession (Shannon, 1986). Finally, Thatcher’s government also saw a need to back up her hard-line approach to security with some attempts to forge political progress.

Figure 4: PA Images. (1981). The funeral of hunger striker Bobby Sands, May 1981

For the British government, the Northern Irish Secretary James Prior made the biggest effort since Sunningdale to try and forge a political settlement, entailing the top-down establishment of the Northern Irish Assembly in 1982 (Shannon, 1986). As this had been imposed with no prior power-sharing agreement, it was originally intended to serve only a legislative function with no executive powers, in which committees could be selected by members to oversee and scrutinise British administration. However, it was hoped that, should these committees prove successful, they could then evolve to form the nucleus of a new executive to control the state functions of Northern Ireland (Shannon, 1986). The Alliance Party and DUP were initially supportive of the Assembly, but the UUP was reluctant. Since the failure of Sunningdale the UUP had been dominated by Unionist hardliners, who maintained a policy that Northern Ireland should be fully incorporated into the centralised Westminster system with no devolved assembly. Nevertheless, the involvement of the DUP meant they too were convinced to cooperate on the Assembly so as not to give the DUP the political edge (Shannon, 1986). Sinn Féin, as expected, announced they would boycott the assembly by running on an abstentionist ticket. However, the SDLP, who were expected to engage with the Assembly as they had with Sunningdale, surprised everyone by also running on an abstentionist ticket (Shannon, 1986).

The SDLP since Sunningdale had evolved greatly, reflecting the changes within the moderate Nationalist political scene. The Nationalist boost for Sinn Féin demanded the SDLP take a stronger stance on Irish unity to stem the transfer of votes to Republicanism (Shannon, 1986). Simultaneously, leaders Gerry Fitt and Paddy Devlin, who dominated the party’s direction throughout the 1970s, had left the party and taken with them their working-class Belfast Labour support base, who drew their inspiration from British Labour party ideals. In their place, John Hume, the new leader from Derry, had seen the party support base tilt towards the Western regions and borders, where Nationalist sentiment and links to the Republic of Ireland were stronger (Shannon, 1986). These factors combined to generate the belief within the SDLP that a United Ireland was now a more realistic prospect thus giving them greater leeway to demand British concessions. This contrasted to the time of Sunningdale when the SDLP thought a United Ireland was a distant dream in which they had no choice but to engage with the Unionist establishment (Shannon, 1986). Consequently, the SDLP refused to sit in the new Assembly unless either a power-sharing arrangement with Unionists was agreed upon, or there was formal recognition by the UK government of the Republic of Ireland’s involvement in the North. This Nationalist boycott meant the Northern Ireland Assembly was doomed to failure (Connolly & Doyle, 2018). What the Assembly elections did illustrate, however, was the large increase in support for Sinn Féin. They gained between 38% to 40% of the Nationalist vote between 1982 and 1984, reinforcing the alarming tilt towards Republicanism and the early success of the Sinn Féin Ballot Box strategy (Connolly & Doyle, 2018).

Figure 5: Boyce, R. (Cerca 1990). A soldier patrols the Falls Road area of West Belfast during the Troubles, Reuters

Whilst the British government effort failed, there were simultaneously other negotiations afoot. The SDLP and Ireland’s Fianna Fáil had been engaging in dialogue in the hopes of producing an all-Ireland strategy for pursuing a United Ireland through peaceful means, to counter the growing support for Sinn Féin (Mansergh, 2018). This resulted in the New Ireland Forum from 1983-1984, involving discussions between the SDLP and all the Republic of Ireland’s major political parties, albeit excluding Sinn Féin and with Unionists refusing to participate. Their report in 1984 proposed three constitutional settlements for Northern Ireland: a unitary all-Irish state, a federal or confederal state, or else joint British/Irish authority (Shannon, 2016). Thatcher’s British government rejected all three proposals but nevertheless was persuaded by the Irish Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald of the need to soften her stance on Northern Ireland, with the US government also pressing for dialogue (Shannon, 2016). The resulting negotiations ended with the Anglo-Irish Agreement, signed in November 1985 by the Republic of Ireland and Britain. This saw the British agree to a consultive role in Northern Ireland for the Republic of Ireland, while in return the ROI promised they would not seek to change Northern Ireland’s constitutional status without the consent of the Northern Irish majority. Furthermore, much tougher British-Irish security cooperation to target the PIRA’s cross-border sanctuaries was promised (Paul et al, 2013).

