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Pulling the Brakes on Political Violence: How Internal Brakes Limited Violent Escalation from the Provisional IRA

Under what circumstances do paramilitary groups limit their use of political violence? This article considers why the Provisional IRA exercised restraint and limited their use of political violence in the lead up to, and aftermath of, the Good Friday Agreement.

Jennifer Dowling
02 May 2023
Read the full article here

The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) of 1998 marked an official end to over thirty years of conflict in Northern Ireland. The 'Troubles' were over. Although it did not achieve absolute peace, it did represent a watershed moment and set the stage for key paramilitary groups to disarm and halt their armed campaigns. This article considers why, given a capacity for violent escalation honed over decades, the Provisional IRA (PIRA) exercised restraint and limited their use of violence both before and after the GFA’s signing. The ongoing relevance of this case is underpinned by the renewed political debates surrounding the fate of Northern Ireland’s status in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. 

The article contributes to the research on understanding restraint and barriers to violent escalation within extremist groups and milieus. Specifically, it applies a typology recently developed by Busher, Holbrook and Macklin to understand why groups positively in favour of the use of political violence limit the quantity and quality of violence they are capable of. This study expands the scope of several other analyses that have applied the Busher et al. typology to understand how various extremist groups and milieus manage the parameters of their violence, such as Islamist extremist groups, the animal liberation movement, the British and Nordic far-right movement, and particularly relevant to this study, Morrison’s work on the dissident group, the RIRA. Up to this point, the typology has not been applied to the case of the PIRA, and so presents an opportunity to further examine dynamics of restraint within the Northern Irish context.

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