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When discussing the strain theory, its essential to at least mention the concept of anomie as it was introduced by Merton. This concept was not entirely new, as Durkheim (1897) used it before him, but Merton (1938) gave a different meaning to this concept. Whereas Durkheim (1897, pp. 104-106) saw it as a state of normlessness in which a society can find itself, in which a limited amount of delinquency is not necessarily bad, Merton (1938, pp. 674-676) described it as a state of discontent caused by the inability to achieve certain goals. He argues that when a society emphasizes the importance of goals, yet doesn't offer equal access to the means to achieve these goals, a state of anomie ensues. He describes five ways to deal with this state of anomie: conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism and rebellion. It can be argued that the public support for ethno-political paramilitary groups such as the IRA can be explained through several motivations: both innovation (achieving the culture's goals through other means than the institutionalized ones) and rebellion (rejecting both the culture's goals as the institutionalized means) can be seen as a ground for support. There might've been people who simply supported the IRA because they wanted to end the (perceived?) discrimination, as there might've been people who supported the IRA because they rejected the culture's goals as well as the institutionalized means. It is however not the goal to explain the public support through Merton's theory on anomie, as it received the justified criticism it doesn't explain the mechanisms of how anomie influences the individual's behavior well enough (Op de Beeck, 2012, p. 51).
A few very important contributions to the literature on strain were made by Agnew (1985, 1992). His general strain theory (GST) (1992, p. 48) is a social-psychological theory where the focus lies on the individual and his or her immediate environment. Agnew (1992, p. 72) adds that the macro level is sometimes explored too, but the structural role of society in explaining delinquency is being reduced in his GST, while it was of importance in the classic anomie theories (Op de Beeck, 2012, pp. 60-61). According to the GST, delinquency is influenced by the presence of certain strains, and tries to explain it as a result of the negative emotional states caused by the individual's negative relationships (Agnew, 1992, p. 48-49). These emotional states, triggered by negative relationships (= relationships in which the individual is treated unfavorably), create a pressure for corrective action that may lead to delinquency. Agnew (2010, pp. 136-137) elaborates on this and adds that these strains appear when individuals endure a negative treatment by others, lose something valued and/or find themselves in a position where they are unable to achieve their goals. Agnew (1992, p. 59) notes that these sources of strain may overlap in practice and that these can lead to a range of negative emotions. He argues anger is the most critical emotion when it comes to explaining delinquency, as it 'creates a desire for retaliation/revenge, energizes the individual for action, and lowers inhibitions, in part because individuals believe that others will feel their aggression is justified' (p. 60). When strain is repetitive or chronic, it creates a predisposition for delinquency.
Agnew (2010, p. 136) offers the general strain theory as a partial explanation for terrorism. Terrorism would be the result of collective strains: these are strains among the members of an identifiable group. He identifies a few mechanisms through which these collective strains can have an impact on the likelihood of terrorism.
First of all, just as in his work on the GST (1992), Agnew (2010, p. 140) sticks to the mechanism where delinquency is influenced by different negative emotional states, as these create a certain pressure for corrective action. He illustrates this point by saying that revenge is a leading motive for terrorist acts. Secondly, he adds that collective strains also have a negative impact on the ability to use legal coping strategies, as it's not likely these coping strategies will be effective due to the little allurement for the source of strain to respond to the requests of those who endure the collective strains. Those who endure the collective strains are often not involved in the political system, and there's a significant discrepancy of power which affects the effectiveness of the coping options negatively. Thirdly, there's also a negative impact of these collective strains on the social control, as the emotional ties of those enduring the strains and the source of these strains are weakened. He adds that the likelihood of the former sanctioning the terrorist is reduced, as the strains contribute positively to the tolerance, sympathy and support for terrorism. Fourthly, collective strains influence beliefs favorable to terrorism positively: terrorism is excused, justified, or even seen as required, and neutralization techniques are used by those in the strained collectivity. Fifthly, he points to the tendency of these collective ties to amplify the collective identity of those enduring the strains, which may lead to the perception of terrorism as a collective solution to the strains experienced by the strained group. His last mechanism is the function of the terrorist organization as comfort against the endured strains.
