Fighting for Ireland? The Military Strategy of the Irish Republican Movement

Fighting for Ireland? The Military Strategy of the Irish Republican Movement

Fighting for Ireland? The Military Strategy of the Irish Republican Movement

Fighting for Ireland? The Military Strategy of the Irish Republican Movement


Fighting for Ireland? is the first in-depth account of the evolution of Irish Republican strategy. M.L.R. Smith challenges many assumptions about the IRA, pinpointing the organisation's successes as well as its missed opportunities. He demonstrates the tension the movement has experienced between ideology and strategic reality regarding the use of force, illustrating how doctrinal purity has sometimes hampered the IRA in the pursuit of its goals. Contrary to the Irish republican movement's vigorous and assertive public face Smith uncovers an organisation characterised more by a sense of chronic insecurity than by certainty and continuity. Highly topical in the light of current peace negotiations, M.L.R. Smith's lively account will be essential reading for those who wish to disentangle the complex issues and motives behind IRA violence.


The hardback edition of this book concluded with the announcement of the IRA and loyalist ceasefires in late 1994; since then, depending on your point of view, either a lot, or not very much has happened.

For the first few months after the ceasefire declarations, the republicans and loyalists were placed in quarantine. Official contacts with the paramilitary groups were strictly limited, the intention being to establish the sincerity of the commitment to non-violence, before progressing to all-party talks on the future of Northern Ireland. Painstaking preliminary talks were to follow. Procedural difficulties and disputes abounded, but all sides seemed to be inching their way towards full negotiations. Depending on who you listen to, political headway was either pathetically slow, or remarkable given the political entropy of the previous two decades. The pace of the developments itself created its own faultline, with nationalists annoyed that matters were proceeding far too slowly, and unionists who felt they were going too fast.

Whatever the progress made, the inchoate steps towards inclusive negotiations began to run aground over the issue of weapons decommissioning. The British government and the main unionist parties insisted that before Sinn Fein could be admitted to any negotiations, the IRA and loyalist groups should begin the decommissioning process by handing over some of their weapons. The IRA refused, seeing such a hand-over as an admission of surrender. Republicans argued, instead, for parallel decommissioning that would involve the simultaneous disarming of both the paramilitaries and the security forces in Northern Ireland. The British government and unionist sides rejected this precisely because it was seen to establish parity of legitimacy between the forces of law and order and those of illegal armed groupings.

The appointment of a three man international commission under the former United States senator, George Mitchell, was intended to resolve the weapons deadlock. The commission’s report in January 1996 stated that it was unrealistic to expect the paramilitaries to give up any arms before all-party talks, but suggested a series of confidence building measures designed to entrench the commitment to peaceful methods to which all sides should sign up before entry into negotiations. The British government under John Major, while not rejecting the findings of the report, set it to one side and called for elections to a new

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