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The Roots Of Terrorism In Northern Ireland
AUTHOR Major Alexander C. Roy, United Kingdom
CSC 1991
                    EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
I. Purpose: To provide a concise history of the sectarian
trouble in Northern Ireland, and an understanding of the
different perspectives of the Catholic and Protestant
communities, in order to highlight the exploitation of Irish
nationalism by terrorists.
II. Problem: Among Americans, particularly of Irish descent,
there remains a belief that Irish terrorists are "freedom
fighters". This misconception has resulted in significant
financial and moral support for the Provisional IRA in its
current campaign of violence.
III. Irish nationalism has evolved over a very long time
(since 400 AD). A complex and fascinating history has led to
the establishment of two opposing groups, Catholic and
Protestant. The latter represents a significant percentage of
the overall island population, and a clear majority in what is
now Northern Ireland. Sectarian troubles have ranged from
minor disagreements to appalling acts of violence. While in
the past there has been justifiable cause for armed
insurrection, today the situation is very different. The
extremists no longer represent their respective communities,
though they purport to do so. The Provisional IRA maintains a
stranglehold on elements of the population by corruption and
coercion. Protestant extremists, though less publicized, do
the same. The use of terror as a weapon against a liberal
democracy, as Great Britain now is, cannot be condoned. If the
people of Northern Ireland chose to opt out of the United
Kingdom, the British Government would certainly agree. In the
meantime, there is a clear obligation on the Government to
ensure that British citizens are protected from violent
extremists, whether Catholic or Protestant.
IV. Conclusions: The British government will continue to
protect the interests of the people of Northern Ireland for as
long as the population chooses to remain part of the United
Kingdom. The Provisional IRA could be decisively defeated if
it were not for the political, social and moral constraints on
the Security Forces. The Catholic extremists now depend on
support from support abroad and, as this includes the United
States, it is important that the root cause of Ireland's
violence is understood by Americans.
V. Recommendations: A campaign to win the trust of Northern
Ireland's Catholic community is required. This should be
focused on the Republican enclaves in an effort to integrate
them with the Protestants. Maximum internal and international
publicity should be given to the defeat of terrorism and the
improvement of the Catholic / Protestant relationship.
Thesis Statement. Understanding the historical background, and
the different perceptions of the people of Northern Ireland,
will lead to an appreciation of Irish Nationalism and its
recent exploitation by terrorists in pursuit of their anti
democratic goals.
     A.   The myth of the Irish "freedom fighter"
     B.   Sectarian strife
     C.   Terrorist support
          1.  Ignorance
          2.  Coercion
     A.   The wake of the Roman Empire
     B.   After the Dark Ages
     C.   Norman Invasion
     D.   Ireland as an issue in English defense policy
     C.   The Protestant Ascendancy
     D.   British oppression and Irish nationalism
     E.   The grievance and emigration to America
     F.   Early 20th Century backlash to military operations
     A.   The Irish Government against Westminster
     B.   Acceptance of partition
     C.   The North's discontented Catholic minority
     D.   Terrorist exploitation of sectarian strife
     E.   Undermining law and order
     F.   Terrorist coercion of the people
     A.   Hearts and minds
     B.   Religious segregation
     C.   Protestant bigotry and the incitement of the
     D.   The two communities and their mutual fear
     A.   Military defeat of terrorism
     B.   Alienation of the extremists form their communities
     C.   Future resurgence - minimizing the damage
                       by Major Alexander C Roy, Royal Marines
       As a British officer attending the United States Marine
Corps Command and Staff College, I have frequently been asked
to comment on the internal terrorist threat to the United
Kingdom. Despite repeated atrocities by the Irish Republican
Army (IRA), and other extremist groups, there remains,
primarily among Americans of Irish descent, a misconception
that the Irish terrorist is a "freedom fighter."  My intention
is to dispel the myth that this type of urban guerrilla
deserves some form of romantic recognition. Later in this
paper, when I discuss current terrorist coercion techniques,
it will become clear that terrorism, in one form or another,
is the Irish urban guerrilla's principal weapon. This explains
my frequent and easily justifiable substitution of "terrorist"
for "urban guerrilla."