These collective strains are however not determining and thus do not guarantee terrorism. It can also be argued that the focus should be on the subjective perception of the strains by the collectivity, rather than objective strains, an assumption that is reinforced by Agnew (2010, p. 138). He gives a few characteristics of strains that are prone to contribute to terrorism: firstly, there's a high degree of harm suffered because of the strains, and the strains are widespread and know a long duration. There's also the expectation the strains will continue in the future. Secondly, they are seen as unjust acts, by which social norms are voluntarily and intentionally violated. These strains must be seen as undeserved. Thirdly, the foundation of these strains lies in the weak relationship the collectivity has with 'others' who are more powerful, and commonly belong to a different group in some social dimension.
In line with the foundations laid by Agnew (1992, 2010, pp. 136-139), Gurr and Moore (1997, p. 1081) describe these collective strains as grievances, which are defined by them as "widely shared dissatisfaction among group members about their cultural, political and/or economic standing vis à vis dominant groups" (p. 1081). Gurr and Moore's (1997, p. 1081) definition seems to be a valuable addition to this debate, as it elaborates on the ontology of these collective strains, by making a distinction between the potential explanatory factors for the dissatisfaction. However, as Agnew (2010, p. 138) notes, it is the perception of strain which is important, so specific situations will only be considered as an indicator for these collective strains, and not as a causal factor. It is worth noting that making statements about hard casual relations is not the ambition of this research.
Agnew (1992, p. 48) emphasizes the variables at social-psychological level, as he focusses on the individual and his or her immediate social environment, but does not completely exclude the variables which are situated at the macro-level. He argues that the larger social environment may affect the probability of delinquent behavior in a variety of ways, e.g. by making it difficult to cope with the strains in a legal way. Agnew (2010, p. 134) does take the macro-level into account, as he briefly mentions the weak link between terrorism and deprivation at the macro-level, but he certainly does not emphasize it. As the structural role of society might be of importance, attention should be paid to the possibility of institutional anomie as an influential factor. Messner & Rosenfeld (2001, p. 76-77) argue the culture and social structure of a society may play an important role in influencing the probability of delinquency. While their analysis is limited to the American culture on one hand and the influence of material success goals on the other hand, this serves as a nice illustration of the importance of culture and social structure.
More applicable to this research are the findings of Mullins and Young (2012, pp. 46-47): their results indicate a relationship between the culture and acts of terror. These authors argue that cultures in which violence is seen as legitimate (because e.g. they have recently experienced a war), are more likely to experience terrorism, as there is a 'legitimation-habituation' effect. They also find a relationship between the probability of political violence occurring and sociopolitical factors, being the presence of a stable economy and a strong, centralized government. They assume that this leads resistant political actors to use political violent methods because they're facing a strong government.
3. Public support for the Provisional IRA
This chapter contains two main sections. In the first section the reader is provided with an overview of the extent to which the PIRA enjoyed public support. This mainly attempts to answer the first research question, which broadly speaking means that it tries to describe the support. An answer is provided to the question how it evolved over time and how it differentiated according to the different sections within the community. The second section has a more explanatory nature: it deals with the different factors that may potentially explain the public support for the PIRA. This deals with the second research question, which means that it tries to explain the public support for the PIRA.
3.1. The level of public support for the PIRA
It seems to be almost inevitable that an organization that has been able to survive for such a long time enjoys a minimum support from the community it is embedded in. Sluka (1989, p. 65) argues in his work, which is an ethnography that focuses on the public support for the IRA and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in 1981, that the IRA and INLA are in a battle for legitimacy (and support from the community) with both the Catholic hierarchy and the governmental actors. This does not necessarily mean that the PIRA felt bound by the opinion of the Catholic community: historically this was not the case (Bishop & Mallie, 1987, p. 20).
In discussing the extent to which the PIRA enjoyed public support during the early years of the Troubles, there seems to be a consensus among most respondents that it did enjoy a significant amount of support. A few of them support this claim by arguing that the fact they were able to survive as long as they did, even when confronted with a very powerful opponent, was only possible due to the level of public support they enjoyed. This is similar to Sluka's (1989, p. 65) argument, who claims that for movements like the PIRA public support is vital, as otherwise it would not survive due to the hostility towards them. One respondent does argue that right at the start of their formation in 1969, their support base was still small due to the on-going feud between them and the Official IRA. Another respondent argues that while not many people would've actively supported the PIRA, there would've certainly been a significant level of passive support among the members of their community. Some respondents argue this level of passive support is mainly due to the lack of legitimacy the Northern Irish and/or British state enjoy, which will be discussed later when attempting to explain the public support.
