Troubled; An Anarchist Primer on the Occupation of the North of Ireland

  • Posted on: 15 October 2012
  • By: worker

<table><tr><td>An essay by Alasdair Elmwood detailing a brief history of what is commonly referred to as 'the troubles' and a subsequent anti-state analysis and call to action. Emphasis on readers from the British mainland to learn from the experiences of activists in the North of Ireland.

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<a href=" probably getting annoyed</a></td><td><img title="Is there any way out of trouble?" src=""></td></tr></tab...

As anarchists we struggle against the prime source and defender of power, the State.

For centuries one of the most powerful States in history, the British State, occupied the totality of Ireland in an autocratic, sectarian and violent manner that it had perfected in colonies across the surface of the Earth. Whilst a short armed rebellion against British rule culminated in 1922 with the establishment of an independent Irish State the northern part of the island was left under a continued British occupation.

The occupation in the North is heavily characterised by a continued sectarian nature. The roots of this stem from British encouragement some three hundred years ago for primarily Scottish Protestants to economically invest themselves in the lush, fertile fields of the North. This resettlement of a dominant economic class had massive consequences as seemingly overnight the majority Catholic population was working for, paying tax to and effectively policed by a foreign Protestant population. By the twentieth century limited rights for what was, by now, a minority Catholic had been achieved. However, local government and business discrimination against Catholics was rife. Inequality in housing and employment were by multiples of percent across the sectarian divide. Most local elections took place in 'gerrymandered' districts that allowed for minority Protestant populations to return a majority of Protestant politicians. Indeed, the devolved government was once described by a Prime Minister as a 'Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People.'

This sectarian divide is a class divide and throughout the years was supported by the British State whose Parliament refused to contradict or condemn the laws and actions of the devolved government in the North of Ireland.

Fuelled by anger and inspired by the actions of others worldwide in the 1960s, an optimistic civil rights movement emerged. At its demonstrations (of which many were banned) the reactionary forces of the State attacked protestors. A predictable government backlash to the demands of the civil rights movement occurred and simultaneously mass sectarian violence occurred . Witnessing the breakdown of law and order and the violent opening of wounds created by it's actions, the British State deployed troops on the streets of Ireland on the 15th August 1969. Their presence would continue for some thirty years as a bloody war took place primarily between the Irish Republican Army (which sought reunification with Ireland and the creation of a socialist government) and the British State.


The actions of the British State are surprising in their audacity to look back at. For one famous curfew in West Belfast over three thousand troops were deployed and four civilians were shot dead. In one period of internment several thousand people were locked up without charge for months on end and treated to what European courts called torture. The infamous shootings on 'Bloody Sunday' killed fourteen, five of which from shots to the back, and all twenty-six casualties were unarmed demonstrators and bystanders. The State removed the right to trial by jury during the war and imprisoned activists and resisters to the occupation not as prisoners of war but as common criminals. Those that rebelled in prison often went on hunger strike were force fed and from this process ten prisoners died. Leaked documents show that the British state shared information with armed gangs to attacks resisters to British rule on countless occasions. Checkpoints existed throughout the north of Ireland. Over the course of recent deployment the north of Ireland has witnessed at peak some 30,000 British troops on its soil. That's three times the figure of British troops deployed in Afghanistan.

If you live in Britain your money has paid for blood lost in the North of Ireland. Daily taxes on goods fund the State apparatus. Yearly tax collection brings in yet more money for the Police and Army. No major political party in Britain has ever supported an end to the occupation. Recent support for the 'peace' process ensures an ongoing occupation and has encouraged further socio-economic divisions. Throughout the war no major demonstration ever occurred in London to call for an end to the occupation.

If you live in Britain and are fearful of the State's reaction to austerity; be it in the form of threats to use water-cannon, stories of tear gas and rubber bullets used on demonstrators, the evictions of homeless folk from squats and the gradual marginalisation of the powerless in society you can find that your fears come to life in occupied Ireland.


For as long as the State exists so too does the ability for massive force to be used against those that resist it.


Following an armed uprising against British rule in 1916 came the general election in 1918 which saw the majority of Irish voters place their faith in Sinn Fein, a party devoted to achieving Irish independence as a socialist republic. Empowered by their electoral support Sinn Fein established their own revolutionary government and declared independence from Britain. This was, of course, opposed by the British State and a bloody civil war ensued. The resulting civil war divided Ireland into two constituent entities, the southern Republic and Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein and its military wing, the IRA, opposed this settlement and vowed to continue resistance until a fully unified, socialist republic was born.