       The extremists responsible for the current violence
fall into two distinct groups; the Republicans (Catholics
striving for a united Ireland) and the Loyalists (Protestants
who seek to keep Northern Ireland independent of Dublin). The
former includes the Provisional IRA (PIRA) and it is this
organization that poses the main terrorist threat to the
security of Northern Ireland. The Official IRA is at present
maintaining a cease-fire, but it reserves the right to carry
out operations against the Security Forces (the Police and the
Army) of a "defensive and retaliatory" nature. The long term
aim of both Catholic groups is to establish a united Socialist
Republic of Ireland. PIRA's primary operating method has been
the use of indiscriminate violence although, faced by almost
total military defeat in 1975, it did declare a brief
cease-fire. (12: 155) Its main targets are police and military
personnel, on or off duty, in order to undermine law and order
in an attempt to make the Province ungovernable. Other forms
of attack, such as the bombing of commercial premises and
sectarian murder, have been used in an effort to weaken the
Economy and gain publicity. Both Catholic and Protestant
terrorists fear violent reprisals from opposing extremists and
this accounts for the relatively few assassination attempts
against prominent Northern Irish public figures.
       The use of terror as a weapon against a democratic
nation is an especially appalling crime. Even taken in the
context of Northern Ireland's inter-sectarian strife it is
impossible to justify. Unfortunately, the human character
weakness of self interest, and the resultant emotional "eye
for an eye" mentality, accounts for much of the violence.
However, the hard core terrorists are not emotional, they
murder in cold blood. Those that actively or passively support
Irish terrorism are either evil, ignorant, misled by
propaganda, or coerced by the extremists. Many decent people
in the Province fall into the latter category, but there are
others who remain unwilling to accept the harsh facts of life
which, if analyzed with reason and compassion, would cause
them to switch their allegiance or sympathies.
       It has been argued that the term "terrorism" has no
precise or widely accepted definition. (12: 48-50) Acts which
in themselves may be classic forms of crime, such as murder,
coercion and arson, may be committed by terrorists, who claim
there is an indisputable political motive. The terrorist aims
to create panic or disorder to facilitate the destruction of
social discipline, paralyze the established authority and to
create misery and suffering in the community as a whole. A
less complex description of terrorism is, "any threat of
violence, individual acts of violence, or a campaign of
violence designed primarily to instill fear." Terrorism is
violence for effect and often it is not the actual victims who
are the focus of effort, it is usually aimed at the people
watching. (12: 49) This paper will examine the history of the
conflict in Northern Ireland and it will highlight two
separate issues. One problem is the civil disorder and this is
directly attributable to the population tolerating bitter and
twisted individuals who purport to be religious, political and
community leaders. A more serious and sinister matter is the
emergence of Catholic and Protestant urban guerrillas. Both
sides terrorize, torture and murder as they exploit others in
a shameful quest for power and recognition.
	Understanding the historical background, and the
different perceptions of the people in Northern Ireland, will
lead to an appreciation of Irish Nationalism and its recent
exploitation by terrorists in pursuit of their anti democratic
goals. The following simplified political history provides the
background to the present campaign. To understand the Irish
situation, the historical facts must be weighed together with
the prejudices, fears and beliefs of the Irish people. The
very different perspectives of the Catholics and Protestants
in Northern Ireland evolved over many generations.