In dealing with public support for the PIRA one would have to stress the dynamic nature of support: this means that, depending on other factors, the public support may know highs and lows (Moxon-Browne, 1981, p. 50; Sluka, 1989, p. 66). Seven out of ten respondents also discussed the nature of the support; they all agree on public support not being a static factor, but rather as something fluid, something which fluctuates. Hayes and McAllister (2005, p. 606) mention the importance of particular circumstances on the support. Moxon-Browne (1981, p. 50) mentions the influence of the way British rule is perceived on the support for the PIRA: at times British rule is perceived as more unjust, the IRA can expect a greater amount of public support. Similar to Moxon-Browne's (1981, p. 50) hypothesis, O'Brien (1983, p. 101) argues there's a positive relationship between the rage caused by PIRA's hostile activities and the need felt by the Catholic ghettos for the PIRA as its defender against a possible attack. On discussing the ups and downs of the public support, Anthony McIntyre notes that "between 1973-1981, while there was support, it was neither significant nor substantial. It looked more as if the IRA were in revolt and not the nationalist / working-class community". The main reason given for the fluid nature of the public support is the role of certain incidents; it's argued it's very event-driven. These key events are seen as influential for both the ups and downs in the public support.
Just like the public support is generally not seen as something static by the respondents, it's not seen to be evenly spread according to the different sections of the Catholic community either. Nine out of ten respondents were asked how they would differentiate according to the different sections of the community and a few types of differentiation can be drawn out of their answers. Firstly, all of them agreed to some extent that the support mainly stemmed from the working class sections of the community, which is in consensus with Sluka's (1989, p. 64) work on public support. Some argue that this is because the class dynamic is connected to the experience of the conflict: Catholics from the working class sections were much more likely to encounter the army and directly experience the violence. People in the working class are also much more affected by the economic strains experienced by the Catholic community, which will be discussed later on. One respondent argues that another explanation for the difference according to class could be explained by the lesser investment in society made by the working class, or rather, less possibilities to invest given by society. This class dynamic is not seen as determining, as some argued that there would've been middle class people supporting the IRA, but that there's a significant difference in the number of people. A second way of differentiating would be the way it's spread on geographical terms (Sluka, 1989, p. 63). In a sense this is related to the differentiation according to class; some respondents argue that the people from the middle class community often not resided within the geographical areas that endured the conflict the most. Stephen Ryan captures the sentiment around differentiation in the following quote: "If you were a Catholic living in County Down, no violence around you, good relations between Protestants and Catholics, you didn't have the police kicking in your doors, all those things, you were less likely to support the IRA". A third way of differentiating would be according to political ideas: a few respondents argue that while the people who might not have actively supported the armed campaign, but rather the constitutional nationalism, would also have been unwilling to report incidents to the state.
While it was initially not included in the topic list as a separate topic, during the interviews some respondents made remarks concerning the agency of the members of the community. The opinions on this topic are a bit divided: there's a respondent who argues that the agency of the individual is very important, as the individual choices should not be overlooked. Others say that the culture and group dynamics are more important, as the individual needs to be seen as a member of his or her community, influenced by the broader context. Tommy McKearney argues the following:
[â€¦] hence, almost whether you wanted it or not, you found yourself on this side or that side. It wasn't always everybody's choice, but you found yourself, a lot of people found themselves on one side or the other. So a lot of those that ended up giving passive support to the PIRA did so because they had de facto set in that position.
3.2. Explanatory factors for the public support
As has been mentioned before, the purpose of this section is to answer the second research question and find out how the public support for the PIRA can be explained. There are nine possible influential factors offered to the reader. The first factor which is discussed is the policing role of the PIRA within its community. The second factor is fear and intimidation: did the PIRA induce fear on the community, and if so, what influence could that have on the public support? Thirdly, the roles of culture and Catholicism are discussed. Fourthly, the frequently mentioned role of the PIRA as a defender of its community is discussed: both the positions of defender against the state and defender against loyalist violence are looked at. The fifth factor includes the actions of the PIRA: this focuses on the importance of the military strategy used by the PIRA. The sixth factor which is discussed covers the collective strains: this consists out of both the historical grievances and the contemporary strains experienced by the Catholic community. The seventh factor, social ties, is composed of the sub concepts kinship and identification with group members. The eight factor includes the actions of the state and its actors: a closer look is given to the consequences the actions of the army and RUC on one hand and the political decisions on the other hand may have in terms of public support for the PIRA. The last factor describes the role of collective identity and how it may have been shaped. All these factors will be presented in a scheme at the end of this chapter (see figure 1).
