Friday, 22 October 2021
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Northern Ireland

Legion of the Rearguard: Dissident Irish Republicanism (2010), by Martyn Frampton

Reviewed by Dr Robert Crowcroft, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

As recent events have made clear, the political instability that wracked Northern Ireland throughout the Troubles has not been consigned to history. The development of a seemingly tolerable political settlement in 2007, and exemplified by the Ian Paisley-Martin McGuiness 'double act', has not addressed the essential segregation between the Protestant and Catholic communities. Nor does it mean that there are not people on both sides who still prefer resistance to accommodation.

The most obvious of these factions is the dissident Republican movement. And this movement is the subject of Martyn Frampton's new book. In it, he traces the growth within the Republicans of opposition to the strategy developed by Gerry Adams. Beginning in the 1980s, tensions grew as Adams came to increasingly control Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA (PIRA). Gradually, he set the Provos on a new course. His was a masterclass in political leadership and manoeuvring, but Adams was not without internal enemies.

Eventually, this led to schism and the emergence of new Republican groups outside the PIRA/Sinn Fein, such as Republican Sinn Fein, the Real IRA, and the Continuity IRA. Academic work on these groups and what they are up to is sorely lacking, and Frampton does an admirable job of filling in the blanks. What follows is a well-researched analysis of the groups and their activities. The most striking thing is the fact that boundaries between these groups are highly porous; members of one faction will operate in conjunction with those from others. The whole thing is largely ad hoc. The professed purpose is simply to advertise the fact that Northern Ireland is not a 'normal' state and therefore perpetuate the instability; to this end, there is a willingness to co-operate with virtually anyone who will help.

Frampton's book will quickly become the standard work on the dissidents. Given the lack of research into the subject, assembling the book at all is a considerable achievement. Those readers with backgrounds in research will know just how punishing (and exciting) the work can be if one has to play detective and research a topic where no-one has gone before. Importantly, Frampton had access to numerous key dissidents and interviewed them. Their personal perspectives are cited frequently, bringing the mental universe of dissident Irish Republicanism to life.

But a number of problems emerge. Most are definitely not of the author's own making. The reality is that these dissident Republicans are, in a structural sense, largely irrelevant. Reading this account, I felt like I was reading one of those books on a very minor, peripheral left-wing faction. And the truth is that the dissident Republicans are operating very much in the margins. The current level of violence is perfectly sustainable, and there is no appetite whatsoever for a return to the Troubles. Their base of support is tiny. Of course, one cannot guess what will happen in twenty years time, but it is difficult to believe that any contemporary dissidents have futures worth commenting on.

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Dr Robert Crowcroft

The last week has offered a stark reminder of the persistent threats to peace and stability in Northern Ireland. While Afghanistan rightly garners the headlines, Britain's oldest conflict may not be over just yet. The province is certainly no beacon of harmony. Recent days alone have witnessed three car-bomb incidents linked to dissident Republican terrorists. All received significant national news coverage. On 3 August, a taxi was hijacked, loaded with 200lb of explosives, and parked outside a Londonderry police station. In the early hours of the morning, the bomb went off. No-one was injured, but several nearby businesses were badly damaged. Oglaigh na hEireann, an offshoot of the Continuity IRA itself a splinter group claimed responsibility. Whether this was a gesture of the 'We are still here' variety, or an attempt at launching something more serious, remains unknown. On 4 August, a car bomb attack on a soldier in Bangor failed. And on 7 August, a bomb was found attached to the car of a Catholic police officer. As of

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By Imogen Baxter and Dr Robert Crowcroft

Recent events have brought a stark warning that, when it comes to peacemaking and the resolution of conflicts, pinning hopes on goodwill, or asking people to be 'reasonable', is just not enough. The morass between Israel and the Palestinian territories, in Afghanistan, or in Iraq, illustrate that every week. Now we have had another reminder, much closer to home, from an old foe.

There have been multiple incidents related to dissident Republican terrorist groups. Indeed, there has been a significant surge in dissident activity throughout this year, including widespread rioting in Catholic areas of Belfast in July. On 14 August, a bomb detonated in a wheelie bin in Lurgan, injuring three children. Beforehand warnings were given of a bomb being placed near a school; the suspicion is that the device exploded prematurely, it being intended to kill the police officers searching in response to the school threat. That night, police officers investigating warnings of other devices were attacked by petrol bombs and missiles. On 16 August, Patrick Mercer MP expressed the view that Oglaigh nah Eireann, a splinter group from the Continuity IRA, aim to renew attacks on British targets. When faced with this kind of situation, it is all too easy to simply cross our fingers and hope for the best. It is similarly tempting to shout 'Oh, come on!' at the television screen. But hoping for 'reasonableness' as a means of resolving conflict is inadequate, and Northern Ireland illustrates this point well; perhaps too well.

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By Lee Bruce

In the past year the rising tide of violence in Northern Ireland has lead commentators to suggest that the peace process is in terminal danger. Defence analysts question how an entrenched and complicated political puzzle like Northern Ireland can be 'solved' as if to assume that all conflicts can be ended provided that sage politicians are prepared to engage in rational and constructive debate. Both of these interpretations should be questioned. Firstly, an increase in sporadic acts of sabotage and assassination from dissidents who are marginalised from power (political conflict bloodless or otherwise is all about getting your hands on the levers of power) does not mean that there will be a return to the ferocious insurgency of the 1970s and 1980s. And secondly, there needs to be a clear definition of how victory is to be understood. Resolution in Northern Ireland (or any other counter-insurgency for that matter) is not an end to all violence of any kind as this is impossible in the Hobbesian world sink estates in England, Wales and Scotland attest to the type of racketeering, drug running and gangsterism that afflicts Belfast, South Armagh and Londonderry. Success should instead be defined as finding 'an acceptable level of violence'. And this has been achieved by British intervention in Ulster.

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