Why do people join the IRA?

“A sense of belonging and direction”. That and poverty are the two many reasons why young people join republican dissident groups (and now presumably the one group, the IRA), according to Henry McDonald in The Guardian. Mmm. I suspect he’s right, but then a sense of direction and meaning, a sense of belonging is something we all crave. The rest of us find it in other ways (or not at all). These guys find it by joining an organisation with a central policy of killing people. They’re also joining an organisation (as was the case with what we must now call ‘the old IRA’) in which there’s a high chance that they will be killed or end up in prison.

Why? You’d have to be either extremely easily led (highly unlikely) or else you believe (literally to the death) in what you’re doing. In our anxiety to avoid slipping back into the bloody past, there’s a danger that we’ll try to dodge this fact. As we’ll try to dodge the fact that these people fit pretty seamlessly into an age-old, violent struggle against British political and military involvement in Irish affairs. You or I may not be prepared to do this – or it might be the last thing we’d want to do. But these people, be they few or many, do. They think what’s been achieved, through Stormont and cross-border bodies, is a sham, and they’re determined to continue in a traditional physical-force tradition.

Maybe that’s what we should add when we say they’re looking for a sense of direction and meaning in their lives.

13 Responses to Why do people join the IRA?

  1. Anonymous July 28, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    Hmm, I suspect for many, they want to be recognised as “hard men” and get “respect” as much as anything else.

    And they probably don’t believe they will be killed or imprisoned.

  2. Colman July 28, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    People join or give support to the IRA because they oppose British Rule in all shapes and forms. The Stormont set up is a puppet of the British Government. The English Overlord, Owen Patterson shows us everyday that he runs the Six Counties, not the elected representatives of the partitioned 6 county state. He has been pushing Irish Republicans to breaking point with his arrogance over the prisoners issue and political internment of Corey, Price and McGeough. Britain controls the purse strings, the military, the security, the foreign and domestic policy of the 6 counties. The Stormont administration is comprised of all parties in support of this. There is no longer a suspicion, but a belief that the Sinn Fein leadership are being appeased and are accomplices in the British strategy of marginalizing opposition to British Rule.
    You said in a blog that it is time for Irish Republicans to say NO.
    More and more people who gave peace a chance have a growing disillusionment with Sinn Fein saying Yes to propping up the Orange state. Concession afer concession has been taken and banked with no reciprocation or goodwill in return from Unionists or their British masters. Irish expression in all its forms has been rejected.
    The Union has never appeared stronger, or Unionism more confident and belligerent. In the vacuum of a radical political alternative to British rule, the people will do what they have always done, look to the IRA to voice their opposition.

    • Anonymous July 29, 2012 at 10:44 am #

      The orange state has been smashed never to return again. Sinn Féin seem to have helped bring this to bear. The 32 counties of Ireland have democratically endorsed the Good Friday Agreement, thereby ensuring that peace and stability within north-south,east-west structures is what the vast majority of Irish people want. The IRA as I have known them always will take into consideration the feelings of their community. The fact that Sinn Féin are now the largest nationalist party is proof that most Republicans/Nationalists no longer support an armed struggle. That is why the new ‘army council IRA’ statement is not reflective of their communities opinion and why in my view they are not the ‘IRA’ but a group who are intent on ignoring the wishes of the Irish people.

    • Anonymous July 29, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

      I think, unfortunatly, Colman seems to be right

  3. giordanobruno July 29, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    It is a very serious thing to decide to use violent means to achieve your aims.
    Would you agree it should only be done as a last resort,when all political alternatives have been exhausted?
    And only when you are sure you have the support of a majority of the people?

