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Who are the Republicans?

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Violence wasn’t introduced into Northern Ireland by the "terrorists".
Issue 2143

Violence wasn’t introduced into Northern Ireland by the “terrorists”.

Ever since the state was created by British imperialism, Northern Ireland has been characterised by repression, sectarianism and grinding poverty.

The Catholic population of Northern Ireland was systematically discriminated against.

In response to an increase in violent repression the Irish Republican Army (IRA) began a military campaign against the British occupation in the 1970s.

By the late 1980s both the British government and the Republicans had come to the conclusion that military victory over their enemy was impossible.

The British state hoped to reach a compromise with the Republicans that would make sectarianism manageable for Britain.

The history of Irish politics is littered with parties that broke with insurrectionary Republicanism, ditched the gun and made peace with imperialism.

Irish Republicanism was born from an honourable opposition to colonialism and empire.

But it soon adopted a method whereby decisions on tactics were decided by a tiny minority, behind the backs of the population.

Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, the former IRA leader and now deputy first minister in the government of Northern Ireland, called members of dissident Republican groups “traitors to the island of Ireland”.

In fact they all suffer from the weaknesses of Republican politics. McGuinness merely shows another side of the same weakness – the idea that a minority can liberate Ireland, regardless of the conditions or beliefs of the majority.

There are two main dissident Republican groups. The Real IRA split from the main body of the IRA in the 1990s in protest at the decision to end the armed struggle and endorse the peace process.


The Continuity IRA broke away earlier, in the 1980s. It refused to follow Sinn Fein in recognising the legitimacy of the southern Irish parliament.

The last phase of the Republican armed struggle lasted nearly 30 years. It produced a settlement in which former IRA leaders now sit in government with the right wing bigots of the DUP – an extreme anti-Catholic party.

The tragic truth of Irish Republicanism is that no phase of the armed struggle has ever ended significantly differently.

Irish Republicanism has reached a dead end and those who seek a genuinely radical solution to the problems caused by capitalism and imperialism must look elsewhere.

The best background to the conflict in Northern Ireland is War and an Irish Town by Eamonn McCann, published by Pluto Press. It is available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop – phone 020 7637 1848 or go to »

The International Socialism journal has two important articles on Northern Ireland. Kieran Allen looks at the trajectory of the peace process in Northern Ireland: The Death of Radical Republicanism, while Goretti Horgan looks at Northern Ireland: The Privatisation of Peace. Both are available online at » or from Bookmarks bookshop

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