By 1985 Sinn Fein and the IRA rejected this proposal and instead endorsed the eventual incorporation of the North into the Southern, capitalist state. By 1994 they rejected armed struggle and began open negotiations with the British government that would end with the conclusion that the British State is to remain in the North of Ireland. By 1998 they were committed to a 'peace' agreement that committed Sinn Fein to a government overseen by the Parliament in Westminster.

For the bulk of the 20th Century though the British government witnessed an insurrection on its' own territory. The IRA indulged in an armed campaign that organised thousands, witnessed significant support, encouraged international solidarity and inflicted considerable losses on the British State apparatus. From the late 1960s to 1998 many refer to the political violence in the North of Ireland as 'the Troubles.' Do not be mistaken by this, the North of Ireland was home to yet another Irish civil war that claimed the lives of thousands and was primarily a war between the IRA and the British state. During this war the IRA was responsible for seven hundred servicemen deaths, the policing of whole areas of Derry, Belfast and South Tyrone and assassinations of members of the royal family and political elite in Ireland, Britain and beyond.

Like many of anti-imperialist armies in the 20th Century the IRA operated under a hierarchical structure. Through time those that could work the bureaucracy of armed resistance rose through the ranks of the IRA and equally, those that couldn't stomach the armed resistance, worked their way up the positions of Sinn Fein. As leaders became more divorced from those exercising resistance on the streets so to did the ideas existing at the bases of support. With steady inclusion into negotiations and government came a gradual conservatism from the Sinn Fein and IRA leadership that developed throughout the 1980s as Sinn Fein establishes itself as a political movement willing to cooperate with the British State. By 1998 and the peace agreements that would allow Sinn Fein executive power in a devolved Northern Irish government this conservative process was complete. The Sinn Fein of today acts as a housekeeper to the British State in the North of Ireland ensuring the rapid delivery of, amongst other services, policing, housing and employment. They have thus been incorporated into a political system which, from the outset, they argued was absolutely rotten to the core under the influence of British occupation and international capitalism.


It's hypocrisy; from revolutionaries to State makers......the Sinn Fein of today does not rally the masses to oppose the British State and to create living alternatives to British rule. Rather, Sinn Fein is British rule in Ireland.


Against the might of British occupation the resistance of the Irish should be celebrated in the same manner as any anti-imperialist struggle. However, particular aspects of this struggle should be emphasised and supported more than others.

Many anarchist principles were familiar in the early civil rights movement that utilised squatting, mass demonstrations, autonomous actions and tax noncompliance as tactics. Peoples' Democracy and the Belfast Anarchist Group were early espousers of anarchist principles in the North of Ireland but their ideas became overshadowed by the reality of war.

Above and beyond any act in the war that should be of inspiration is the repeated creation of temporary autonomous zones in the North of Ireland with the most prominent being Free Derry.

Free Derry existed from 1969 to 1972 when, at first, citizen defence associations refused access to police or army and, at later periods, the IRA policed the area.


The oft celebrated sense of normality delivered by the peace process is exactly that, normality, where discrimination, division and inequality continue. The Catholic minority still suffers considerable discrimination in the North of Ireland which festers a continued sense of division shown quite lively every year during the sectarian marching season and structural inequality for the working-class (Catholic, Protestant or otherwise) continues with the North being one of the most deprived areas in Western Europe.

With mass Catholic inclusion into government and a score of new anti-discrimination laws regarding employment one would expect a change of attitude in society during the peace process. Rather, at the start of the peace process one saw that demands for sectarian apartheid in the workplace rose by 7% from 1999 to 2001 in a period where one would expect them to fall. By 2010 almost one-quarter of people would still want division in the school system based on religious background.

Hope for the future is bleak. By 2010 two-thirds of people argued that the North of Ireland is not a 'normal civic society' where differences could be settled through due process. Equally, only 52% believed that relations between Catholics and Protestants could improve over the following five years.

With the restoration of normality to the North has also come to day-today reality of capitalism. Once colonised by the British for its fertile fields the North today does not exactly feel like a peaceful, prosperous paradise for the vast majority of its residents. Across the totality of the North some 20% of people live in low-income housing and that is a figure that has remained stagnant for most of the peace process. Wealth inequality is matched by religious background with Catholics almost twice as likely as Protestants to live in low income housing. The North has also been badly hit by the ongoing financial crisis which has been reflected in above-average rising of unemployment figures.