  4. PJDorrian August 1, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Having been born in 1951 and grown up through, first the border campaign (of which I only remember cops with submachine guns and the odd B-special) and then the Paisley Shenanigans of the Early and Middle 60s; my main recollection was the fear of the older generations in the Catholic/nationalist streets, that earlier generation had experienced the pogroms. I seem to recall (maybe it’s hindsight) that the younger generation just entering adulthood decided they wouldn’t be cowed into submission. It was also a time of great unemployment in Catholic areas; slum housing was being replaced with slum maisonettes. This was the mix and August 69 was the catalyst; the IRA of the Workers’ Partry was seen to have failed; involvement in Civil Rights and politics was seen to have failed also. This is what help produce the Provies.
    Several of those factors are still to be seen; politics appears not to be working; The OO insist on trampling the civil rights of some communities; unemployment in Catholic (and Protestant) areas is high and to cap it all some unionists both politicians and unelectables, want to keep on “fighting” until they win. This is the current mix I wonder what the next catalyst will be? Black Saturday on the Crumlin/Ardoyne interface?

  5. Colman August 3, 2012 at 12:20 am #

    PJ, You hit the nail on the head. The IRA has never sought the support of the vast majority of the Irish people for waging war in previous campaigns, nor has it waited for political options to be exhausted.
    The IRA responds to political, economic and societal conditions. It senses the volatility of the political moment. It seizes opportunities to kindle the war for Irish Freedom. Whether it is England’s difficulty being Ireland’s opportunity, or fastening on the tumult of anger over Civil Rights marchers getting battoned off the street, the IRA has proved capable of reinventing itself time and time again. It has the potential to do so again, if wiser counsel doesn’t prevail. There is a whole generation of ceasefire teenagers that need to be convinced that the North is not still a battlefield, but a fair playground for all persuasions.
    Unionists who blame all the conflict’s deaths on the IRA, and who delight in obtrusively raising two fingers to the Nationalist community every marching season forment the perception that Northern Ireland is still a Protestant state for a Protestant people.
    You would think that the British would learn something from Irish history, but once again, when it comes to Irish sensitivities, English cordiality goes right out the window. The arrogance and inhumanity of the unelected English OverLord, Owen Patterson, in suppressing evidence, extirpating judge’s orders, prolonging the detention of an ailing Marian Price, interning Irish Republicans politically opposed to the GFA, coupled with the tacit acceptance of an enervated Sinn Fein is a reminder of the bad old days and the noxious imposition of direct British Rule in this part of partitioned Ireland.
    Of course, one never expected to see the day when those who fought and campaigned against internment of members of the Irish Republican community not only stand by, but be part of an administration that allows it to go unabated.
    The Brits and Armani politicos who have wrapped themselves in the glory of the peace process have only themselves to blame if a tragedy in the jails or overreaction in the streets ignites another smouldering flame.

    • dylan.from.galway(19) September 7, 2013 at 3:06 am #

      hi, just reading through this and wondering do you blog anywhere else?

    • dylan.from.galway(19) September 7, 2013 at 3:12 am #

      hi @colman, hope you see this, just wondering if you blog anywhere else? i cant believe how incredulous a lot of this is to me, perhaps iv been very naive but i think all things like proposed unity and other the works of nationalist communities are kept fairly well hidden from us down in the south, for those of us willing to look of course.

  6. giordanobruno August 3, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    Indeed the IRA never worried too much about the will of the people. Which is why they are and were tragically mistaken in their actions.
    Certainly Unionists need to examine their behaviour, especially around parades and stop the provocation. However I dislike the idea in your last paragraph suggesting that Nationalists are passive agents who can be ‘ignited’ by the actions of the Brits. As though they would have no responsibility for their own actions, no internal restraints. Is that truly all you expect of people?

  7. Colman August 5, 2012 at 8:06 am #

    Giordanobruno, I expect people to do what they have always done, primarily make decisions based on emotions and passions that are inflamed. People act first, rationalize and justify later. Every advertiser, writer and politician knows that. Which makes the provocative actions of the British Government and RUC/PSNI in the selective interning of political activists and in pursuit of the Boston Tapes highly suspicious. Masters of psychological warfare, they are back to their old ways of divide and conquer. British Intelligence’s warfare continues, dividing the Nationalist and Republican Community, pitting comrade against comrade, effectively nullifying any chance of mass opposition and resistance to British Rule. The Brits have been so successful in fostering dissension and distrust within the Irish Republican Community that Sinn Fein and their Irish Republican opponents Now reserve their strongest opprobrium for each other rather than the British. Te IRA may have had no chance of defeating the combined forces of the British military and paramilitary units in the past. The amalgamated IRA’s have no hope of defeating them in the present, but as long as British Rule manifests as a two fingered salute to judicial process, legal redress, full disclosure, impartiality, supremacy, equality and justice, then the ranks of the IRA will never be lacking in volunteers.