       Following the Roman withdrawal from Britain, around 400
AD, the Celtic population which had been settled in the
British Isles for several centuries was mostly driven out of
England by the Anglo-Saxons. However, in Scotland, Wales and
Ireland the Celtic Race survived. Around this time Ireland was
converted to Christianity and became the "Land of Saints and
Scholars" in a Western cope swept by barbarism, as the Dark
Ages descended on the remnants of the Roman Empire. (9: 196)
       In 1171, a century after the Norman conquest of England
in 1066, Norman barons invaded and settled parts of southern
and eastern Ireland. They rapidly blended with the native
Irish chiefs, losing their allegiance to the King in England,
and thus Ireland remained a federation of quarreling
earldoms.(9: 319-330) For a while the country co-existed well
enough with England, but increasing influence from London
caused disaffection. In the 1530s, under Henry VIII, England
broke with the Church of Rome and Catholic Ireland was then
seen as a threat to English security. For more than a century
England lived under the shadow of a threatened Catholic
invasion from a French-Scottish alliance, or the Spanish
Hapsburg Empire, The English feared that Ireland would be used
as a spring-board. For this geographic reason, Ireland became
an important issue in defense policy.
       Elizabeth I began the military subjugation of Ireland
in the second half of the 16th Century. There was enormous
loss of life and great destruction of property. (9: 401-4O4)
The Irish earls fled in 1607 and, with the succession of the
Scottish King James I to the English throne, the Crown sought
to achieve lasting control of Ireland by planting loyal
English and Scottish Protestant settlers in the confiscated
lands of the displaced earls. As this occurred mainly in
Ulster (now Northern Ireland), the result was a concentration
of mutually hostile populations, the Protestant settlers and
the dispossessed Catholics. In 1641 the Irish Catholics
revolted and several thousand Protestants were massacred in
Ulster. (7: 33-34) Protestant folklore preserves the memory of
these atrocities, and it accounts for the continued sense of
insecurity passed down from generation to generation. Oliver
Cromwell's equally fierce revenge created a similarly bitter
memory for Irish Catholics. (9: 422-427) His policy created an
Anglo-Scottish landed ruling class that spread from Ulster
into southern and eastern Ireland. In time this became known
as the Protestant Ascendancy, those privileged people who
owned four fifths of the land and dominated the native
Catholic population.
       After the expulsion of James II from England, William
III of Orange further developed the Anglican ruling class in
Ireland. The passage of the "Penal Laws" deprived Catholics of
voting rights and the right to carry arms. (9: 458-459) They
were excluded from certain professions and restricted in their
ability to own or inherit land. Discrimination was also
imposed on non-conformist Protestants, in particular the
Presbyterian settlers of Scottish descent. This resulted in an
alliance between these Protestants and the Catholics. Ireland
as a whole suffered because of restrictions on economic
development designed to benefit English merchants who were
anxious to protect their overseas markets. Only Ulster's linen
industry, which posed no threat to the English economy, was
allowed to expand and this resulted in Ulster becoming the
most prosperous part of Ireland. Oppressive English
legislation created the sense of Irish nationalism that
resulted in an armed uprising. This coincided with the
American War of Independence, and the bold capture of a
British warship, in Belfast Lough, by the USS Ranger under
John Paul Jones. (7: 66-67) The Irish uprising was crushed and
brought about the "Union" which simply meant the abolition of
the Irish Parliament and direct rule of government by
Westminster, with appropriate Irish representation.
       Early in the 19th Century the alliance between the
Irish Catholics and Presbyterians broke down. The latter saw
the Union as the best guarantee for their lives, property and
future. (8: 42) In 1829, the Catholics were at last allowed to
vote and this lead to the disestablishment of the Anglican
Church of Ireland. The Westminster Government failed to
provide effective relief during the Potato Famine of
1845-50. (9: 602-610) The Irish peasants suffered terribly, a
million died and another million emigrated, most of them to
the United States (the population of Ireland is now only about
half what it was immediately before the Famine). Not
surprisingly, these people carried with them a grievance that
still produces considerable emotion and accounts for the
misguided American goodwill to the "oppressed" Irish. While
American financial support for the IRA has decreased
significantly, it still remains a problem in the last decade
of the 20th Century.(12: 167)
       By the end of the 19th Century, a well-organized
movement for Irish Home Rule had evolved and it sought
devolved government by constitutional means. Despite the
British Prime Minister's willingness to concede Home Rule, it
did not come about until 1914 due to the English electorate
and a divorce scandal involving Parnell, the Irish Party's
leader.(9: 659) Meanwhile, the legitimacy of the
constitutional nationalists was undermined by two other
important factors. Opposition to Home Rule ("Rome Rule") had
grown among Ulster Protestants and the paramilitary Ulster
Volunteer Force (UVF) was formed in 1912. (7: 311) This threat
of force, combined with the known sympathy of the British Army
and the King himself, forced the Government to allow Ulster to
opt out of Home Rule. At the same time, in the South, militant
Nationalism had been kept alive by the Irish Republican
Brotherhood (IRB) and the paramilitary Irish Volunteers. Both
sides began arming and training and, had it not been for the
outbreak of World War I, civil war would have been likely.
