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The threat of dissident Republicans to peace in Northern Ireland

This book assesses the security threat and political challenges offered by dissident Irish republicanism to the Northern Irish peace process. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement failed to end entirely armed republicanism. The movement of Sinn Féin into constitutional politics in a government of Northern Ireland and the eschewing of militarism that followed, including disbandment of the Provisional IRA (PIRA), the decommissioning of weapons and the supporting of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) proved too much for a minority of republicans. This book begins by examining Sinn Féin’s evolution from the margins of political existence to becoming mainstream constitutional players. It then assesses how the compromises associated with these changes have been rejected by republican ‘dissidents’.

In order to explore the heterogeneity of contemporary Irish republicanism this book draws upon in-depth interviews and analyses the strategies and tactics of various dissident republican groups. This analysis is used to outline the political and military challenges posed by dissidents to Northern Ireland in a post-Good Friday Agreement context as well as examine the response of the British state towards continuing violence. This discussion places the state response to armed republicanism in Northern Ireland within the broader debate on counter-terrorism after 9/11.

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Sophie A. Whiting

The introduction to this book outlines the contemporary nature of republicanism in Northern Ireland. Irish republicanism embraces a broad spectrum of tactics and principles, ranging from those who consider armed struggle to be an essential element of any republican campaign to reformers of existing constitutional arrangements.

This section then moves on to explore the meaning of the label ‘dissident’ within Irish republicanism and suggests the term should be utilised with caution on several counts. Firstly, the term does not provide insight into what dissent actually constitutes. Does it mean dissent from Sinn Féin, or from peace, or from a political process, or a constitutional process, or does it constitute all of these things? Secondly, it denies any acknowledgement of republicanism as a heterogeneous entity, a varied and diverse phenomenon, reducing it as an ideology to what one particular party (Sinn Féin) offers.

in Spoiling the peace?
Is there space for the emergence of ‘dissidents’?
Sophie A. Whiting

This chapter provides the historical and contextual backdrop to the emergence of dissident republicanism. The aim is to address the gaps that exist in the literature in order to go beyond the description of dissidents as, ‘irritants, embarrassing Sinn Féin’ (Mac Ginty, 2006).

Irish republicanism has never been cast in a rigid mould making it harder to define and therefore easier for Sinn Féin, despite the obvious compromises made, to proclaim they remain the embodiment of republican principles. Similarly, ‘dissident’ groups fail to represent a monolithic entity, meaning they cannot be easily slotted into simple categorisations and easily labelled. This chapter explores the impact of external ideological forces, social, political and military circumstances and the influence of other global peace processes on republicanism in Northern Ireland.

in Spoiling the peace?
Are there agreed components?
Sophie A. Whiting

By considering the evolution of republican political thought this chapter explores the basis of republican ideology and how it has been adapted and accommodated within the Irish variant of the tradition. Such exploration of the roots of the tradition determines how the many forms of modern Irish republicanism ‘deviate’ from supposed ideological principles, yet claim attachment to the same tradition.

Discussion of republican principles highlights the fault line between purist and pragmatist interpretations of the tradition, a fault line which allows the phenomenon of dissent to emerge. For both purists and pragmatists the goal is the same yet the methodologies differ. In analysing the articulation of what constitutes the republican core, this chapter also explores the significance of historical tradition and the role of martyrdom within the republican psyche.

in Spoiling the peace?
The extent of ideological compromise by Sinn Féin and ‘Provisional’ republicanism
Sophie A. Whiting

The evolution within Sinn Féin and ‘Provisional’ republicanism involved the broadening of ideas, the rearranging of principles and a change of tactics. The sum of these parts was a considerable transition. This chapter examines the ideological and political change within Sinn Féin.

The academic literature that considers the evolution of Sinn Féin is wide-ranging in assessing the impact of military fortune and British state strategy but has appeared reluctant to comprehend Sinn Féin as essentially an ordinary political party in modern times, conditioned by the rules of the electoral game and successfully adapting to those rules. In order to begin understanding the dissident ideological standpoint it is necessary to consider Sinn Féin’s movement into constitutional politics within a consociational power-sharing agreement and to what extent that represented the updating, revising or contorting of Irish republican principles.

in Spoiling the peace?
The origins of dissident republicans and their mandate
Sophie A. Whiting

Using original data from research interviews and policy documents this chapter explores the different origins of dissident organisations, their claims of a mandate, their interpretation of Sinn Féin’s position and their stance on electoral politics. In considering groups such as Republican Sinn Féin (RSF), the 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32 CSM), the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and éirígí, this section acknowledges the influence of wider networks, the influence of socialism and the dynamics between localised and historical context. The groups explored here all emerged at different times, for different reasons and from different branches of Irish republican lineage. Despite being placed under the same banner of ‘dissidents’, this chapter argues that these groups all have their own niche on the republican spectrum.

in Spoiling the peace?
Dissident republican strategies and campaigns
Sophie A. Whiting

In order to further explore the politics of dissident groups rather than merely military aspects, this chapter focuses on group strategy, republican unity and campaigns. Presenting a critique of the mainstream republican movement is the easy part for dissident organisations but do they provide a serious alternative to Sinn Féin? Through policy documents and the use of original interview material this chapter argues that the problem for dissidents comes in advancing a credible alternative strategy.

The negatives facing dissidents are ultimately their lack of support and the feeling among most nationalists that Sinn Féin presents the only credible political vehicle for republicanism. By considering the impact of political prisoner campaigns, parades, anti-social concerns, historical lineage and lack of economic progress this chapter considers whether dissidents may be able to make an impact at a localised level.

in Spoiling the peace?
Sophie A. Whiting

This chapter evaluates the security threat and military capabilities of armed dissident republican groups. More specifically, it explores the current nature of the military campaign, and how (if at all possible), these tactics are justified by organisations such as Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH), Continuity IRA (CIRA) and Real (RIRA).

Militant republican groups that continue to advocate the legitimacy of armed struggle operate far below the capabilities of the PIRA, but have developed a limited campaign of violence where attacks are localised and targets are more specific. This chapter will focus on the origins and strategies of various armed republican factions that emerged before and after the GFA. Analysis will focus on the nature of the threat posed by dissidents as well as the perception of this threat and the repercussions this may have for community relations. Critical evaluation will also be given to the historical relevance of armed struggle within the republican tradition.

in Spoiling the peace?
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Sophie A. Whiting

Northern Ireland is often presented as a model of conflict management. Yet dissent over the terms and conditions of a peace agreement are a common feature within any peace settlement. This chapter places dissident republican violence in Northern Ireland within the broader discussion of ‘spoiler’ groups during peace processes and engages with the debate surrounding how states best manage political violence. By contemplating contextual variables within different global situations this final section explores the broader problems of dissident militants across states and assesses the most appropriate ways to manage, if not resolve, the problem. This discussion also places the state response to armed republicanism in Northern Ireland within the broader debate on counter-terrorism after 9/11.

in Spoiling the peace?
Abstract only
Sophie A. Whiting

The peace process in Northern Ireland has not ended the debate on how Irish republicanism is defined. This section highlights that whilst dissident groups exert a significant amount of energy articulating their critique of Sinn Féin, there is a void in terms of offering a viable alternative. In rejecting constitutional politics as an area in which to gain a mandate or legitimacy, dissidents do not provide convincing explanations of how the continued use of armed struggle, abstention or political campaigning can reach the final constitutional goal, or even why support for each of these is a republican absolute. However, this concluding chapter notes that there is also no guarantee that Sinn Féin’s institutional participation will be any more successful in achieving a united Ireland.

in Spoiling the peace?