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'Don't mention the war!' Debating Notion of a 'Stalemate' in Northern Ireland (and a Response to Dr Paul Dixon)

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John Bew, Martyn Frampton

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-301
Number of pages15
Issue number2
Early online date3 Aug 2012
E-pub ahead of print3 Aug 2012

King's Authors


The Northern Ireland peace process is often celebrated as a model for conflict resolution, yet our understanding of exactly what occurred is still only at a formative stage. Many details, particularly concerning the counter-terrorist operations of the British government, remain buried within official archives, available only up until 1981. Some aspects of that campaign-variously called an 'intelligence', 'secret' or 'dirty' war-may never be uncovered because of a lack of official documentation. Nonetheless, attempts can be made to analyse the use of 'harder' forms of state power. Scholars should not be shy to offer reasoned historical judgements on the basis of available evidence. In seeking to understand why the conflict followed the path it did and ultimately came to an end, 'hard power' cannot be written out of the story. However, some seem more inclined to a position best characterised by Basil Fawlty's famous mantra: 'Don't mention the war!' An exaggerated example of this was provided by Dr Paul Dixon of Kingston University in an article in a previous issue of this journal, which made a number of criticisms of our book, Talking to Terrorists; Making Peace in Northern Ireland and the Basque Country. In this article, we respond to Dixon's criticisms and offer broader reflections on what transpired in Northern Ireland. In some instances, the deployment of 'hard power' by the British state exacerbated the conflict and proved counter-productive. Ultimately, however, we conclude that intelligence-led counter-terrorism operations did make a significant contribution to ending the situation. This is not to advocate the use of such methods or to play down the 'soft power' successes which are undoubtedly part of the Northern Ireland story; it is simply to acknowledge that such tactics were deployed in the past and form part of a complex historical picture.

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