Tens of thousands of both Ulster and Irish Volunteers chose to
fight Germans rather than each other. A few impatient
Nationalists decided to take advantage of Britain's heavy
involvement in the First World War and they rebelled in 1916,
with virtually no support from the Irish people. (7: 315) Some
2,000 of them were crushed by the British Army in less than a
week. The severity of the British operation created martyrs of
the executed leaders and, sadly, helped to rally Irish popular
support for militant Nationalism.
       In the 1919 General Election, as a result of the harsh
military action, the Republican Sinn Fein party won 73 out of
the 1O5 Irish seats. (8: 139) It set up its own Parliament and
proclaimed an independent all-Ireland Republic. Britain was
only prepared to concede limited autonomy to the 26 counties
of the South, excluding the 6 counties of modern Northern
Ireland, the maximum area which the Protestant Unionists could
hold securely. (7: 320)
       From 1919 the IRB, now the IRA, fought a guerrilla war
against the British Army and the police, in an effort to force
a withdrawal from Ireland. The military and police reacted
with a campaign of counter-terror which was a dismal failure
in that it did not reduce sympathy for the IRA, and it was a
political embarrassment to the British Government both at home
and abroad. In 1921, a treaty was signed that established the
Irish Free State, with Northern Ireland remaining inside the
United kingdom but having its own Parliament. The South was
split by a bitter civil war between pro and anti-Treaty
forces. The pro-Treaty forces of the Irish Government
ruthlessly defeated the anti-Treaty forces of the IRA by
1923. (7: 318-322)
       In 1937, the Irish Free State changed its constitution
and claimed sovereignty over all 32 counties of Ireland. Two
years later the Irish Prime minister declared that partition
prevented Ireland joining with the Allies; however, he refused
to allow neutral Ireland to be used as a base against England.
More significantly, thousands of Irishmen volunteered to fight
for Britain in the Second World War. Ireland left the
Commonwealth and became a Republic in 1949. As time passed the
new Republic accepted the reality of partition and, while
opposing it in principle, sought to increase cooperation with
Northern Ireland.
       In the meantime, the Protestant Unionist Government, at
Stormont in Northern Ireland, was left to rule with little
interference from London. The Government's internal policies
were based on two perceived threats, the South's demands for a
Catholic dominated united Ireland, and the one third Catholic
minority in Northern Ireland that rejected the legitimacy of
the Stormont Government. This Government resigned in 1972 as a
result of Westminster's decision to take over responsibility
for security policy in Northern Ireland. Since then, the
United Kingdom has sought to reduce the military presence in
the Province and to progress towards a reconciliation between
the Catholic and Protestant communities.
       The "present troubles" is a term used to describe the
civil disorder and the related terrorist activities since
1969, At this time the Army was again ordered to provide
assistance to the Police. (12: 150) The fact that most of the
rioting developed from Catholic demonstrations meant that the
Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was generally facing Catholics
and this caused it to lose credibility as an impartial police
force. For this reason, the police found it increasingly
difficult to control rioters and the use of baton charges,
riot control gas and even gun fire was necessary. Greater
animosity was created by the employment of the "B Specials",
entirely Protestant and poorly trained police reserves, who
further aroused the Catholics  sense of injustice. (7: 328-329)
As the situation deteriorated, the police had neither the
numbers nor the ability to deal with such serious civil
disorder. Due to the extent of the rioting, looting and
burning in mid 1969, the Army was called upon to provide
military aid to the Civil Power. Ironically, the Protestants
proved even more violent than the Catholic Civil Rights
campaigners, so the Army was required to restore and keep the
peace in West Belfast and Derry by protecting the Catholics
from Protestant attacks. The violence was largely confined to
the poorer areas, where sub-standard housing and the
associated unemployment of both Catholics and Protestants
helped to sustain the bitterness and hatred.