3.2.1. PIRA's policing role
In regards to the PIRA's role as a vigilante police, opinions seem to be quite diverse. Interestingly, one respondent notes that it wasn't just policing, but rather management of the community which was a consequence of them having support. The underlying idea behind this is that it's inseparable from the other factors present in the community and the broader context. On questioned on the extent to which this may influence the public support, mainly two types of answers were given by the respondents. The first group of respondents argued that the policing of the community actually entails risking losing support from the community. They argued that when you punish people, you tend to alienate them and their relatives. A few respondents said that this was seen as a huge risk, because of the large extended families in Northern Ireland and the close-knit community. The second group of respondents argued that they were seeing to be doing the community a service by punishing criminals. One respondent noted that if they hadn't taken up that role, they would've actually alienated more people from the community and "the community might have just not opened their doors". Aside from potentially influencing the public support for the PIRA directly, it could also be that it has an indirect effect of by influencing the perceived legitimacy of the PIRA (Cavanaugh, 1997, p. 49; Feenan, 2002, p. 157). This means that by maintaining law and order within their community, the legitimacy and standing of the PIRA within their community was improved. No one who was interviewed argued that the PIRA gained legitimacy by policing the Catholic community, mainly because of the possible alienating effect it had on people.
Several authors (Cavanaugh, 1997, p. 49; Feenan, 2002, pp. 156-158; Silke, 2007, p. 84) agree on the policing role being a double-edged sword: on the one hand, the community requires it of the PIRA to take up the role and they're forced to if they want to maintain credibility, but on the other hand they risk reducing the support base by alienating the victim and its friends or family. This argument was also found in the conversations with the respondents. They argued PIRA was faced with a no-win situation: at one hand the community demanded from them to punish criminals, due to the policing vacuum, but on the other hand they risk alienating people. This causes the policing function to be seen as rather bothersome for the PIRA, as it was something which needed to be done, but tied down a lot of its resources. One respondent also noted that it allowed its opponents to depict the organization as brutal.
3.2.2. Fear and intimidation
While Sluka (1989, p. 165) does not agree with the intimidation theory, out of which the hypothesis that the majority of the community would be forced to endure their presence can be derived, it does seem important to take the possibility of fear as an influential factor into account. Some respondents argued there was a certain level of intimidation: a distinction was made by them between overt and covert intimidation. Overt intimidation would be mainly experienced by other republican organizations, like the Official IRA or the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). The intimidation experienced by the community would be covert intimidation: this means that it was conducted in rather concealed manner. The argument behind this is that if it were overt, the PIRA would risk losing support. Other respondents argue that it wasn't really intimidation, as the PIRA didn't rule by fear. They rather argue that, if there was anything the people feared it was opposing the PIRA, rather than the PIRA as an organization. Similar to this Feenan (2002, p. 64) argues that even though they might not operate on the base of intimidation or coercion, the violence against some political opponents could have contributed to fear about speaking out against the movement (Feenan, 2002, p. 164). In regards to the possibility of intimidation, Stephen Ryan explained it in the following way:
The IRA didn't pose on the community through intimidation - put it this way, people would have to think in certain ways: if I did this, how would the IRA react? I'm sure that went on. Whether that's intimidation, or whether that's something else, I don't know, but you know, there was this sense that "we have to be careful, we certainly can't call the police, we can't be seen talking to the police, we can't do any of those things normal societies do".
By arguing that the PIRA did not rule merely by fear or intimidation, one seems to acknowledge the other influential factors. Interestingly, the British government attempted to portray the Catholic community as being intimidated by the PIRA and as not supportive at all of this organization (Aretxaga, 1993, pp. 234-235). From the British government's point of view this is understandable, as they can both deny the legitimacy of the PIRA and the legitimacy of the struggle by arguing it has no support base. Therefore intimidation interpreted as something that by and large subconsciously influenced the actions of the people in the Catholic community, rather than something that actively forces people to support the PIRA, seems to be more veracious. This is not to say there was no overt intimidation of the community, but it needs to be more nuanced.