Aside from signifying an era of much greater Anglo-Irish cooperation, the British acceptance of an all-Irish dimension for the future of Northern Ireland was a big boon for moderate Nationalists as a foundation for future negotiation (Mansergh, 2018). Simultaneously, Ireland’s guarantee of respecting Northern Irish self-determination provided another solid principle on which to base future talks, which reinforced Britain’s existing commitment to the self-determination principle (Mansergh, 2018). Sinn Féin, who had been excluded from both the New Ireland Forum and Anglo-Irish negotiations, quickly attacked the agreement as a sell-out (Shannon, 1986). Yet the 1986 elections saw the Sinn Féin vote decrease by 25% from 1983 meanwhile the SDLP vote increased by 19%, illustrating the effectiveness of the moderate Nationalist strategy in clawing back support from Republicanism (Shannon, 1986). This success of the SDLP in expanding their political strategy into the Republic of Ireland also convinced Sinn Féin of the need to expand its own Ballot Box strategy, leading to a further break with the traditional Republican policy of abstentionism as Sinn Féin decided in 1986 that its elected candidates would sit in the Dáil Éireann for the first time since partition (Connolly & Doyle, 2018). Ultimately, as the PIRA armed campaign began to falter, the greater prominence of electoralism in Republican politics saw both the SDLP and Sinn Féin, between whom no love was lost, agree to sit down for talks in 1988 to define the principles on which they would be willing to engage in future negotiations (Mansergh, 2018). The United Nationalist political front was beginning to make its first preliminary moves to incorporate Sinn Féin.

Figure 6: Pacemaker. (1985). The massive unionist rally at Belfast City Hall against the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985

For Unionists, however, the Anglo-Irish Agreement sparked unprecedented fury. The British and Irish governments and SDLP had all agreed that Unionist opposition to any all-Ireland dimension was a given, and so believed their inclusion in negotiations would guarantee failure (Shannon, 2016). However, the granting of a role in Northern Irish affairs to the Republic with no Unionist input drew rage from all corners of the Unionist community, dwarfing even the opposition to Sunningdale, with only the Alliance Party in support of the Agreement (Connolly & Doyle, 2018). Huge public Unionist rallies and strikes followed throughout 1986, whilst Unionist politicians resigned en masse from their seats in Parliament to force by-elections on explicitly anti-Agreement tickets, and furthermore collapsed the Northern Irish Assembly by abstaining from their seats (Connolly & Doyle, 2018). The traditionally Unionist RUC’s willingness to police these demonstrations was seen as a further betrayal of Unionism, which generated vicious rioting as the RUC came under widespread attack (Shannon, 1986). The Deputy DUP leader even led a group of Loyalist rioters over the Irish border where they vandalised buildings and attacked Irish police. Some other Unionist politicians entertained the idea of unilaterally declaring Northern Irish independence. Simultaneously, Loyalist Paramilitary groups threatened a massive and vengeful campaign of violence, with the DUP forming their own paramilitary wing named the Ulster Resistance, which quickly forged a cross-alliance with all the main Loyalist paramilitary groups to oppose the Agreement. The British government and Northern Ireland observers were taken aback by this response, with claims that the Unionist-Nationalist divide had never been wider (Shannon, 1986). Nevertheless, the British government refused to renege on the Agreement and Unionists were unable to bring it down by force, with Unionists for the first time realising that their political veto on British decision-making was beginning to fade (Mansergh, 2018). If Britain was willing to negotiate with the Republic of Ireland and make concessions to Nationalists with or without Unionist input, then it left Unionists only two real options: to join negotiations, or watch everyone else negotiate without them (Mansergh, 2018).

The Long War and the Dirty War

Throughout this time of Hunger Strikes, negotiations and political turbulence, the Troubles had rumbled on. This section will analyse the security situation from the early 1980s until the first 1994 paramilitary ceasefire. For the PIRA, whose armed campaign had found its support faltering by the end of the 1970s, their Long War strategy had been given a significant boost by the Nationalist fury of the Hunger Strikes with new recruits and funding to match. In 1980, the number of full-time active-duty PIRA personnel was thought to be as low as 200, restructured into small independent cells known as Active Service Units (ASUs) usually numbering between five and eight volunteers, with perhaps another 1,000 in support and auxiliary functions (Kearney, 1981). However, following the surge in recruitment from the Hunger Strikes, by 1986 the PIRA was thought to have contained a core of up to 500 full-time members in ASUs, with another 2,000 volunteers in supporting roles (Shannon, 1986). In addition, the PIRA had begun to receive significant weapons shipments from Colonel Gadhafi’s Libyan regime, who delivered 100 tonnes of modern weapons and explosives throughout the 1980s, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry (Hearty, 2014). Accordingly, the PIRA armed campaign stepped up in the early 1980s with multiple high-profile bombings in England and Northern Ireland, including an attempted assassination of Thatcher and high-profile Conservatives in the 1984 Brighton Hotel Bombing. Simultaneously, PIRA increased their attacks on Army and RUC bases and installations, as well as ambushes of Army and RUC patrols, especially in the rural counties of Tyrone and Armagh, which took over Belfast and Derry as the most active PIRA operations and became known as "Bandit Country" to British soldiers (Hearty, 2014). Meanwhile, the INLA armed campaign was also responsible for multiple bloody and high-profile bombings in the early 1980s.

