Tag Archives: Richard English

‘Rethinking terrorism’ in N. Ireland during the Troubles

Violent episodes such as the February shooting of a Northern Ireland policeman do not portend resurgent Troubles-era terrorism in the province, says Richard English, director of  the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast.

The dissident New IRA has claimed it shot Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell in Omagh. But English suggested loyalist violence sans political agenda could be “more dangerous” to the region in the post-Brexit era.

Belfast-born English and Dame Louise Richardson, president of the Carnegie Corporation, April 3 discussed the state of terrorism studies at Connolly House, home of the Boston College Irish Studies program. In late March Northern Ireland’s terrorism threat level was raised from substantial to severe, meaning an attack is highly likely as the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement is marked this month. U.S. President Joe Biden is expected in Belfast next week as the largest unionist party refuses to participate in the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly.

Left to right: Guy Beiner, Richard English, and Louise Richardson at BC’s Connolly House.

County Waterford-born Richardson said Irish republicanism was “in the ether” in the 1960s Ireland of her youth. The Troubles were simply a continuation of the island’s revolutionary history. Richardson said she began to hear opposing views during her undergraduate studies at Trinity College Dublin; and the North generally “was at a remarkable remove.”

As she developed her reputation as an expert on terrorism studies at Harvard, Richardson was present for the historic U.S. visits of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in 1994 and 1997, respectively. She had a higher opinion of McGuinness: “You could see why he was the person who could delivery the IRA (for the 1998 peace agreement),” she said. McGuinness died in 2017.

I asked English to delineate the differences between Troubles news coverage in Northern Ireland, Britain, the Republic of Ireland, and America. He noted that while reporting within the province was the most consistent, it also was the most problematic, since “nothing is neutral in the North.” International coverage was episodic and flatlined later in the conflict, he said, revived only for the most significant developments. “Very little media worked well for the non-state actors (such as the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries)” at the center of the Troubles, he said.

Guy Beiner, BC’s Sullivan Chair in Irish Studies, said terrorism “has slipped off the radar” in programs marking the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. “It’s a neglected angle,” he said. “Terrorism is a central question, but none of the events want to address the t-word.”