       In an effort to regain normality, the RUC reorganized
and disarmed themselves. When the controversial B Specials
were disbanded, the illegal Protestant paramilitary Ulster
Volunteer Force (UVF) revived. (7: 328) This was due to the
perceived Catholic threat rapidly manifesting itself in the
form of a renewed IRA campaign designed to take advantage of
the weakened police force, and the subsequent breakdown of law
and order. The Army, caught in the middle, found itself
dealing less with sectarian rioting  and more with the bombs
and bullets of both Protestant and Catholic extremists.
       By exploiting the situation, the Catholic terrorists
were able to take control of their communities. They offered
the people "protection" from the Protestants and they
established their authority by coercion and torture. This
particularly unpleasant form of community terrorism has been
the hallmark of the IRA for the past twenty years. Today,
"kneecapping", with an electric drill or more frequently a
firearm, is a common punishment for non-conformists in the
Republican areas. The victims are given an appointment which
they keep out of fear for their lives. Depending on the degree
of punishment, one or both knees will be destroyed. Sometimes
elbows and thighs are included and the victim only survives
the grievous injuries caused by the multiple gunshots if his
family has made a prior arrangement for an ambulance to be
inbound at the time of the shooting.
       The IRA prefers its Catholic victims to survive, as
they then serve as an example to others in the community.
"Punishment shooting" is also used by Protestant extremists as
a means of maintaining discipline and loyalty. However, it is
in the Catholic communities that the majority of these
pathetic victims are found. They are most unlikely to
cooperate in any way with the Security Forces and their
distinctive plaster casts make them a visual deterrent to
others who might otherwise reject the IRA stranglehold. Due to
the highly developed skills of Belfast's surgeons most of them
make remarkable recoveries from their traumatic wounds.
       In 1971, before the resignation of the Stormont
Government, large-scale internment was introduced in an effort
to counter the IRA's terrorist activities. Unfortunately, this
caused the alienation of many moderate Catholics. With the
benefit of hindsight this internal security policy was a
mistake. From a military viewpoint it was successful, as most
of the active terrorists were arrested and held. The IRA
became combat ineffective.(12: 156) Politically it was a
disaster and, although attempts to justify the emergency
action were made, there is no doubt that many innocent people
suffered. Twenty years later, among the Catholic minority in
Northern Ireland, the scars are still obvious. In the hard
Republican enclaves, a generation has grown up with no respect
for the impartiality of the Security Forces. Tragically this
is being passed on to children as, barely old enough to stand,
they are taught by their parents to spit on and hurl abuse or
rocks at police and soldiers.
       Notwithstanding the relatively recent civil unrest,
there are ever increasing opportunities for the Police and the
Army to win the hearts and minds of those that support, or
even those close to, the Catholic and Protestant extremists.
An effective campaign to gain the trust and co-operation of
the Catholics is required, especially in West Belfast.
Circumstances today have made the Protestants less of a
problem, but the situation remains volatile.  A military force
conducting security operations in a free society must be
trusted and respected if it is to be effective. Today, in
Northern Ireland, the British Army operates in support of the
RUC. Both the Army and the Police must have a reputation for
fairness, impartiality and professionalism - such attributes
will foster trust. With a thousand years of troubled history,
and countless injustices to overcome, the United kingdom's
Security Forces have a difficult task, and there is no end in
       Other guerrilla campaigns in recent history highlight
the fact that guerrillas fear alienation from the people.
