A Case Study of Terrorism: Northern Ireland 1970-1990 (Case Study #5)


One of the most puzzling and disappointing situations in the world today is the seemingly endless spiral of violence in Northern Ireland. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) was formed in 1970 as a breakaway offshoot of the old Irish Republican Army (IRA). Militants from Belfast formed the PIRA because the older IRA proved incapable of defending Catholic communities from roving bands of Protestants or attacks from Northern Ireland police.

Initially, the PIRA was formed as a neighborhood protection association, but as this case illustrates, it evolved into one of the most enduring and resilient terrorist groups the world has seen—ironically with the unintentional assistance of the British security forces.

This case analyzes the "ritualistic" nature of terrorism by the PIRA and counterterrorism by the British authorities. Special attention is given to the meaning of nationalism, justification of the use of force, and sociological factors that contribute to the cycle of "justice" and "revenge."

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