Abandoning historical conflict?

Abandoning historical conflict?: Former political prisoners and reconciliation in Northern Ireland

Peter Shirlow
Jonathan Tonge
James McAuley
Catherine McGlynn
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Abandoning historical conflict?
    Book Description:

    Drawing on over 150 interviews with former IRA, INLA, UVF and UFF prisoners, this is a major analysis of why Northern Ireland has seen a transition from war to peace. Most accounts of the peace process are ‘top-down’, relying upon the views of political elites. This book is ‘bottom-up’, analysing the voices of those who actually ‘fought the war’. What made them fight, why did they stop and what are the lessons for other conflict zones? Based on a Leverhulme Trust project and written by an expert team, the book offers a new analysis, based on subtle interplays of military, political, economic and personal changes and experiences. Combined, these allowed combatants to move from violence to peace whilst retaining core ideological beliefs and maintaining long-term constitutional visions.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-343-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-3)

    This book arose from a Leverhulme Trust research project of the same title, conducted from 2006 to 2008, involving individual and group interviews with 147 republican and loyalist former prisoners and examination of the roles played by combatants in effecting political change. The aim of the book is to assess the extent to which the peace process in Northern Ireland developed as a result of the repudiation or maintenance of previously held views by those who had ‘fought the war’ and spent time in prison as a consequence of their actions. The level of analysis was crucial; most contemporary accounts...

  6. 1 Politically motivated prisoners in Northern Ireland
    (pp. 4-22)

    Long after the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement — hereafter the Agreement — in Northern Ireland, the far-reaching consequences envisaged in the consociation of the competing political groupings of Ulster unionism and Irish nationalism became manifest. A long and tortuous path led to the formation of an inclusive coalition government headed by the supposed political extremes of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), representing the Unionist-British position, and Sinn Fein (SF), part of the wider Irish republican movement.

    The formation of a DUP-Sinn Fein dominated coalition followed a long-term decline in politically motivated violence, with cessations and virtual disbandment from the...

  7. 2 Former prisoners in a global context
    (pp. 23-44)

    The academic literature on peace processes suggests a considerable amount of borrowing of ideas from previous peace-building (e.g. Darby and Mac Ginty 2003; Ramsbotham et al. 2005). Preparations for peace, its consolidation via ceasefires, negotiations and the marginalisation of ultra spoiler groups and the implementation of peace agreements are all issues common to global peace processes, aspects where policy learning from previous efforts to create peace may be evident. Moreover, ideas concerning the specific — and often most controversial — features of securing peace among former combatants, including amnesties, prisoner releases, decommissioning, demobilisation, institutional and policing reforms, have been transferred and imported...

  8. 3 Political views and understandings
    (pp. 45-68)

    In engaging with the narratives presented by former prisoners we seek to capture the complexity of combatant lives and experiences. Whilst drawing upon the interpretations of events and life histories we aid the contextualisation of some broader arguments presented elsewhere in the book. Such personal points of reference reveal much about the nature of the social fabric and social changes across time. Broadly, it considers the extent to which former prisoners draw upon established understandings of ‘the past’, and how these have been reinforced, reinvented or even abandoned. More narrowly, it examines the extent to which former prisoners and the...

  9. 4 Imprisonment, ideological development and change
    (pp. 69-90)

    Writing in theIrish News on the occasion of the donation of republican former prisoners’ books to the Linen Hall Library in Belfast, Patrick Murphy managed to touch in one paragraph on two assumptions about non-state combatants imprisoned during the Northern Ireland conflict. The Long Kesh library was a collection of books amassed by IRA prisoners during their time incarcerated in the Maze prison. The donation of the collection to the Linen Hall was a succinct way of reiterating a popular view that time in prison had not put them on the sidelines of the conflict. Rather it had allowed...

  10. 5 Political and tactical change among former prisoners
    (pp. 91-118)

    The contribution of paramilitary prisoners to conflict transformation remains a surprisingly under-stated aspect of the Northern Ireland peace process. Amid the focus upon an ambitious consociational deal between nationalist and unionist politicians and examination of the roles played by the British, Irish and American governments, the actions of those who ‘fought the war’ in bringing about its end have attracted far less analysis. Yet prisoners played a significant role in creating conditions for peace.

    Republican prisoners moved away from the ‘self-inflicted theological inertia’ which had impaired durable political progress (Adams 2005: 122) whilst loyalist political leadership emerged as a consequence...

  11. 6 Conflict transformation and changing perceptions of the ‘other’
    (pp. 119-141)

    This chapter explores post-conflict attitudes and behaviour of those former non-state combatants who have engaged in broader formations of social and political reconciliation and transformation through various post-prison and community initiatives. In so doing it examines how the influx of former prisoners into organisations such as Sinn Féin, the PUP and the UPRG has reshaped the political thinking of those groups, and whether former prisoners have been able to maintain a distinct standpoint within such organisations or have been marginalised by leadership-driven change.

    The chapter also considers contemporary reconstructions of ‘the other’ and whether, and to what extent, these have...

  12. 7 Former prisoners and societal reconstruction
    (pp. 142-163)

    The 1998 Good Friday Agreement laid down procedures for the accelerated release of prisoners affiliated to groups that had committed to a ‘complete and unequivocal ceasefire’ and acknowledged the need to ‘facilitate the reintegration of prisoners into the community by providing support both prior to and after release, including assistance directed towards availing of employment opportunities, re-training and/or re-skilling and further education’ (HM Government 1998: 30). McKeever (2007: 423) contends that ‘the reintegration commitment within the Agreement implicitly (and positively) recognises the particular role of ex-prisoners as protagonists, not only of the conflict, but of the developing post-conflict society, and...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 164-172)

    The significant decline in state and paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland has been part guided by politically motivated prisoners who have played a vital role in conflict transformation. Former prisoners have contributed to the development of alternative modes of thinking that have challenged once-dominant militarist ideologies. The actors involved in these discursive shifts have pinpointed alternative structures and strategies within which to pursue their respective belief systems via non-violent means. Raising alternative debates has been a key feature of such actor-group relationships and such discussions have been attached to wider political shifts that are in turn translated into conflict-transformation-based activities...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 173-189)
  15. Index
    (pp. 190-195)