The IRA and Armed Struggle by Rogelio Alonso


Unlike most literature on the ‘conflict’ in the North, this book assesses the impact and effectiveness of the armed struggle. It devotes significant attention towards the motivations of men and women who joined the IRA and the rigid hierarchal structures which underpinned the organisation to explaining the eventual outcome and ineffectiveness of the armed struggle.

Between 2000 and 2004 the author interviewed a total of seventy activists and former members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). As one interviewee stated:

“In our society, we should question what has just happened, we should investigate it. We’re one of the few countries in the world that having had an armed struggle for thirty years there is little or no fucking research into what happened, why it happened, what are the lessons to be drawn from it and how do we inform you people not to do this shit again. There is simply isn’t enough any and it is like people just want to shut it down, close it and move on without any research at all”.

The first part of the book analyses the reasons why young men and women joined the ranks of the republican movement, drawing attention to the immediate political and social conditions in the last 1960’s, rather than for the most part any ideological convictions.

The ‘group think dynamic’ approach pervades every aspect of his analysis which “dominates their behaviour, and the methods of deindividuation and manipulation that make possible the following the hierarchical orders on which the survival of the organisation is based.” This top down centralised control based on crushing dissent and critical analysis in the movement was mirrored by rigid iron control outside the movement against dissent.

The problematic nature of the Republican movements hierarchy is exposed through the testimony of former activists. These testimonies point out that they used the struggle to solidify their position. As one acccount stated: “Revolutionary organisations become more and more authoritarian as the conflict deepens….”. This is echoed elswhere as another states “They hate to be challenged or they hate to be questioned, so sometimes you can antagonise them by asking why, what or what for.”

This hierarchical system even carried over to the prison system “I had serious problems with the forms of organisation that the movement applied in the prison. It was very harsh, it was very severe and oppressive form of collective (system), and it didn’t leave much room for the individual..”

The book seeks to answer was these internal authoritarian structures necessary in conflict conditions or where there other factors at play such as the need to create an obedient and compliant membership to serve a careerist leadership driven by Gerry Adams.

The author touches upon the continuing debate over the deaths of the ten hunger strikers, the sectarian catholic reactionary dimension, to the gradual decline of the ‘armed struggle’ and demobilisation of the grassroots.

Ultimately, the book challenges the myth that there was no other option, other than armed struggle and there were a variety of irrational internal dimensions which sustained the ‘war’ for so long. In the process, demolishing the constant ‘blame the brits for everything’ mantra we continue to here from some republican quarters and lefty cheerleaders.

At a time of continuing paramilitary violence, apart from the state of course, this book hits the nail of head in explaining the futility of the armed struggle within the Northern Ireland context.