Figure 7: An Sionnach Fionn. (1994). An Active Service Unit of the Irish Republican Army sets up a vehicle checkpoint, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1994

British security efforts in response had come to focus on the so-called “Dirty War”. This incorporated the work of police and army intelligence forces in infiltrating Republican and Loyalist paramilitary organisations, with the extensive use of informants and double agents, as well as round-the-clock surveillance of Republican and Loyalist communities (Hearty, 2014; Paul et al., 2013). Most of these informants and double agents were recruited to turn on their former paramilitary comrades when brought in for RUC interrogation and promised immunity from prosecution (Hearty, 2014; Paul et al., 2013). This resulted in a series of ’supergrass’ trials from 1981 to 1985, in which embedded informants testified in court to bring convictions to large numbers of paramilitary members simultaneously (Hearty, 2014; Paul et al., 2013). For some smaller organisations, these trials were particularly devastating, such as a 1985 supergrass conviction of 25 senior INLA members, with the Derry PIRA brigade also destroyed and the Belfast brigade severely depleted (Hearty, 2014). Nevertheless, many of these supergrass convictions were later overturned, due to the witness testimony of supergrasses proving flimsy evidence, with informants willing to say whatever their police and military handlers wanted to hear, with practice discontinued from 1985 (Paul et al., 2013). However, the loss of experienced paramilitary units and increased distrust severely disrupted paramilitary operations and helped keep the violence in the early 1980s to a manageable level (Hearty, 2014).

Other British informer-based intelligence efforts also brought great success, such as the seizing of a huge Libyan arms shipment in 1987 that contained, amongst other sophisticated weaponry, 1,000 rifles, 1 million rounds of ammunition, 430 grenades and 2 tonnes of Semtex explosives – completely disrupting PIRA plans for a large offensive (Paul et al, 2013). Simultaneously, another more controversial aspect of the Dirty War saw British SAS special forces escalate their activities between 1983 and 1990, from surveillance to a series of shoot-to-kill operations targeting high-ranking and experienced PIRA operatives (Hearty, 2014). One PIRA cell of 8 from the notoriously effective East Tyrone Brigade were ambushed by the SAS whilst bombing an RUC station in 1987, with the entire cell wiped in the largest single loss of PIRA life in the Troubles (Jackson, 2005). British security efforts were compounded by several bloody and increasingly unpopular PIRA attacks, such as the 1987 Enniskillen Bombing of a Remembrance Sunday parade that killed 10 civilians and an RUC officer, drawing widespread condemnation (Connolly & Doyle, 2018). Even Sinn Féin began to acknowledge that such actions were hurting the Republican cause (Connolly & Doyle, 2018). By the late 1980s, the PIRA armed campaign had begun to run out of purpose, effectiveness, and popularity, leading to the Ballot Box taking increasing precedence in Republican strategy (Mansergh, 2018).

Figure 8: Steele-Perkins, C. (1988). Milltown Cemetery, West Belfast. 1988. Mourners at a Republican funeral flee for cover as they are attacked by a Michael Stone, an Ulster loyalist and UDA volunteer

However, just as the PIRA campaign was winding down, the Loyalist Paramilitaries sprung into a head-long offensive throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s following the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, with Loyalist paramilitary killings outstripping Republican paramilitary killings for the first time from 1992 to 1994 (Mansergh, 2018). As with earlier in the Troubles, these Loyalist attacks primarily targeted Catholic civilians, however, there was also a significant increase in Loyalist attacks on PIRA members, including their leadership. This led to the final and most controversial aspect of the Dirty War, in the form of Security collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries. Throughout the Troubles, a significant number of Loyalist paramilitary members had also been serving members of the RUC and UDR, who acted to smuggle RUC/UDR weaponry and intelligence to Loyalist groups or else to disrupt security investigations into these groups (Shannon, 1986). However, the growth of intelligence infiltration efforts in the 1980s saw a number of Loyalist double-agents emerge who, whilst feeding evidence to authorities, were simultaneously engaging in Loyalist terrorist attacks on civilians and even being provided information by security services on suspected PIRA members to be targeted (Paul et al., 2013). Yet. for the Loyalist Paramilitaries, whose stated raison d'etre was to combat Republican paramilitarism, the de-escalation of PIRA´s armed campaign as the Loyalist armed campaign increased was considered a sign of success (Mansergh, 2018).

