Terrorist Groups and Political Fronts: The IRA, Sinn Fein, the Peace Process and Democracy

Article


Richards, A. 2001. Terrorist Groups and Political Fronts: The IRA, Sinn Fein, the Peace Process and Democracy. Terrorism and Political Violence. 13 (4), pp. 72-89.
AuthorsRichards, A.
Abstract

By characterizing the relationship between political fronts and their terrorist organizations this article sets out to explain the underlying reason for the impasse that has come about in the Northern Ireland peace process over decommissioning. It argues that political fronts are subordinate to their terrorist groups and that dual membership between the two is a common feature. Sinn Fein, at least until the autumn of 2001, has been subordinate to the IRA Army Council and so was unable to deliver IRA disarmament. It is then suggested that this misunderstanding, or willingness to overlook the fact, in 1998 has led to the legitimization of Sinn Fein by three democratic states and this has been fundamental in bringing about the party's electoral advance. Loyalist disenchantment, with both this advance and what it has perceived to be the flood of concessions to republicans because of the implied threat of violence, could ultimately have led to violence on a worse scale than the 30 years of the 'Troubles'. The international strategic environment that the republican movement was confronted with changed this. The departure of President Bill Clinton from office and the election of George W. Bush, the Colombian episode, and the declared 'war on terrorism' following the 11 September attacks, were all significant factors behind the IRA's first act of putting weapons beyond use. The possibility, however, that the move was a tactical one-off merely to stave off American pressure and cement Sinn Fein's position in the new political dispensation (and thereby confirm Sinn Fein's status as a political front subordinate to the IRA) should not be discounted. It could also be argued, however, that, because of the apparent shift in control that took place within the Army Council after the events of August and September 2001 towards the 'Sinn Fein element' that supported putting weapons beyond use, the act represents the beginning of an incremental process that will, events permitting, lead to further such moves and the ultimate disbandment of the IRA. If this is the case then the autumn of 2001 is the time that Sinn Fein ceased to be a political 'front', and was henceforth the senior partner in the Republican movement. Nevertheless, the party would still have a long way to go before becoming a democratic party.

JournalTerrorism and Political Violence
Journal citation13 (4), pp. 72-89
ISSN0954-6553
Year2001
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)doi:10.1080/09546550109609700
Web address (URL)https://doi.org/10.1080/09546550109609700
Publication dates
Print2001
Publication process dates
Deposited25 Oct 2017
Copyright information© 2001 Taylor & Francis
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