During the course of the conflict in Northern Ireland it was frequently argued that the Provisional IRA did not understand the political dynamics of the situation and that the British state didn’t understand Irish Republicanism. In an article just published in Political Studies I make the argument that in certain respects these two parties understood each other much better than anyone else did.
One of the most striking sources quoted in the article is a British account of the final formal secret meeting with the three Republican representatives in early 1976 after the ending of a long IRA ceasefire, extracts from which are shown here. One of those representatives was Billy McKee, Commander of the Belfast Brigade of the IRA and a pivotal figure with a reputation as a hardliner. The British representatives at the meeting wrote that:
“In an emotional (but not angry) outburst, McKee said that the violence in Northern Ireland, from which people of both communities had suffered for over 6 years, was destroying both the physical and spiritual qualities of life; the people had nothing to live for, and they looked in dread at the prospects ahead for their chidren.”
Spun Sugar 10: Meeting with O’Brady [Ó Brádaigh], McKee and McCallion, Feb 10 1976, PREM 16/960, UK National Archives.
The report paints a picture of a Republican leadership that was reluctant to go back to a ‘war’ of any kind, let alone the twenty year ‘war’ that ensued and begs the question of why a settlement was delayed for a further two decades. The article suggests an answer to that question.
This article offers a new analysis of the Northern Ireland peace settlement through an examination of the pivotal relationship between two key actors: the British state and the Provisional Republican movement that included Sinn Féin and the IRA. It traces the negotiating relationship between these key parties and argues that the ending of violent conflict in the 1990s can best be understood as the outcome of a long bargaining process between these two actors that was conducted both tacitly and explicitly over a span of more than two decades. It concludes that the development of a cooperative relationship between the British state and the Provisional leadership and the active coordination of British policy and republican strategy were the crucial elements in securing an end to violence in the 1990s.
‘The Longest Negotiation: British Policy, IRA Strategy and the Making of the Northern Ireland Peace Settlement’. Political Studies.