  8. Sparta August 7, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    Coleman are you on drugs or something or just a bit too full of rhetoric – quoting you:

    “There is no longer a suspicion, but a belief that the Sinn Fein leadership are being appeased and are accomplices in the British strategy of marginalizing opposition to British Rule.”

    And then this:

    “The Brits have been so successful in fostering dissension and distrust within the Irish Republican Community that Sinn Fein and their Irish Republican opponents Now reserve their strongest opprobrium for each other rather than the British.”

    So what you are saying is that you see what the Brits are at and then you just go ahead fallinto their trap – your good!

    Lets face facts. The micro groups have no leadership and are going nowhere. The leadership of the Republican Movement that fought the war inside and outside the gaols is by and large still active in Sinn Féin. You think these people just rolled over and are not still working for a united, independant Ireland every day. You are being delusional if you think that young people will flock to these micro groups. I know, I live in an area where they are meant to be strong. They are seen by most of the community as buck-ejits with egos and chips on their shoulders at best and at worst as very very dodgy charachters who are more interested in money than the welfare of their own community/country. Mlitarily they are seen as a joke.
    Your rhetoric might sound good – to yourself – but you are living in a fish bowl if think that there is anywhere near, even remotely, the feeling of upheaval that was in the nationalist community in 60s or 70s – however much you may wish it to be.

  9. Anonymous February 17, 2013 at 12:20 am #

    I’m a second generation British born Irishman. My father, a staunch Republican (despite his emirgration to the UK, mainly due to his time spent at the mercy of the brothers), brought me up with the knowledge and history of our land and people. Our home was garnished with Republican iconography, the most noteable was a picture of Bobby Sands with one of his poems engraved beneath. My father had even sent money to the Hunger Striker’s families and Sinn Fein. So let’s say that I grew up to be a Republican.

    I personally think I would have joined the Provos had I been of age. However, seeing that I was 13 when the Good Friday agreement was signed, I am faced with the choice of CIRA or RIRA, but would I volunteer for those factions? The answer is no. Not because I believe they are dissidents, I don’t feel they have dissented from the ideal of self determination – unlike Sinn Fein. I wouldn’t volunteer for C or R IRA because I feel that the gangster element has taken over, that the armalite has overshadowed the ballot box. Protection rackets and blood money being held over drug gangs and even allicances forged with bullies and gangsters have sullied my support for the RA.

    Of course the potential for this to happen was always there. The very lifestyle the volunteers lead was always going to attract people of a particular nature. Those who were more interested in violence and financial gain than the freedom of their nation. A robbery to fund a campaign can easily used by the wrong type of serviceman to fund their own greed. Sadly it is this type of ‘soldier’ who seems to have infultrated the IRA of late; if the media and grape vines are to be believed. But then again Thatcher tried to label ‘the men of violence’ as ‘criminals’. Both falsities.

    Bobby Sands once wrote “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children”. The plain fact is that our children aren’t laughing – it is these children who grow in to disollusioned adults. It is these adults who then seek to be part of something, be it a drug gang or the ‘RA. But would anything be different if Ireland was a 32 county socialist republic? What happens to the ASU when the war is won?

    The simple fact is that as long as there is British occupancy in our nation there will always be the IRA. While it is my contention that the Provos changed a great deal for Nationalists and Catholics in the 6 counties, the people still suffer civil rights abuses at the hands of imperialist forces. Due to this politicised youth will join, and due to the nature of the struggle, so too will belligerent youth. It is perhaps the latter who have forgotten what the IRA stand for, but in the same token it is the political process and Sinn Fein who have forgotten what they were trying to achieve.

    I don’t think any one can say why an individual joins a paramilitary organisation. Each individual has their own reason.