Meanwhile, the number of deaths throughout the 1980s had averaged around 100 per year, which the British government considered an acceptable level that could be maintained in perpetuity, if necessary (Paul et al., 2013). With the Army also reporting its belief that the PIRA’s capacity to re-escalate the conflict had been greatly diminished, Britain by this stage considered the conflict to be successfully contained on the security front (Connolly & Doyle, 2018). This coincided with a decreasingly confrontational approach by the Army, with soldiers instructed to patrol in berets instead of combat helmets, and not to use their weapon sights to scan streets (Paul et al., 2013). However, whilst the Army believed it could carry out its operations indefinitely, it had also secretly recognised as far back as 1979 that the PIRA, while diminished, could not be defeated militarily (Shannon, 1986). In 1989 the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Brooke stated this publicly for the first time and announced that if PIRA were to declare a ceasefire, Britain would be open to Sinn Féin negotiations (Mansergh, 2018). For Republicans, by 1988 Gerry Adams as the leader of Sinn Féin was also beginning to privately acknowledge that the PIRA’s armed campaign and its Sinn Fein political wing could not achieve their aims on their own either (Mansergh, 2018). The possibility of peace was finally beginning to be realised.

Figure 9: Boyce, R. (1996). Young boys talk to British soldiers on the peace line in west Belfast, 1996, Reuters

Conclusions: Peace on the Horizon

By the early 1990s, Northern Ireland had been in a state of conflict for more than two decades, with many of the soldiers patrolling the streets and paramilitaries planting the bombs not even having been born when the Troubles started. Yet as the Republican violence slowly rescinded there was a rising sense among the political class that the time was right for negotiations. Britain and Ireland had reached a broad consensus, the moderate Nationalist parties of Northern Ireland and the Republic had forged a joint strategy, and even Sinn Féin was beginning to be brought in from the political cold. Nevertheless, several hurdles remained. Violence might have been on the decrease, but the PIRA armed campaign continued, the Loyalist armed campaign was just getting started, and the Unionist population was still reeling from what it saw as the ultimate betrayal of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and a newfound sense of political impotence. Nevertheless, for Northern Ireland’s war-weary population a resolution to the Troubles was finally beginning to emerge on the horizon. As we shall see in the next chapter, sweeping local, national and international changes all contributed to ushering in a new determination toward the pursuit of peace, ultimately ending in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that finally, after 30 long years, signified an official end to the Troubles.

Bibliographical References

Connolly, E., & Doyle, J. (2018). Ripe moments for Exiting Political Violence: an Analysis of the Northern Ireland Case. Irish Studies in International Affairs: Reflections on the Northern Ireland Conflict and Peace Process, 147-162.

Cox, M. (2018). Northern Ireland: The War that came in from the Cold. Irish Studies in International Affairs Reflections on the Northern Ireland Conflict and Peace Process.

Hearty, K. (2014). The Political and Military Value of the “Set Piece” Killing Tactic in East Tyrone 1983–1992. State Crime Journal, 3:1, 50-72.

Hearty, K. (2017). Critical Engagement: Irish republicanism, memory politics and policing. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Jackson, B. (2005). Provisional Irish Republican Army, in: Jackson et al, eds. Aptitude for Destruction, Volume 2: Case Studies of Organizational Learning in Five Terrorist Groups, RAND Corporation: 93-140.

Kearney, R. (1981). The Ira's Strategy of Failure. The Crane Bag: 4:2, 62-70.

Mansergh, M. (2018). The Background to the Peace Process. Irish Studies in International Affairs, 145-159.

Mulcahy, A. (1995). Claims-Making and the Construction of Legitimacy: Press Coverage of the 1981 Northern Irish Hunger Strike. Social Problems, 42:4, 449-467.

O’Connor, N. (1986). Wooing Catholics with Fine Words and Cracked Loyalist Skulls. Fortnight, 239, 5-6.

Paul, C. et al. (2013). Paths to Victory: Detailed Insurgency Case Studies. RAND Corporation.

Reed, R., & Edwards, A. (2011). Loyalist paramilitaries and the peace process. Fortnight, 477, 6-7.

Shannon, W. (1986). The Anglo-Irish Agreement. Foreign Affairs, 64:4, 849-870.

Sweeney, G. (2004). Self-Immolative Martyrdom: Explaining the Irish Hungerstrike Tradition. Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, 93:371, 337-348.

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James Duggan
James Duggan
Aug 15, 2022

Great job so far Finn of detailing an incredibly complex and difficult topic in an earnest and highly informative manner. No easy task! Keep up the good work


Aug 14, 2022

Excellent historical analysis, presented with concise and precise language. Despite the wealth of information, the discourse is linear and easy to understand. It is an excellent article!


Great, informative and analytical historical account! You effectively reflected upon the dynamics in place, and highlighted the various attitudes progressively forming the path to peace. Really interesting and insightful!

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Finn Archer

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