Tony Blair was famously quoted during the talks that produced the peace agreement that he could feel the 'hand of history on his shoulder.' It begins to look like that history will be short lived.

The once revolutionary Sinn Fein now sits in government with the extremely reactionary and loyalist Democratic Unionist Party. The two supposedly 'arch-enemies' now preside over the North of Ireland together. The same sectarian divisions exist in the towns and cities; you can still visit 'enclaves,' 'hold-outs' or 'strongholds' and see the barriers drawn through flags, murals and place names.

Every summer divisions flare up into traditional displays of power and violence through the variety of parades and marches. Lines are drawn and riots begin.

These riots are wildly different from those experienced on the British mainland. Cars are routinely set ablaze, incendiaries are launched at police and bricks thrown at each other. The police react through rubber bullets, water cannon and pepper spray. In 2012 riots in North Belfast saw 92 police officers injured over several days. Equal scenes across the North in the summer of 2011 saw over 300 people injured.

Dissident republicans, once allied to Sinn Fein, have combined to create a new IRA in the summer of 2012. The groups involved have assassinated one police officer and two British soldiers in the past few years and have detonated several bombs across the North. They completely reject the peace process and are calling for armed resistance to British rule; be it carried out from London or Belfast.


Resistance does not end with political process. Their riot is ours; against the British State.


Resistance to British rule is growing in this troubled part of Western Europe. It is being displayed in broad instances of popular anger but also through the bullets and bombs of armed groups. The resisters will have a recent history to look back on that will allow suitable predictions of the repression they can expect. When one looks back at British history in Ireland one is not drawn to the conclusion that the occupier will be passive and to act accordingly; rather, one sees a history of overt aggression and fascism.

As the years of the peace process go by it is clear the processes are falling apart. Violence, inequality and division are still rife in the North. As the financial crisis continues the problems will only get worse and the reaction by the British state will only be more bloody. Austerity has already driven much of Europe into crisis and as austerity continues to bite an already weak North then we will begin to see an unravelling of the proposed state of normality existing there. As violence erupts again the British state will act in kind and, working on its years of experience in the field, we can expect that the North will continue to be troubled by British occupation.

As anarchists our expectation is to challenge authority and the state. In mainland Britain our wishes to fulfil this expectation will become immeasurably harder as we begin to see the British state using the same tactics perfected in Ireland on the British mainland. The threat of rubber bullets to be used against students, the calls from the London Mayor to authorise water cannon and the ruthless sentences and quick operations by the judicial system following the English Riots in 2011 all demonstrate that the actions previously contained to the North of Ireland are being exported by the British State to the streets of the mainland.

Thus the struggle in the North of Ireland is the same as our own. The State's use of violence there will be used here and for the same reasons of maintaining the priveledge of the rich and powerful. We should be celebrating resistance to British rule in the North of Ireland, educating ourselves of the history there and learning from the mistakes, successes and overall experiences of those that lived under British rule.


Anarchists in the North:


Tiocfaidh lá éigin nuair a bheidh an fonn saoirse seo le taispeáint ag daoine go léir na hEireann ansin tchífidh muid éirí na gealaí.


Anti-Copyright 2012. In Soldiarity with Mariam Price. In Memory of John McGuffin. Created using Scribus, an open source publishing program. Published under


Free Mariam Price!


before the first troll throws out some worthless shit, i can say, "hell fucking yeah!"

thanks for sending this friend. meet you in Derry sometime soon. i'll be the one still fighting, and i'll carry a sign with your name.

fuck the state, fuck the church, fuck capital. struggle struggle struggle struggle. we are all complicit.

let it all burn!


The fuck does this mean? I'm sympathetic to the republican cause in NI, but I'm extremely disturbed by the manner in which American radicals have fetishized the struggle. The violence in NI has resulted in a living hell for a lot of people, and the idea that white kids in the US are jacking it to a Belfast in flames is disgusting.

People live in NI, and they are the ones that deal with the consequences of whatever comes to pass. Go find something else to wank to!

And furthermore, you understand that the Catholic religion is the centerpiece to much of the republican/nationalist activism? Go shouting "fuck the church" at a republican rally, and you'll more or less be given the boot. Good fucking lord, get educated, kid.

cool threats.

this is fantastic and sorely needed, especially for US comrades.

Sex pistols said it, another country dominated, North Ireland, another form of English tenancy.

This is some leftist nonsense, I can see why libcom (particularly those in N.Ireland/Ireland) would be annoyed.

Libcom is leftist nonsense. prods too. heh heh

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