Northern Ireland: The Paramilitaries, Terrorism, and September 11th

Article excerpt

[P]erhaps just once in a fairly bleak international situation,... when many Irish-Americans and people of 60 other countries were killed in the dreadful explosions in the USA, and there are 6.5 million people on the cusp of starvation in Afghanistan. Perhaps against that bleak scenario, against the deterioration of the situation in the Middle East, maybe hope and history is reigning in Ireland, and there's a little signal to everyone that them is a way to go forward if there's a political will to do SO. (1)


On Good Friday, April 10, 1998, the Peace Process in Northern Ireland took a giant step forward. On that day, representatives of almost every political party in Northern Ireland came to a general agreement on how to proceed in the interest of peace. Officially called the Agreement Reached in the Multi-Party Negotiations, this agreement is known as "The Good Friday Agreement." (2) Despite the progress reached, important issues remain unresolved and violence continues to plague Northern Ireland, primarily at the hands of paramilitary organizations. The Peace Process has suffered major setbacks resulting in the disbanding of the power-sharing arrangement that was the cornerstone of the Good Friday Agreement. (3)

Three and one-half years later, on September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four American commercial airliners, plunging two into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, one into the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and the fourth in rural Pennsylvania. Near 3,000 people died in these attacks. (4) Since the attacks, the United States began a global "war on terrorism." (5) Along with diplomatic and financial efforts, the United States began a military campaign in Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden, the leader of the terrorist organization al Qaeda, which the United States believed was responsible for the attacks. The United States also sought to punish those who harbored him. The global perspective on terrorism, and in particular the United States' approach towards terrorism changed since September 11th. The United States asked for, and received, worldwide condemnation of the attacks and support for its war on terrorism. The United States likewise took a significantly more aggressive stance on terrorist attacks occurring on the soil of other countries. (6)

This article addresses the effects of September 11th on the Peace Process and the paramilitaries of Northern Ireland and comes to the conclusion that the impact, is relatively small. Part I describes the history of the conflict in Northern Ireland and briefly addresses the history of the Peace Process. Part II of this article identifies the major paramilitary organizations in Northern Ireland. Part III addresses the definition of terrorism while Part IV addresses whether the Northern Irish paramilitaries are terrorists. As points of comparison, part V discusses the effect of September 11th on other conflicts in the world. Part VI addresses the effect of September 11th on the Northern Irish paramilitaries and the Peace Process. Finally, some conclusions are reached concerning the Peace Process and consequences of the recent terrorist attacks on American soil.


Any treatment of the "Troubles" (7) in Northern Ireland is difficult to comprehend without first addressing the history of Ireland and Northern Ireland dating back to at least the twelfth century. However, for the purposes of this discussion, the author begins with the partition of Ireland in 1921.


After 750 years of English-Irish conflict on the island of Ireland and six years after the 1916 Easter uprising, (8) representatives of the British government and Irish Nationalist rebels signed the Government of Ireland Act of 1920, which provided for the partition of Ireland. (9) The British Empire released the southern twenty-six counties of Ireland to become the Irish Free State. …