Tactics adopted have taken into account the need to maintain
popular support. (12: 106-114) In Northern Ireland, the
terrorists are able to play Catholic against Protestant,
exploiting generations of distrust and hatred, thus winning
support from their respective side. The population's self
imposed religious segregation results in businesses, factories
and recreation clubs that are exclusively "green" or "orange"
and these naturally become easy targets for the extremists.
Even school children are segregated because the Government
continues to finance schools that are exclusively for Roman
Catholics. It is difficult for those from outside Northern
Ireland to grasp the extent of the religious bigotry that
infects the Province. The maps issued to the Security Forces
are known as "tribal maps", they are color coded to show
Protestant, Catholic and mixed residential areas. Green areas
of west Belfast contrast with the orange areas of the eastern
districts. Where the two come together there is a history of
inter-sectarian strife and violence. In north Belfast, hard
Republican areas such as the Ardoyne and the New Lodge are
surrounded by staunch Loyalist neighborhoods such as Tiger Bay
and the Shankhill. Such areas have been, and sadly are likely
to continue to be, the scenes of partitularly unpleasant
clashes between the Catholics and Protestants. The summer
marching season is an especially emotional time and hundreds
of police are required to deploy to prevent the two sides
clashing in what would rapidly become a bloody riot. The
Protestants insist on exercising their right to conduct such
marches on routes that involve Republican areas. Generations
of hatred have created the insecurity felt by both sides and
this militant behavior, by which the marchers aggravate the
situation, is exploited by the hooligans and common thugs.
       For the urban guerrilla, intent on attacking the forces
of law and order, the situation could hardly be better.  The
rights of the citizens to march or demonstrate are upheld, and
the RUC are thus pre-occupied with preventing trouble. Police
are forced to deploy in strength simply to keep opposing
factions apart, and in doing so they become easy targets for
terrorist attack. To reduce this threat the Army now provides
background cover by patrolling and maintaining a poise to
counter terrorists as necessary. This is one type of military
operation that highlights the current policy of police
primacy. The Army no longer acts as the major instrument of
law enforcement and thus avoids the potential for a clash with
disorderly civilians. The IRA "cease-fire", in 1975, proved
that the British Army has both the experience and the
capability to defeat the terrorists. Political, social and
moral constraints have prevented this. Provided the Security
Forces continue to act within the law, and are perceived to be
just and impartial, they will eventually gain the overwhelming
public support that is yet to be won in the staunch Republican
       In common with other nations that have achieved "Great
Power" status in their past, Britain has much to answer for
from a moral viewpoint. Many British policies and their
related military actions have been questionable, and the
history of Anglo-Irish relations is no exception.
Historically, the Irish who chose to emigrate to America had
good reasons to bear grudges against the Westminster
Government. However, today the United Kingdom is a pillar of
democracy and outrageous acts of barbarism by Irish
terrorists, especially the Provisional IRA, cannot be
condoned. Sadly, in spite of the concerted efforts of the
British and Irish Governments, terrorism in Northern Ireland
continues to be a profitable trade. Taking into account
today's clear political and social evidence, there is little
doubt that the present trouble will continue to draw on the
resources of both nations for many years to come. Even if the
current violence peters out, and at present this deep rooted
campaign shows few signs of abatement, the seeds of future
action are already laid and there will probably be a
resurgence in the 21st Century. However, the potential for
damage to the fabric of the Society could be significantly
       Military commanders must make every effort to support
the Police in an efficient and impartial joint operation to
eradicate the extremists. While doing so, both the RUC and the
Army must win the complete trust of the vulnerable people who
deserve protection and freedom from terrorist coercion.
Political and religious leaders must concentrate on breaking
down the sectarian barriers, thus ensuring that the Catholic
and Protestant communities have the opportunity to resolve
their differences. This social, political and military
campaign should focus on the Catholic minority, and it should
help that group overcome the generations of actual and
perceived persecution.  A carefully constructed international
publicity effort, targeted directly at the "Irish Americans",
would play an important part in the early and final resolution
of Northern Ireland's current problems.
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6. Devlin, Bernadette. "The Price of My Soul." New York:
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